How Buell Wetsuits is Working to Keep Up with Demand
The pandemic has been good for the wetsuit business, including for Buell Wetsuits, which is based in Santa Cruz.
We checked in with founder Ryan Buell to find out how the company is managing the pandemic and what is new with the brand.
Big Buell news includes the signing of Dane Reynolds, which was announced Monday. The first Subdivision collection, which will include two suits, the DR1 and DR2, will launch in early Spring 2021.
What is Buell’s differentiator in the market?
Ryan Buell: There’s a ton of things that set us apart from our competitors, but at its core, underneath the hype machine, is a rock solid foundation of making a great wetsuit. Advertising and cool graphics, podiums and blockbuster movie projects – none of it means squat without making a great wetsuit. It all starts there.
I pour everything I have, including 24 straight years of designing wetsuit lines, into each year’s new release. I’m very involved in our product, always have been, overseeing and vetting anything and everything that bears the Buell name. Not only do I manage the designs, but I also generate the original pattern sets that are used to produce our suits. That means we have a much better chance of making a consistent, high-quality wetsuit.
This year we’re dropping a brand new Jamie O’Brien model, dubbed Tiger Stripes Limited. Also, we now make the popular JOB! Float suit in an all-black, full suit for men and juniors (kids), all the way down to junior size 4.
In fall 2021, we launch the new Sage Erickson wetsuit line. We are all tickled with our recent growth and incredibly excited about the future of Buell.
How has the pandemic changed the business?
Ryan Buell: One of the results of the pandemic has been the inability to play certain sports, especially team and indoor ones. On the flip side, outdoor sports, in the open air, and especially in the ocean are exploding. Solo sports in general seem to be booming.
When this thing started, nobody knew anything, including us. The one thing we did know before the pandemic was that Buell was on a heater, a Jamie O’Brien, trajectory-changing heater. That gave us the confidence to keep the trajectory upwards and not slow down in any way.
Some of our competitors chose to cancel pending wetsuit orders, they laid off employees and then cut through their own team riders with a sharp, decisive blade. I think those decisions were transparent in the industry. This message trickled to the surf shops that supported them and ultimately to the surfer who buys the brands’ products. I feel like this created space for us to really spread our wings. Shops took a chance on stocking Buell wetsuits, and in many cases, we became number one in their store.
Are you able to keep up with demand? Is demand across the board or is it mostly in certain styles or categories?
Ryan Buell: Demand is spread throughout all categories. Luckily, we planned for it and have been getting “just in time” deliveries that have kept us hot. Juniors (kids) are hot. Their dad’s getting matching suits is hot, but the biggest, raddest rise in sales has come from our women’s wetsuits, which have grown at an even faster rate than others. Is it Sage? I don’t know, but my personal experience has been that she touches everyone she encounters. She’s just incredible. So yes, I think it’s probably Sage Erickson’s influence. Or is it just that women are hitting the lineup harder than ever right now? Doesn’t matter, I’m just loving the result, which I see as a surge in women’s surfing.
How much with Buell grow this year? Have you made any new key hires to the executive team?
Ryan Buell: Boss Baby Bud Freitas (or Surf Mob Boss Bud) has been our VP of Sales for just about a year now. In that year, we’ve grown a staggering 100% over last year. When others cancelled orders, we gobbled up wetsuit production space and we ain’t giving it back. 2021 growth is projected to be higher than this year, which is incredible.
We also recently hired an industry vet with some swagger in Chad Wells, who now takes the reigns of our marketing department as the VP of Marketing. His first big project is the announcement of a superstar athlete signing, which will rock the surf world. Matt Rockhold and Adam Virs run our team and social media. Noi Kaulukukui is our warehouse manager, and that rounds out our keeping it real squad. A bunch of industry vets who are still super passionate about surfing. I like our team, I really like our team.