Witt’s Carlsbad Pipelines
Owner: Witt Rowlett
Square Footage: 1,300
Date Opened: May 1984
Location: Corner of Carlsbad Blvd. and Carlsbad Village Drive (formerly Elm St.)
Witt Rowlett has been a part of the Carlsbad community for more than 5 decades. His father, who started Carlsbad Pipelines as an underground contractor business around 1960, helped bury some of North County’s water and sewer lines while Rowlett was growing up. Although he started college at UCSB, that was called short on account of pursuing a surfing career, and Rowlett was successful, landing sponsorships with G&S and Rip Curl.
After an injury sidelined him, Rowlett was offered a sales position at a G&S store in Oceanside, and ended up working for them for five years and eventually becoming a manager. It was then that he “lucked into” his own Carlsbad shop location, which still sits at the very same address today--although a lot has changed since then, including the name of the street, Rowlett points out.
“Carlsbad had no surf or skate shop,” Rowlett says. “I borrowed $20,000 from my relatives, opened up, and for the first 2 years lived in the back to save money.”
The year was 1984, and Rowlett had no idea at the time that the shop would endure three decades, an economic crisis, and a rapidly evolving industry. Witt’s Carlsbad has supported the surfing community over the years, mentoring pros including Taylor Knox and Tony Hawk, and continues to pride itself on giving back to “the core.” In light of the shop’s three decade anniversary, we thought we’d drop by Witt’s to catch up, and found him manning the register at the shop. Here’s some of what he shared with us.
Photos: Allen Malone
You’ve had 30 years of successful business at this shop. Have you ever thought of opening another location?
I’ve opened other locations over the years in Oceanside, but decided to dedicate my time to my family and concentrate on what I do best here. We’re in a very, very old (early, early 1900’s) building on the corner of Carlsbad Blvd. and Carlsbad Village Dr. (formally Elm St.). It’s a quirky shaped space of about 1300 sq. ft. as it’s had many add-ons over it’s lifespan.
How have you seen the industry evolve over the years, and what has that looked like at your shop in terms of products, buying cycles, reps, etc.?
As far as our industry goes, the real change has been how mainstream it is. I mean mainstream in the fact that so many more people around the world have been exposed to the surf/skate culture, and therefore its products, thus creating a demand that has far surpassed anything I would have expected 30 years ago. It seems we are selling more of the lifestyle than the actual use of the products themselves.
Products and brands here seem to evolve and change rather quickly considering the 35 years I’ve worked in the industry. I remember when UGG boots were the must-have item and now within the last month it’s Kendamas. Trying to keep up with those trend items while also satisfying the local clientele is one of the harder goals to achieve. We’re in a state of flux now trying to figure out brands, products, and inventory allotment as new challenges have arisen.
What challenges do you face as a shop, and do you see the overall industry facing, as well?
We’ve had a lot of reps and a lot of brands come and go-- some loyal to our store, most not. We’re a small store and I’ve always kept a firm hand on the inventory. Sometimes it’s been (my fault) difficult to get on the same page with many reps. One of the bigger changes has been the influx of these bigger stores and more so the chain/dept. surf shops. Their buying power is so great that a brand/rep tends to have little time for us small guys. I understand the economics of this, but this too has been hard to come to grips with as many of these brands got their start with us and built their foundation on our sales and support. As they’ve grown we’ve almost become a pain for them to deal with because the numbers don’t add up. What’s really interesting is how so many of these companies are hardcore yet have little interest in many of the real longtime hardcore shops. But I guess that begs the question “what is hardcore and what defines a hardcore shop?”
What brands partnered with you over the years and today?
I would like to give a shout out to Xcel Wetsuits. They have really stood by us and helped out when times were tough. Some other brands we stand behind (or in front for) would be Reef, Rainbow sandals (maybe 30% of our summer sales), Hurley, and …Lost for apparel. We do great with Custom X and Victoria Skimboards. Sector 9 and Gravity have stepped up also, in good times and bad.
I do think that many of these larger brands are now trying to branch out and help the smaller shops. We’ve had Hurley do a great new buildout and mural, and Reef is always wanting to do some sort of in-store help.
Do you have a private label, and how does it perform?
Far and away our logo gear-- tees, sweats, hats, towels, etc.-- do the bulk of our profit margins. We suss out quality products before we drop the logo on and it pays off long term as we have so many returning customer sales on our logo gear.
You’ve been such a major part of the local surf community for so long, we couldn’t help wondering the following questions. Here goes…
Go-to Surf Spot?
Anything that is uncrowded, even if it takes a boat to get to.
Most infamous customer:
Lizard. Enough said. A great character.
Your best day surfing?
I’ve been blessed to travel the world. Too many to count and recount.
Favorite surf film?
5 Summer Stories
Most Memorable Day at the Shop:
The day the employees tied one of the shop kids Dennis Cramer to the bench out front, it was his birthday, they pantsed him, and as he lay there in his undies, a reporter came by and snapped his picture. It ended up in the Blade Tribune the next day.