Surf Ride Discusses Style Trends, Emerging Brands, and Growing
Their Private Label Sales
Location: Oceanside, Solana Beach
Owner/Manager: Josh Bernard
# of Storefronts: 2
Square Footage: 11,000sqf (OS); 8,000sqf (SB)
Surf Ride has been a family-owned surf shop in San Diego for over 40 years. A core surf shop, the shop is known for their impressive surf board inventory. At any time Surf Ride typically carries over 1,000 boards on their retail floor. Surf Ride also hosts a weekly summer surf camp and a variety of events throughout the year to engage with the local community.
We sat down with Josh Bernard to discuss what is new with the shop, emerging brands, and growing their private label clothing.
Background on how/when/why you started this business:
It was started back in 1974 by my Dad, Bill Bernard, purely out of the passion for the ocean and all things to do with it. Bill is an avid Surfer, Sailor, Diver and Waterman, all of which helped develop the core shop that Surf Ride is today.
How would you describe your shop? What makes it unique? What do you think you're best known for?
Our shop is the one stop surf shop for everything you need to enjoy life at the beach. We are best known for our extensive selection in surf hardgoods. We have the largest selection of boards, wetsuits, fins, leashes, traction, etc… than any other surf shop on the planet!
How many employees do you generally have at one time?
Company wide we average 70+ employees at any given time.
How do you recruit, train, and retain good employees?
Anyone that works at Surf Ride works here because he or she shares the same passion that the founders share, the love for surfing and the beach. We try our best to hire sales staff that actually surf, and actually know about the ocean. When it comes to selling a surfboard its so much easier to relate to a customer when you have actually gone out and surfed a specific board.
What have been some key milestones in the shop's history since you opened?
Last October we celebrated 40 years of business (family owned the entire time)! We plan on keeping it that way for another 50 years to come!!!
Do you have an online storefront (e-commerce)?
If so, what percentage of your business is online vs. Brick and Mortar?
It's a small percentage, but an important percentage.
Describe your typical customer.
Our typical customer is more of a core surfer year round because of our large selection of hardgoods, specifically wetsuits, and surfboards. We also get a very steady flow of tourist in the summer and Christmas Season.
What brands have you carried the longest?
Volcom, Quiksilver, RipCurl, O'neill.
Last year was your 40-year anniversary, do you have any other key milestones?
No key milestones. We are firewire's #1 dealer, which is awesome.
Being a hard goods specialty shop that is a pretty cool accolade.
Does specializing in hard goods help differentiate you from other shops?
Yeah definitely. We have close to 2,000-3,000 boards between both our stores for current on the floor inventory. I think we are one of the only shops around here, if not the world that has that kind of selection. That is definitely something that differentiates us between different retailers.
Last time you mentioned that your online sales are just a small % of your in-store sales. Has that changed at all for your shop?
No, online sales is still a small percentage and something we are still trying to grow. It is just a constant battle with the brands advertising and selling direct from their sites. It is really frustrating for retailers from our point of view. All the big brands pushing direct sales creates a constant, uphill battle. Battling Google with their search algorithms and staying up to date is a never ending competition as well.
Can you give a rough breakdown of what categories your inventory space is dedicated to?
50% hard goods (surf boards, wetsuits, surf accessories)
30% Men's soft goods
15% Women's soft goods
5% skate (decks, shoes, etc.)
How would you say the hard goods selection helps drive and boost soft goods sales?
Great question. This is sort of the whole basis of our business model. Just hopefully getting the core surfers in here and getting product in here that is different from big retailers like Macy's, Tilly's, etc. We want the core surfers to come in and see core specific products or stuff not available in the malls so they buy the products here.
Have you seen any recent changes in your biggest product categories?
No huge differences. I think the classic short board is making a comeback. For a while it was everything was as funky as you could make it. From a heel fin to a chopped nose or tail, it was getting crazy. I think it is making a little comeback to more of a classic short board design like a thruster or quad set. Everything is going shorter and wider on the board aspect of it.
What are some of the brands or products that you think help bring in the core surf customers?
I think having a large selection of surfboard fins, traction pads and leashes help. Of course the large selection of surf boards. I think those are the only things that help bring in the core surfers.
Are there any brands you carry that have gained a lot of traction and popularity recently?
Yeah, I think the stand out brand for our shop is Salty Crew. It is pretty crazy. I was just looking at a report yesterday and there is like a 65% sell-through on their inventory-that is huge. The numbers they are showing for the rack space that they have is very impressive. Between them and Captain Fin, both of those brands have sort of exploded out of nowhere. Depactus and Roark are making a pretty good push as well.
What brands or products are customers visiting the shop asking for?
