South Coast doubles down on girls
Does this bikini make my butt look big?
What do you think of this dress?
Should I wear a belt with this?
This is typical dressing room conversation at South Coast Wahines’ new all–girls surf shop in Ocean Beach, Calif.
While the junior’s business remains challenging in some areas, women are clearly shopping, at least at South Coast, which opened a second all-girls shop in San Diego recently.
Looking around at the new 1,200 square foot space, it was evident that the girls shopping stayed longer and talked about things they probably wouldn’t in front of a bunch of shop guys – how bums fit in bikini bottoms, how low or high jeans are cut, how comfy tees are, and which shoes and belt match which outfit.
“When a girl comes out in a bikini, it can be pretty uncomfortable to have a ton of guys around staring at them,” said Heather Shields, a longtime South Coast buyer and advocate of the new shop.
“I think for girls there is a comfort level with other women to talk about how things fit. In turn we can offer suggestions about how something might work on a customer’s body type – these are things that the boys normally don’t talk about.”
The shop takes the space of South Coast Longboards. It’s four doors down from South Coast’s main shop on Newport Avenue, a busy shopping street that leads directly into Ocean Beach near the main pier. In Pacific Beach, South Coast also owns South Coast Surf Shop PB, and South Coast Wahines, which is on the Crystal Pier.
I sat down with Heather in the newest all girls store to talk about how the shop came to be, what makes it so different than the men’s store and why she thinks her Junior’s business is healthy.
How did this shop come about?
It was one of those things I never thought would happen. When I got the green light, I was so excited. I have actually been begging for it for about seven years. I started working here 23 years ago, and worked my way up to buying for both the men’s and women’s side.
This used to be South Coast’s longboard store?
Yes, at South Coast Longboards we carried longboards, and brands like OP, Birdwell’s, Quiksilver Waterman’s Collection and more. It was great for its time but slowly it started to fade away. In April, we took all of the men’s stuff and put it into the main store, and we decided to put all the girls stuff in its own space.
How did that affect your main store?
We had 420 square feet dedicated to women in the main store in OB and now we have 1,200 square feet for our own shop. We had such a good profit happening in that 420 square feet in the main shop, we figured if we could triple that, we’d be doing really well.
It’s more of a surf boutique than a surf shop. We carry little girls’ products all the way to products for adult women. We pretty much wanted to capture kids from infancy and keep them through adulthood. If we get the little girls coming in and they surf and come back and feel that sense of camaraderie, they’ll keep coming back.
How have the first two months been?
So far the shop has been amazing! We have even beaten the men’s main store’s sales. When that happened the first time, I was dancing around. In the first month it already did 25% more than the longboard store and it’s not even summer yet.
During summer, it’s going to be game on. If the weather stays sunny it’s going to be amazing. We are really weather-driven so its imperative the weather goes well this summer.
See Page 2 for more about South Coast’s strategy
What about your first all girls shop in San Diego in Pacific Beach on the Crystal Pier? Is that still doing well?
Yeah, that shop has been successful since day one – it opened in 2000. For one thing, the location on the Crystal Pier is huge. There is great tourist turnover, but I also think just like with this shop, women like to have their own area. They come out of the dressing room and the girls fit them, and talk to them. In a lot of surf shops, I don’t know if that kind of customer service happens.
You said the PB South Coast Wahines has been successful since day one, but the recession made it hard for everyone, especially Junior’s, no?
Of course we had years where people were looking for just inexpensive product. Around 2008, I had to focus on buying less expensive items.
In 2005, surfboards took a huge dive too, especially with the Clark Foam incident. Surfboards were a huge part of our profit. At that point, we started carrying more clothes across all the stores. There’s much more margin obviously in clothing and footwear.
But things are currently turned around and we are doing a lot more now again with hardgoods and surfboards. We started 37 years ago with just surfboards.
Who owns South Coast?
Rob Ard is the majority owner. He started the company 37 years ago with just boards, Quiksilver boardshorts and tees, and he worked in the shop every day for years.
Can we talk more about Junior’s? People say Junior’s is challenging. What’s going on from your perspective?
I have heard that too, but customer service is the one thing we have going for us. Having a women’s surf shop with the right product, our own space, and so much help from vendors, it’s been great. The relationship we have with these companies has been incredible.
It could be that our location is at the beach, the sun is out and people want to spend money and be happy. That includes looking good and buying clothes, and every girl knows that.
How have your vendors helped with the store?
Our vendors are amazing. They have helped with marketing for our store, running contests, exchanging product, and discounting. Usually they help with instore contests for employees and that helps motivate sales as well as GWP for customers.
Which brands are doing the best for you?
I have chosen the best of the best for this store, but my top two icons are Roxy and Billabong and they always have been. They go back and forth between being our top or second best brand and have been doing that for years.
In footwear the number one brand is TOMS and has been for the last year. I remember when we weren’t sure about TOMS. People love the giving back aspect of the brand. Reef is number two, then Sanuk.
Can you talk to me more about why you think girls shop better in an all girls shop?
I think it’s the comfort level with talking about how things fit, our suggestions about your body style – these are things that boys normally don’t talk about. It’s just amazing, look around.
Also, girls spend more time shopping. Girls try on more clothes here and they come out and ask more questions than when we had girls’ clothes in the main shop mixed with guys.
I want to scream customer service from the rooftop. That’s the most important thing you can have besides good product.
Do you train your girls on what to say?
We have meetings on customer service, merchandising, and fit. I ask the girls to try on everything and they don’t mind because they do it anyway.
Do you carry any men’s products?
We do carry men’s sunglasses and watches so they have something to buy if they come in. Usually a guy will come in with his girlfriend and post up on the couch by the shoes in the back. If I had beer, it’d be perfect.
What do you think of shops that have only a girl’s section. How can they do better?
A girls section is great as long as you have girls working there and who are knowledgeable and will stay with customers from the dressing room all the way to the counter.
Sometimes guys don’t even talk to them. But girls spend money and you need to pay attention to them. To me, that’s a huge difference to have a knowledgeable staff and to have the whole store look and feel comfortable.
Also, girls like it clean, organized, and color coordinated.
See Page 3 for details about how South Coast merchandises the store
How do you merchandise the store?
Michelle, one of managers is an amazing merchandiser, but it’s been a team effort. Lately, vendors send in merchandisers about once a month to help.
Are you hosting any all girls events?
We will be holding a TOMS events where artists come, then we are doing a Surf Angel book signing. We are looking to create girls events every month.
Do you sponsor any athletes?
We sponsor some girls on Point Loma’s surf team and are always looking for new girls.
Do you have hardgoods or wetsuits at the shop?
All the hardgoods are still at the main store so if a girl wants a wetsuit she can see all the wetsuits at one store.
Do you have hardgoods in Pacific Beach’s girls store?
No, but the main Pacific Beach South Coast Surf shop still has a girls section even though the South Coast Wahines store is just down the street.
In Ocean Beach, we now have zero girls presence at the main store, but we may need to add it back in. We basically expanded hardgoods where the girl’s section was. There are a lot more surfboards there now.
Do you ladies all surf at lunch?
I get out with the staff least once a week.
Anything else we should know?
I just want people to know we are here and to come and check it out!
See our slide show above for photos of the new store