Cruising down Coast Highway in Leucadia, in the blink of an eye this small, rustic shop could easily be missed if you’re not paying close attention, but once Seaweed & Gravel is on your radar it’s hard to overlook its cleverly merchandised interior and creative concept. After opening in the homegrown, beach-driven Encinitas sub-community in June 2012, the shop has made its mark on the scene with its collection of vintage, re-purposed, and new items that aim to create a complete lifestyle experience, according to Co-owner Dave Patri.
“A reaction we get frequently is: ‘wow, this feel like home,’ or ‘this is my garage, but better,” says Patri.
Setting foot in the small, yet well laid-out space, it’s easy to see the instant connection the shop’s customers are making with the eclectic mix of product, which has been sifted through the owners’ scrupulous lenses. Patri, who formerly served as president of Life Distribution (Split and Ambiguous Clothing), says the need for a niche, specialty retail location that was “up to speed” with the market was what spurred the birth of his new retail location.
“Safe brands reign and you can find them in every boardsport shop,” Patri says. “We felt retailers simply didn’t have any passion about their shop environment. There could be more to offer. We wanted to feature brands with barely any placement, or emerging brands that were a good match for us.”
After a visit and brainstorming session with East Coast friend, colleague, and pro surfer Luke Ditella, Patri was left with some inspiring ideas for a brand, but also acknowledged several challenges facing a new collection, including winning support and recognition from retailers. After careful consideration, Ditella and Patri found the solution, and began crafting the beginnings of Seaweed & Gravel, which is reflected in both their retail space at 1144 North Coast Highway, as well as a small S & G collection of T-shirts, headwear, fleece, gloves, shop rags, and other re-purposed gear like army jackets.
“We felt it was the perfect fit, especially the Leucadia area,” Patri says. “There was nothing like this concept anywhere in North County, so it made it easy to stand out.”
The intuitive retail model certainly spoke to us, and wasting no time, we reached out to Patri and the crew to learn more about what Seaweed & Gravel has planned for the future.
What’s the main concept behind the shop?
[A] vintage feel is what permeates the most. “Good old things” is our concept wether it’s a new board or a vintage motorcycle. Bringing everything that we are into like surfing, motorcycles, clothing, accessories, home goods, bonsai trees, free coffee, and good times is our goal. It was much easier than we first thought. We just followed our creative instincts instead of thinking, “what are the other shops doing?” The idea of incorporating the Native American, or First Nation imagery, was to convey the message of respect. Honoring the idea of respecting the land, others and yourself is something that is important to us.
What’s your customer base like?
It is very diverse. The vintage apparel, custom built motorcycles, surfboards, and the SnG brand bring in a young, creative customer base. They will say that they are “looking for something different and this is it.” Most of our customers have searched us out from social media and word of mouth. We get bikers and surfers all at once. Because of the vintage motorcycles, books, home goods, and bonsai trees we have many older customers coming in as well. They can relate and appreciate the value put into the items they grew up with.
How has the transition been from industry exec to retail owner?
It has been very fulfilling. For me being able to have control over my own destiny is the key. Taking chances and creativity is a big part of this concept. Having the ability to make those decisions without a corporate structure in place has been amazing.
What key lessons have you learned so far in the retail world?
Challenge yourself and stay true to who you are even if sales are slow or it looks bleak. Everyday there is something new to surprise us and challenge us.
What takeaways did you bring to this new business from past experience in the action sports industry?
There is opportunity out there. Just as the bubble was forming for the idea for the shop, long time industry creative Johnny Monson told me that “there is opportunity out there you just have to go out and make it--” Lesson here, no one will do it for you, big or small company. You are free to do what you want to do, if you take chances.
What brands are you partnering most closely with?
We have partnered with “like” minded brands. Guys like Iron & Resin, EvilGoods, Deus, Crawford Vintage, and more.
Does the shop host any special events? What have you been up to lately?
We do an array of events like parties with live bands, BBQ’s, motorcycle rides, surf demos, art shows, and bonsai workshops. The rides are especially fun. We meet at the shop and ride out to different locations with stops along the way. Look for some fun events coming up this spring and summer.
What is your goal for the shop in the next six-to-twelve months?
The custom motorcycle builds is a fast growing part of our business. People usually have a very specific idea of what they want for a motorcycle when they come in. We consult with them and dial in exactly what they are looking for and for what cost, then build it for them from start to finish. Overall we plan to grow the awareness of the brand and open up two more locations.
If you had to describe Seaweed and Gravel in three words, what would they be?
Good, old, things
Seaweed and Gravel is not:
Your average surf shop.
Where do you think the action sports/lifestlye/streetwear industry is headed?
To be honest I am not really sure. I am so focused on the consumer market that I have stopped paying attention to brands and trade shows and such. Not that it’s not still relevant. I have met some great people who are just starting out and taking on the trade show experience.
What’s the biggest challenge facing retailers at the moment?
Taking risk and creativity
What do you think is the most overlooked opportunity to strengthen your business?
The custom motorcycle builds is our most exciting area to expand on. The Seaweed & Gravel Garage is currently building great bikes. Building this up correctly without blowing it out too much is our challenge. Motorcycles are very personal to each customer. We won’t start pushing out bikes just to throw anything out there. A high level of design and execution is put into each build with our personal style integrated.
Do, Make, Say, Think