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Our Favorite Interviews and Stories of the Year

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  • Siblings Karly, Cheyne and Linsey Cottell, owners of Island Water Sports in Florida - Photo by SES

We wrote a lot of stories and interviewed a lot of people in 2017. Each year, we pick our favorite interviews and stories that stood out to us for various reasons.

Here is the list of our 20 favorites.

One note: Nearly all of these stories are Executive Edition stories. To have a content business model that works, we need to charge for the stories that we spend the most time reporting and writing, and for interviews that we landed because of the time and investment we have put into covering the industry.

Our Favorite Interviews and Stories of the Year

1. Island Water Sports Shows That Core Retail Still Works – I spent several hours with the three Cottrell siblings in Deerfield Beach, Florida, learning about how they have rejuvenated their store. I was so impressed with how they have embraced social media, traffic drivers like events and rentals, and fashion in the women’s business. And about how they relentlessly monitor operations and finances. It really showed how second generation retail owners can take a business to the next level.

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2. Is Evo a Future Model for Retail? – This is a podcast interview with Evo Owner Bryce Phillips that is definitely worth listening to. He talks about why he believes there is more opportunity than ever in the action sports and outdoor retail space. For anyone feeling pessimistic about the future of retail, this podcast is worth a listen to hear an alternate point of view.

3. Why Zumiez is Winning at Retail and A Visit to Wayward, a Test Retail Concept from Zumiez – I spent a whole weekend this fall immersed in the Zumiez culture – meeting with top executives, observing store manager training, walking stores with CEO Rick Brooks. They had never let an outsider have so much access, and what I saw was fascinating. The success of Zumiez at a time when so much of retail has been struggling is no accident – it’s been 40 years of creating an exceptional and competitive company culture. The story delves into the extraordinary things I saw that weekend.

The Wayward story is interesting because you see how Zumiez is testing a new retail concept that is very, very different from Zumiez.

4. Jeff Kearl’s Thought Provoking Speech and Jeff Kearl on Stance Reorganization – Jeff’s speech at the SIMA Surf Summit was controversial, thought provoking and eye opening. He talked about the changing retail landscape in unvarnished terms and the challenges for third party retailers going forward. Jeff is not one to sugar coat anything or to worry about being politically correct, and that’s why he’s also great to interview and why I learn so much when I talk to him.

When I reached out to him about layoffs at Stance, we had an honest conversation about the challenges that have come from growing so much, so fast. It’s so refreshing to talk to someone who is not trying to spin things all the time. We love you Jeff!

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5. Under Armour Eats Humble Pie – Poor Under Armour had a tough year. The company realized that undisciplined growth and expanding distribution comes at a price and maybe they weren’t quite as smart as they thought. It reminds me so much of what the industry went through back in the go-go years when brand executives thought they could do no wrong. Remember the famous quote from a surf industry executive about the surf industry being “recession proof?”

6. Quiksilver on the Move and Boardriders: 2017 Was a Great Year – A close reading of the On the Move story foreshadowed the company’s potential acquisition of Billabong International, with the first steps now in motion. New owner Oaktree Capital Management changed the company name to Boardriders and discusses in the story how they have reengineered Quiksilver’s business post bankruptcy.

I liked the 2017 Was a Great Year story mainly because I spoke with Garry Wall, the Global Brand Lead for the Quiksilver brand, who provided vivid details about just how much discipline and rigor Oaktree has brought to the business.

7. Revolvr Finds Winning Menswear Mix – One thing the industry really struggles with is selling off the coasts. I became fascinated with this men’s boutique while visiting Bend, Oregon. Revolvr owners Jon and Christine Davis opened the first Revolvr in Bozeman, Montana, followed by Bend several years later. Both stores have been a huge success, and they carry lots of industry brands.

However, they carry the lifestyle pieces – chinos, wovens, jackets mixed in with high-end denim and American made goods from other brands. It’s an intriguing mix that is working and I wonder if there are lessons in there for industry brands as they look to grow.

8. A Visit to the New Vissla Store on Oahu and Paul Naude on New Stoke House Store on Maui – Vissla is one of the few, if not the only, newer brand that is opening its own stores in key locations with partners. To hear Paul’s description of why the company is doing it is intriguing and the photos of the stores are impressive.

9. Dick’s Moving Aggressively into Private Brands, Dick’s CEO Vows to Join and Win Price War, and How Dick’s Plans to Pull Away from Competitors – These stories show how a relatively strong retailer is grappling with the changing retail landscape and challenges in the sporting goods sector in particular. The stories really illustrate the major upheaval that is unfolding before our eyes.

10. Nike Wholesale: The Ugly and the Inspiring – This photo heavy story showed both the challenges and opportunity for Nike in North America. While there were lots of ugly examples of the brand’s distribution in the region, I was most taken with the inspiring example I saw in Seattle.

