The Beach Is Back: Surfers most influenced by magazines and friends.

Early in the 90s, a change in the economy and a generation of dark and brooding teens called “X” caused a lifestyle shift that was more urban than beach.

With the new generation of teens, known as Generation Y or Millennials, surfwear manufacturers are beginning to see a resurgence of the beach lifestyle–a trend they predict will continue over the next few years.

The market used to be about wetsuits, surfboards, and young men’s surf apparel. Today, it’s about all of that plus shoes, sunglasses, watches, socks, hats, and accessories. It’s about a whole new target audience: women. It’s about a blending of cultures–skate is influencing surf, surf influencing snow, and so on.

According to Surf Industry Manufacturing Association (SIMA), surf retail sales have reached approximately two-billion dollars annually. It’s also estimated that there are two-million surfers, of which approximately 880,000 are between the ages of twelve and nineteen.

Seize The Opportunity

There are lots of different ways to learn about your target customers, their brand likes and dislikes, shopping habits, what influences them, and their lifestyles. Formal research, publications such as this magazine, talking to your suppliers if you’re a retailer, and talking to your retailers if you’re a manufacturer are all good options. But the best route to knowledge is talking directly to the kids.

According to the U.S. Census, the twelve- to nineteen-year-old age bracket will swell from 31-million today to more than 35-million by 2010 and had a reported buying power of 141-billion dollars in 1998.

Board sports have a significant influence on this target customer. In a Board-Trac study of 560 kids who surf, 89 percent said that sports influence their decision to buy a particular brand.

These same kids indicated the two primary factors in brand selection are what looks good on them (91 percent) and what’s comfortable (83 percent). Price ranked a distant third, with 58 percent of the respondents indicating it influenced their decision. These consumers are not price-oriented, but value driven.

All of this points to knowing your customers and the brands they want to buy. If you’re a retailer, with a choice of more than 200 brands on the market, making the right decision will require a little work on your part. But the best place to start is with your own customers. Look at what they’re buying, listen to what they’re asking for, and ask them what they want and why.

Keep in mind the massive changes in the industry over the past five years. Five to ten years ago, the manufacturer dictated style and told kids what was hot. Today, teens tell manufacturers what’s hot.

Don’t Miss The Market

Are you primarily catering to guys, girls, or both? If you’re not catering to girls in a big way, then it’s time you took a hard look at this market segment.

In recent articles, most surf shops reported that they’ve not only added juniors clothing to their store mix, but in many cases are devoting up to 40 percent of their floor space to meet the demand among girls.

In fact, the explosion in women’s beach sports has resulted in magazines and surf shops that specifically cater to women. All of this, of course, can be traced back to the introduction of brands such as Roxy.

Women typically shop and spend more than men. According to Board-Trac, 22 percent of the girls interviewed indicated they shop every week, only thirteen percent of the males did the same.

What are they spending their money on? Clothes and music. When asked how they would spend 100 dollars, 70 percent of the males (compared to 86 percent of the females) indicated they would spend their money on clothes. Research also tells us that women spend as much as seven dollars to every one dollar men spend. Keep in mind, however, that women are also more price sensitive than men.

Knowing your customers, their needs and wants, how they shop, and their price sensitivities are all essential in the overall marketing and promotion of your store or brand. But, equally important is making sure these consumers are aware of you, your image, value proposition, and where and how to buy.

According to our study segmented among kids who surf, 91 percent said they find out about a new line of clothing/shoes/apparel from magazines. About 74 percent were from friends, 40 percent from events they attended, 38 percent from something they received in the mail, and 37 percent said from visiting stores.

This generation of consumers promises to be the biggest, most savvy, and richest group of consumers since the baby boomers. Your long-term survival depends of your ability to identify and address this market. And you will be successful if you use this mantra for the new millennium: “Know thy customer.”


Angelo Ponzi is the president of Board-Trac.