Caravan Beach Shop, Tofino, B.C.
Editors Note: On the tail end of back-to-school and heading straight into Fall/Holiday, we thought it was a solid time to check in with the backbone of our industry: core specialty retailers. If you haven’t already heard, each year we talk to 30 different shops over the course of a month, as a way to gauge the overall health of the marketplace and hear what new initiatives, brands, and products are moving the needle. Stay tuned this September for a complete look at shops across North America. This profile on Caravan Beach Shop in Tofino, B.C. originally ran in our Summer Issue of TransWorld Business.
IN A MERE 230 SQUARE FEET, CARAVAN BEACH SHOP PACKS IN A HEARTY DOSE OF STYLE. Owner Jen Thorpe opened Caravan in 2012 in the coastal vacation town of Tofino, BC, which has a tiny number of year-round locals but sees an annual average of more than one million visitors per year (everyone from city hipsters and college students, to families) who come to surf and explore the outdoors.
The shop is filled with stylish provisions for the fresh-air-loving locals and tourists: independent surf brands, outdoor heritage brands, artsy handcrafted home goods, and its own growing private label— including logo crewnecks, five panel hats, tin camp mugs and patches—for the perfect vacation souvenir.
"Tofino is full of great surf shops," said Thorpe, who chose not to carry hardgoods at Caravan. "I wanted to offer a lifestyle store where you can buy clothes, gifts, and housewares that still feels inline with surf culture."
We caught up with Thorpe to find out more about bringing emerging brands to Tofino, and the temperature of the Canadian marketplace.
How is Caravan different from other shops in Tofino?
To be honest, our shop is one-of-a-kind in Tofino. I try to stay current and translate bigger trends to fit our small town feel. We carry brands that no other shops in town have: Seea, Mowgli, Raen Optics, Topo Designs, Muttonhead, Penfield, Pendleton, HBC, Filson, Stanley, Rainbow Sandals, Birkenstock, Mokuyobi Threads, AW by Andrea Wong, and Forest & Waves, Blackbird Studios. Then add all my local makers to the list!
What is the weather and surf conditions like in your area, and what kind of surfer does that produce?
Cold! But nowhere near as cold as the surf mags portray. I wear a 5mm suit, gloves, and 7mm booties. With mostly beach break and lots of neoprene we stay pretty muscular. Also not sure the why or how, but we have a huge female surfing population. [It's not uncommon to] find equal amounts of girls versus guys in the water on any given day. We even have an all girl surf school, Surf Sister!
What are the favorite locals best keep secrets?
Surf spots stay secret. But great food is abundant in Tofino. I highly recommend Kuma & Tacofino. Tofino Brew Co. is no secret but they have great beer. I love the remote feel of Radar Beach and Schooner Cove for it's awesome beach combing.
The economy is feeling stable again and people are spending money. In Tofino, we have noticed an increase in American tourist dollars along with better than ever off-season sales numbers. A warmer than normal winter meant most ski resorts stayed closed and so tourists opted to come to Tofino and surf.
What's your overall impression of the local market over the past six months?
Strong. The economy is feeling stable again and people are spending money. In Tofino, we have noticed an increase in American tourist dollars along with better than ever off-season sales numbers. A warmer than normal winter meant most ski resorts stayed closed and so tourists opted to come to Tofino and surf.
What store (or multiple stores) are your closest competition?
I think for such a small town we all do a great job of keeping the peace and piece of the retail pie. Our retail community feels more supportive than competitive. That being said Storm Surf Shop's in- house brand gives Caravan a run for its money.
What are some things that brands are doing to work with your shop?
I've really tried to concentrate on carrying small local brands. I get to work directly with the makers, so there is huge opportunity for product customization and collaborations. I work with Forest & Waves each season on a small line of apparel. I'd like to put out a big shout to Ryan 'Triple Threat” Taron at Apogee Sales, who provided me with great advice in the beginnings of my retail adventure.