Retail Check In: Hobie Surf Shops
We are checking in with industry retailers around the country to see how they are faring during the pandemic.
Today, we talked with Jake Schwaner, the co-owner of Hobie Surf Shops, which has three stores in Orange County, Calif.
We asked him how Hobie is faring, what they are seeing in stores and if they have adjusted orders for fall and holiday.
So far, things have turned out much better than expected. Like most retailers, Jake and Co-owner Mark Christy didn’t know what to expect when stores reopened after the lockdown. But customers have come back in droves, and Hobie stores are now financially well ahead of where they typically would be in a normal year, despite the closures.
How did you guys survive the lockdowns? Did you make any adjustments to the business model?
Jake Schwaner: The short answer is yes we survived. It was one of the toughest balls ever thrown at us but we buckled down and made do with what and who we had.
The adjustments we had to make were most likely not too different from what everyone else had to do to survive something like this. We had to take the sum total of everything Mark and I learned – in business school, life’s school of hard knocks and everyday business – and use good old common sense and stay focused.
We always knew that you can do more with less, and for years we were working in that direction. Strangely and in some cases sadly, this pandemic turbo charged our business model on that front. We have realized we don’t need to carry such a wide array of brands – we need to carry the brands that really resonate with our customers.
What have you been seeing since stores reopened? Are shoppers coming back?
Jake Schwaner: It seems like such a long time ago that we got that pass to open back up in May. What we have seen from that point until now has finally calmed down and I believe that most shoppers understand the rules of the game. If we retailers want to keep our doors open then there are certain things we must do.
We follow the guidelines and our core customers applaud what we are doing. They are coming back and are truly stoked on what we are doing.
What have been the strongest categories?
Jake Schwaner: Surfboards, surfboards and more surfboards. We handshape every board by Gary Larson out of our Dana Point store and Michael Arenal out of Ventura. The demand is huge and we are doing the best we can to keep up with handcrafted boards. Kris Carlow who runs our surfboard department has been a very busy boy.
From the apparel side of things, it’s basically anything and everything our customers can get their hands on. Beach accessories and hardgoods, towels, beach chairs you name it. People just want to get outside and get to the beach, get in the ocean, take a hike or go climb a rock. If we have categories that provide this, then it’s all moving.
Do you have the inventory you need in those categories?
Jake Schwaner: We do and we are doing our best to keep in stock with what we need. It’s been a scramble for not only us but our great business partners that provide us the great products.
What have been the weakest categories?
Jake Schwaner: I can’t really single that one out because it’s been a frenzy at times and it just seems like it’s all selling.
How did you buy for fall and holiday? Did you reduce orders compared to last year?
Jake Schwaner: We made sure we had our key vendors written well for this time frame. We really just took our fall orders and reworked them for what we truly need for this period, and then booked in some new and fun stuff from some smaller brands. We loaded up with some fun accessories and gifts and increased the volume of both of our own Hobie and Fragile Ocean brands. There is no more “open to buy,” it’s more of a “buy what you need.”
Given the economic challenges out there that some weaker players are having, do you see the opportunity to open more stores in the future?
Jake Schwaner: Nope – we are in our sweet spot with our business and real estate. Our growth will come organically from our existing store fronts, e-commerce and surfboards. Do more with less! Keep it simple and remember why we got into this business in the first place.
What has been the biggest surprise in this whole situation?
Jake Schwaner: Just how well you can really do with less. Mass consumption should now be on its way out and we should all be cleaning up our own acts in both business and life.