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Mark Richards on Val Surf's 55 Years in Business

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  • Blake and Mark Richards of Val Surf - SES file photo

Val Surf is celebrating 55 years in business.

We asked partner Mark Richards some questions about how the important industry retailer has survived for so long in an ever-changing retail world.

What are some key factors that have allowed Val Surf to last 55 years?

Mark Richards: There are many factors that have contributed to the last 55 years of Val Surf being in business but we believe the key factor that defines us would have be the great humans that make up our most knowledgeable staff.

Each employee, buyer, and manager plays a role in providing our customers with a product offering that is special, unique and that runs parallel with the best customer service on the planet.

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Because we are all skaters, surfers, and snowboarders ourselves, we take a ton of pride in telling our story while getting the best and most suitable products into the hands of our loyal customers.

We do our best to mirror our brick-and-mortar experience online but, let’s face it, there is just something special about going into your local store, smelling the wax, gripping your board, mounting your bindings, and, most importantly, sharing and telling stories. 

Do you remember what were the best and the most challenging eras for Val Surf?

Mark Richards: There have been many in this ongoing roller coaster ride that we call retail.

Our first years were understandably very challenging. We opened the brick-and-mortar store on Oct 6, 1962. Shortly after that, we decided to add mail order as well because of the popularity of our skateboards and logo tees.

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Naturally back then we advertised in Surfer and International Surfing  - that was before there was a Skateboarder and Skateboard World.  To this day, we have customers come in and tell us stories about ordering their boards from our mail order business when they lived in the Midwest and the East. We were able to get boards to skaters who had no retailer to turn to but Val Surf.

The downturn in skate in the mid 60’s was bailed out by the advent of the urethane wheel.  Then this boom was eventually tarnished with negative press associated with the sports accidents, ensuing litigation, crippling laws and regulations.  Challenging, but we were still skating!

Surf was always stable and the arrival of the short board in the late '60s took surf to a whole new level.  While the number of surfers in the water remains at a healthy level for this addictive sport, the decline in those that follow the “lifestyle” of surf has hurt the industry, which is what we are all currently experiencing.

Our customers that actively surf, skate and snowboard are still shopping, but we also used to serve more people who were attracted to the lifestyle. The industry has lost that segment of the market to some extent with over distribution, unfortunately. This has been tough to accept, but we’ve had to adjust and redirect.

With snow, being on board with snow from the very beginning in '77 we have experienced numerous hills and valleys.  Currently we are one of the very few snow retailers in SoCal, which presents its own set of challenges.  Finally getting snow last year was long overdue and it was very encouraging to see that the interest in riding is still so strong and solid.

Is there a key lesson you have learned from working in retail for 55 years?

Mark Richards: Yes, never take anything for granted and stay focused 24/7.

The only thing that is consistent is the never-ending inconsistency in retail that we have constantly encountered and will undoubtedly continue to experience.

What has been the biggest brand surprise over the last few decades? Did a brand come out of nowhere and do great or did great brands go away?

Mark Richards: The word “surprise” is key in trying to answer this accurately and as briefly as possible.

Burton has been solid in snow from day one but a few of their side brands have gone away as the snow industry needed to consolidate.

Volcom has been a stable brand for us from their inception and Salty Crew has given us something different to offer at just the right time.  

OluKai came into a fairly saturated sandal category with something so unique in fit and styling. As a result, OluKai is right up there with Reef for us now.

Vans, now and for some time, has been so dominant and is becoming more so all the time.

Stance addressed a category that other brands didn’t take seriously and was rewarded with phenomenal results.

The Toms craze was insane - like nothing we had ever experienced!!  However, we accepted and knew that it couldn't continue at the same pace.

We would be remiss if we did not mention some of the brands for which Val Surf was the very first retailer - Quiksilver, Hobie, Channel Islands, Hang Ten, O’Neill, and Burton in Los Angeles.

Is there anything you want to say to the industry on the occasion of Val Surf’s anniversary?

Mark Richards: We have backed this industry longer than almost anyone, and we appreciate that this industry has supported us in many ways.

With what all of us are experiencing coupled with the fall in the number of retailers, we have found that most vendors have stepped up their accommodations to us.

We are grateful for this support and value that they are on board with us. We look forward to celebrating more anniversaries with the industry in the future. 

 

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