SUPERbrand CEO Shares Insight On The Company's Future And Growth
Marcelo Bengoechea Assesses First Year On The Job And Discusses Plans For SUPERbrand
Founded in 2008 by professional surfers Dion Agius, Clay Marzo, and Ry Craike, SUPERbrand has become associated with the youth movement in surfing. Known for progressive design and The Shapers Collective, a team of shapers and designers from around the world who collaborate and share their work with each other, SUPER has seen steady growth in rack space for its boards at shops internationally.
Marcelo Bengoechea took over as CEO of SUPERbrand just over a year ago, in August of 2013. As one of the original members of the Reef creative team and a co-founder of Seshday, the Argentinean surfer seems to have the right mix of design/marketing skill and business acumen to lead the 5-year-old brand on a path of continued growth in the hardgoods and apparel market.
SUPERbrand launched its first apparel line in June of 2010 and has enjoyed encouraging, organic growth fueled by solid sell-through at specialty retail. The company's main headquarters is based in Carlsbad, Calif., where in addition to administrative offices, it operates the first fully licensed surfboard manufacturing facility in the city.
What attracted you to SUPERbrand? What specific opportunities did you see?
SUPERbrand is a creative, design driven company. From the way we design our boards – we have a Shapers' Collective sharing concepts and designs around the world – to the way our surf apparel leans towards fashion, and the way we communicate our message. It is all very unique. That kind of environment attracted me. SUPERbrand is just a 5-year-old company. What the company has done in such a short time with surfboards indicated the opportunity and potential to do something awesome with apparel that will inspire a newer generation of surfers and surf lifestyle lovers.
What were some of your main objectives when you came in as the new CEO?
The main objective was to understand, identify and set a direction that made sense to who we are as a company. Part of that main objective was to align our apparel efforts to our market and create demand for it by being ourselves. We are not inspired by surf. We are surf. There is a surfboard factory right behind my office that produces some of the best surfboards in the world.
Looking back one year later, which of those do you feel were successful, which ones are still works in progress?
We are just getting started. I have been with SUPERbrand for only one year but you can feel the buzz the brand is experiencing. Our Spring/Summer 2015 apparel collection has been received extremely well. More retailers are asking about it and we are opening new international distributors everywhere. We are looking at ways to increase our surfboard production in the USA to satisfy the rise in demand. Everything is a work in progress, and should stay like that for a while. There is a lot of work ahead of us. I see success everywhere, in the little things, retailers saying that our product is selling through, overhearing people talk about SUPERbrand at a bar, telling their friends about what we are doing. All that keeps the team and me very motivated and excited for what's to come.
Where do you feel that SUPERbrand fits into the market as a hardgoods brand? How about as a clothing brand?
I feel we are the next up-and-coming brand, we are not there yet. We are next. Our surfboards are organically gaining market share at our premier retail partners. Where we used to have perhaps 24 boards on the rack we now have over 40. Our boards fit with the youth. We are a brand they can call their own. It resonates with them.
As a clothing brand we bridge the gap between surf and boutique. Our apparel is very much surf, but has a foot firmly planted in fashion/streetwear. Telling a compelling story that a surfer can relate to, and a non-surfer can appreciate and respect as authentic.
What are the advantages of having your own surfboard production facility on-site? How about some of the disadvantages?
The advantage is having the control necessary to make quality product. We are not cutting any corners to save a buck. The quality of today is the order of tomorrow. The obvious disadvantage is our production limitations. We are only able to produce so many boards with the factory as it is. Right now we are looking at ways to increase production without sacrificing quality. Not an easy thing to do.
How has the Shapers' Collective allowed you to increase the speed of product innovation?
I don't think it increased the speed of innovation. What the Collective does is create an awesome board that works well in all conditions. Shapers all over the world collaborate with SUPERbrand team riders and customers, offering the variety and regional expertise that's so important to surfing. I always say that 6 minds are better than one.
What surprised you the most during your first year on the job?
One thing that surprised me was the support given by friends and customers. Love coming from all directions, all telling me the same thing, how cool SUPERbrand is and how stoked they are seeing me join a great team that will put the brand where it deserves to be.
What major areas are you targeting for growth over the next year, next three years?
We are targeting our major growth in the apparel business. Surfboards led the brand and put us on the map. The recognition coming from our board business is helping position our apparel as an authentic surf brand. Not many brands can claim that. Next year's focus is the USA and International regions where the brand already has a loyal following. The following years will see a deeper commitment to those areas and a steady, organic penetration in newer markets.
Discuss some of the opportunities and challenges of running a company that was founded by professional surfers.
Having founders like Clay Marzo, Dion Agius and Ry Craike gives us automatic credibility. Their influences are seen all over our surfboards. Dion himself is very involved with all aspects of his signature models, including the board graphics that we are well known for. The only challenge is making sure the boards keep up with their surfing progression. A challenge that we welcome with open arms.
How have you adjusted SUPER’s distribution strategy based on changes in the retail landscape?
We are a small brand, not much adjustment was necessary. Our distribution is very tight within the specialty retailer and we want to keep it that way. Organic, controlled growth is what we are after.
How have your marketing and promotional strategies evolved? What amount of resources do you dedicate to creating original content?
The evolution is based in grass roots. Word of mouth almost. We maximize our limited resources to make sure the experience is SUPER in and out of the water. A little bit of print, a little bit of digital, and a lot of one on one type of things. We partner with our team, friends, customers and artists to create original, interesting and for sure fun content. Paul Fisher's "Dick Board" is a good example of that. Making fun of ourselves keep us real. And no, you cannot order one. [Laughing…]
How has the brand’s reputation as a board company helped as you expand and position yourself as a clothing company? Has it created any challenges?
The good thing is that SUPERbrand has only been in business for 5 years so the public perception is not too ingrained as just a surfboard maker. The goal is to keep both growing simultaneously. The apparel can stand on it's own. They relate to each other, and together they are even stronger, but we are also making sure that they do not depend on each other.
You’re manufacturing boards in Carlsbad and a lot of your products, both hard and softgoods involve premium materials and production processes. How do you make the business case to justify those additional costs? What are the key things a brand needs to do if it plans to be successful in passing additional costs along to consumers?
There is a balance to all of that. You are right, we use premium materials and fabrications and many of those are absorbed by us. We believe that it is key for our success to deliver high quality product, not only in fabrication but also in the design quality. We want to do things right and that will differentiate us from the rest.
Where do you prioritize a company’s culture within the hierarchy of importance?
At the top, we are what we sell. Without that kind of culture we are nothing.
What key factors do you weigh most heavily when making a new hire? Personality, previous performance, accomplishments, experience?
All of the above are a must but what weighs the most is the passion to make a difference. To make the world SUPER.
What accomplishment are you most proud of so far in your time with SUPERbrand?
We have a small but great team. All the accomplishments so far are because of them. I am proud on how much we have done in the past year. The best board of the year nomination from SIMA was awesome and I am very proud of how the apparel is becoming very relevant to our market.