There, the Nordstrom x Nike shop-in-shop at the Nordstrom flagship store in downtown Seattle was beautiful, creative and special. It’s the kind of retail that could get shoppers off their computers and into stores.

11. Vans Outlines Ambitious Growth Plans - Vans is now the largest company by revenue in the industry, and has grown and prospered even during the recent challenging years.

But no one at Vans is resting on their laurels. Owner VF has big plans for Vans over the next five years –Vans is forecasting a compound annual growth rate of 8% to 10%. This story details how Vans plans to get there.

12. Volcom Returns to Edgy Roots – Like many industry brands, Volcom has had a tough few years. In this interview, CEO Todd Hymel outlines how the company plans to grow in the future, including returning to being a brand that is different, and a push into major cities. He provides lots of details about the company’s strategy.

13. Maaji Makes Major Move – This interview with CEO Miguel Piedrahita was definitely one of my favorites of the year, because he openly talked about all aspects of Maaji’s business. From a major development - a transaction involving Australian swim brand Seafolly and a private equity firm connected to LVMH, the owner of Louis Vuitton - to a discussion of why Maaji’s first crack at activewear didn’t work and how they are trying to adjust.

I also enjoyed his discussion about how he and outside advisers prepared the sisters that owned the family operated swim business for the expectations that would come from being owned by financial players.

14. Costa CEO Works to Extend Brand’s Reach – I had a very informative interview with Holly Rush, who outlined how she and the team are working to extend the 35-year-old brand’s reach while keeping true to Costa’s roots. She provided a lot of detail about where the brand’s been and where it is going. Costa is incredibly important to many surf retailers in parts of the East Coast, and the company is working to expand its product line to appeal to other regions, including California. Costa is definitely a brand to keep an eye on in 2018.

15. SES Podcast: Eric John of Laguna Surf and Sport – I had to add this one to the list because talking to EJ is always an adventure. He also had lots of interesting things to say about why he is optimistic about "craft" retail and the industry, why retailers shouldn't take money for windows from brands that have grown beyond the core, and which newer brand may be on the brink of big things.

16. SES Podcast: Smith Brand Director Eric Carlson – I always enjoy my talks with Eric because he is articulate and forthcoming. I particularly like this one because he discusses what it’s been like for Smith to go from being almost an afterthought for parent company Safilo to a main focus of the company’s new strategy. Many industry brands that are now owned by larger corporate entities can relate to the experience.

17. Globe CEO on Financial Results, Salty Crew Investment – I love talking to Matt Hill about Globe’s business and the industry in general. He’s really smart, and open about challenges in addition to accomplishments.  I always learn something when I talk to him and appreciate his accessibility to SES. In this story he talks about why Globe invested in Salty Crew and his take on skate hardgoods and the footwear market.

18. Absolute CEO on State of Skate, Plans for Penny and More – If only every CEO could be as direct, informative and undefensive as Frank Messmann. He’s a skate industry veteran and relatively new at Absolute. In this interview he talks about the big rise and subsequent decline of Penny and plans for the brand, changes he is making at Absolute, and the state of the skate hardgoods landscape.

19. Urban CEO: The Retail Bubble Has Burst and Urban Outfitters Giddy About Apparel Sales  – Richard Hayne the CEO of Urban Outfitters Inc., excels at describing the current state of retail at the shopping mall. Early in 2017, he was quite pessimistic about retail in the short term, and provided a colorful and telling description of the state of retail in America. Later in year, he was just as colorful describing why he’s optimistic about developing fashion trends. Our Urban earnings stories are always worth reading because of the great insights he provides into the retail business in general.

20. Billabong CEO Says Turning Point Has Arrived – I have to thank CEO Neil Fiske and his communication team at Billabong Australia. SES is Neil’s first interview after each earnings call, and Neil is open to answering any question. They have gone out of their way to work with us over the years, and we really appreciate it.

In this interview from August, Neil answered questions about RVCA’s business with PacSun, Element’s struggles in the U.S., the state of the Americas market, why he’s bullish on the company’s three big brands, if the smaller brands are still for sale, and more.

Looking Forward

As 2017 draws to a close, one has to wonder what next year will bring for Billabong, Boardriders and the industry as a whole.

I’m guessing there is lots more change on the way for brands, retailers and executives, and that we will be very busy here at SES covering all the news.

Happy New Year to all of our readers, thank you for reading and thanks to the industry for welcoming us when we started 10 (!) years ago. Thanks also to our amazing sponsors who support the site.

When we began, we had no idea what this business would turn into, about all the interesting and fun people we would meet, and about how much we would learn along the way. We appreciate all of you.

 

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