Retail Wednesday: Landmark Surf Co. Owner Charlie Setzler on Laguna Beach retail

EDITOR’S NOTE: Our Retail Wednesdays series profiles a different specialty retailer each week, in an effort to spotlight success stories and gain insight from shops that are continuing to grow in the face of a challenging economy. This profile is powered by our friends at Building The Revolution.

landmark surf co.

Landmark Surf Co.’s emphasis on surfing and its lifestyle is evident in the space’s Laguna Beach location.

Retailer: Landmark Surf Co
Location: 1294 S. Coast Hwy #C Laguna Beach, California 92651
Years in Business: 1.5 years as Landmark and 3 years total as a surf shop
Interviewee: Charlie Setzler
Job Title: Owner

Last time we checked in with Charlie Setzler of Landmark Surf Co. he had just transitioned the retail space from being 100 percent Rusty-branded to offering a wide range of surf lifestyle product.

Today, it’s been more than a year and a half since the iconic Coast Highway location has undergone its revamp. Owner and industry veteran Setzler has some insight on that process, what’s moving the needle at retail at the moment, and four ways he thinks brands can be successful and standout from the rest.

Interview has been edited for length and clarity.

landmark surf co.

Richer Poorer’s latest collection at Laguna Beach’s Landmark Surf Co.

How has business been since you opened a year and a half ago?

Exciting, challenging, frustrating, hopeful and fun. Yeah, I actually said retail is fun. I really enjoy the customer interaction and helping them find something, hearing their story; but most importantly, making sure the customer has a good experience at Landmark which is more than just selling them more stuff. I heard something a while ago that I thought was very profound: “You shop online to save time and money; you shop in store to spend time and money.” So, if someone is going to spend time in Landmark, then they need to have a good time.

From a business perspective, in 2017 we shared the same challenges in the first quarter as did most retailers. We rebounded for a strong second quarter, and finished strong in August with our best month to date. The interesting thing is that there were no key category drivers or trends driving business which makes it difficult from a merchandising perspective. However, there was one thing that makes me happy and that is Landmark branded product is consistently our top selling brand in the store.

Related: Former Rusty NA CEO Transitions Laguna Retail Space into new store, LandMark Surf Co.

What has changed in your approach to retail since you opened?

Patience is definitely one thing that has changed. I have more patience now than when we first opened. I expect everything to be perfect all of the time, which is a little unrealistic. It’s also taken a little bit of time to get the product mix how I want it, and it still isn’t 100 percent. This is much harder than I thought and I have much more appreciation for all of the buyers and merchandisers out there. Having the right balance of inventory at the right time is a skill I’m still trying to figure out and its never ending.

A post shared by Landmark Surf (@landmarksurf) on

You have a long history of running surf/skate brands. What advice do you have for brands now that you are on the other side of the counter?

This is a loaded question considering the challenges that exist out there at retail, with the Amazon effect, and ever evolving pricing and distribution issues.

1. Brands need to have a point of difference. In the current environment, a brand cannot be everything to everyone so pick a lane and own it. Know your “why” proposition and the opportunity gap you’re trying fill.

2. Product needs to have a clear point of view. Take more time planning each line. And then be more critical in editing. I see a lot of product in catalogs that shouldn’t have made the cut.

3. Have a MAP policy and enforce it. Pricing inconsistencies just degrade the brand.

4. Have a strong digital strategy with good content.

In all honesty, for new brands, I’d advise them to start online which will help prove your concept and force you to define your point of difference, create content and generate demand, which will help you understand your customer in real time and make better product accordingly. Then bring it to retail with confidence and the ability to support all of us retailers!

landmark surf co.

A more curated look at the boards Landmark is stoked on at the moment.

Landmark Surf Co is very involved with the local community. What has been your favorite Landmark community events so far?

I love Art Walk, which is every first Thursday of the month. We’ve had so many different art walk collaborations with photographers, artists and brands, and it has been exciting to see the community respond. My favorite has probably been when …Lost brought Sons of Cobra — amazing artists and laminators of surfboards – and they cleared out the entire store, put all of the fixture and apparel in the back, and displayed about 30 boards.

I’m stoked to announce that we have an event planned on October 5th that will feature a sneak preview of the new Bunker Spreckels documentary, “Bunker 77.” We’re going to do this at a movie theater; stay tuned for details.

Brick and Mortar retail is going through an evolution. Are their any innovative retailers in or outside the industry that inspire you, and why?

I really like what General Admission in Venice is doing with their elevation of surf and fashion, and creating a great community vibe in Venice. Other retailers that I pay attention to include Seed Peoples Market in Costa Mesa, Coast Modern in Seal Beach and Moniker General in San Diego. I like how Tesla has created an interesting retail environment to sell their vehicles.

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