The hybrid walk shorts are really popular. I think people are actually coming into the store trying to find some Salty Crew stuff especially with how popular fishing is right now. The amazing fishing season the past 12 months has everyone stoked on the fishing stuff. Salty Crew has some pretty unique products aimed at that audience. Their board shorts have technical features like plier pockets while still offering style and fashion.
Last time we visited you were trying to push your private label products. Has anything changed within your private label sales?
We've seen pretty good growth in private label. We've expanded our in-store display. We are working on a photo series that we've been doing for about the last year now. Been teaming up with local photographers for designs. We have a direct to garment printer so we do everything in house. Super low cost, we have a pretty good margin on those products. They've been selling really well.
What are you doing to improve sales in your private label? Has it been expanding the product selection or improving the current styles and designs?
I think it is just having a wider selection of tee shirts. Pretty much all we sell is tee shirts and hats. Shorts and stuff are just too much to get into. But I think having a wider variety of tee shirts and having the printing capability in house is really awesome. We can literally come up with an idea for a shirt, print it, and have a whole size run on the floor within a day.
Do you let customers know that your private label stuff is made in house?
I haven't but that's a pretty good idea actually. Our next step is to make little hang tags that will talk about the photographer and the product. We use high quality, American Apparel blanks, its printed in Oceanside in house.
Do you think that helps build the brand presence or gives a personality to the shop, building your private label?
Yeah for sure. Especially with the photography aspect of it, we can have fun pictures, serious pictures, really cool adventure pictures, or a landscape from the last surf trip we did. People can see we really are surfers and we went on a surf trip. I think that definetly helps show the personality of the shop and brand.
Do you have a shop team? If so, what are some recent accomplishments?
Yeah, the teams doing pretty solid. We just won the switch foot grom contest in Encinitas last weekend. We're pretty hyped about that. We actually had six out of the eight finalists were surf ride team guys, four being the Surf Ride team and two were on Arnette. Our Surf Ride team is Brent Reilly, Levi Slottson (a super grom who is like 12), Chris Maurnane, and Derrick Popperman, so it was quite the power team for that contest. We had Gabe Garcia and Darrell Goodrum on the Arnette team, so it was us vs. us in the finals. We have Brian Connoley on the team, doing some barrel riding down in Mexico. We added poopies from who is JOB.
Other than surf contests how does the shop promote itself within the community?
We're always doing events and trying to help out. Right now, Gabe Garcia's mom is doing an event for paraplegics, teaming up with Life Rolls On. She's taking 15-18 paralyzed kids out and they take them out and push them into waves. They go out and surf with them and the kids get super psyched. We did a golf tournament for Chris Abad with life rolls on. That was crazy, all of Oceanside came together for that. Us, Chuey from FireWire, Privateer pizza. We raised over $25,000 which will cover well over what he owes, so he's going to donate the rest to life rolls on.
Do you have anything in particular you look for when hiring an employee?
We legally can not discriminate upon age, gender, (laughs). We really just look for someone who is passionate about surfing. Basically anyone who applies here is going to love the beach or surfing. Every guy who works here surfs, a handful of the girls surf. Everyone who works here loves the beach and the ocean and everything about it. That's the only reason you would want to work here. We definitely look for someone who has good people skills, and being passionate and knowledgeable about surfing is really important.
Do you have any big, overarching concerns about the industry?
I would say selling direct, and mainly how brands advertise it. They are literally financially competing against us for space online by paying for Google ad words. They compete against us, they have to pay more, we have to pay more, and basically everybody is wasting money competing against each other. You can't keep manufacturers from selling direct, but I think they should never sell off price, never discount, and they should never advertise their site. If the consumer decides to buy from a company's website, it should be full msrp, no discount, no sales, no mention us on twitter and get 100% off. I think if every brand respected retailers in that way, it would help a lot. Don't offer free next day shipping.
What do you do to make sure customers are buying in here rather than having products shipped to their house?
I think the best customer experience we can offer is having a knowledgeable staff. If someone comes in and is like 'hey I'm going to go surfing today, what suit should I get?' We know what to offer them. Having knowledgeable passionate surfers working online is the biggest value we can give to customers.
Are there any major goals right now for the shop?
I would like to grow the private label more, I'd like to have 200% growth in private label, maybe even get some board shorts going. Eventually, probably not for another couple years, but find another property. I was all gung-ho on it this year, but it was really expensive. Part of our business model is buying property, and finding 20,000sq feet on Coast Highway is really hard and really expensive so we're going to try to save some money up and get a building in the next couple years.
Do you have any plans for the surf ride brand of boards?
We're going to continue growing those more. Maybe try to get a shaper’s collective going, bring on like three or four prominent shapers in the area and they could do their own model and collaborations with shapers in the Oceanside/SD area. We're in the works of talking to a couple guys now to try to get them on board with the project.