Maui Nix Owner Talks Labor, Pricing and “Pleasant Surprises”
Maui Nix Inc. President and owner George Karamitos can’t complain: business is trending nicely so far this year across his seven Florida surf shops.
Business in 2021 was stellar, due to Florida being open to travel during the pandemic, and that continued into the first four months of 2022 before the decline began that year, capped off by hurricanes that caused the loss of hundreds of hotel rooms.
“As we were going into the first few months of 2023, I thought we’d be down, but quite the opposite has happened,” Karamitos said. “January and February, we held strong and our sales were the same as last year. When I did my planning for the year, I projected us to be down 12% for the first four months of the year and then once we got to May, we would flatten out. So, much to my pleasant surprise, that hasn’t been the case.”
Karamitos said he usually waits to look at the combined results of March and April – to fully factor in the impact of travelers from spring break, Easter, and the Daytona Beach college cheerleading competition – before calling it. Last week’s heavy rainfall in Fort Lauderdale caused some flooding in the nearby parking garage, prompting the store’s early closure for employees to safely leave. However, operations have since resumed, Karamitos said.
So far, business is generally looking good.
“Of course, there’s a lot of negativity relating to the financial market and this and that,” he said. “Our stores are well stocked. They’re well merchandised. Compared to what was going on in 2021, we’ve got plenty of product. Our stores really rely on the tourist traffic for success. So as long as that continues, we should be fine.”
A wave of families milled about and also kept the cash register busy when SES visited Maui Nix’s Fort Lauderdale store in its picturesque location just steps away from the sand.
The store presents a number of heritage brands in sizeable buildouts, with those labels moving the most product.
“Many years ago, we made a commitment to the heritage brands – those being Billabong, Quiksilver, Roxy, and ONeill – with those store-within-store concepts we put together with the help of the vendors,” Karamitos said. “Then we’ve got dedicated Volcom, Rip Curl, and RVCA (sections) in the original part of the store.”
The Fort Lauderdale store was about half the size it currently is before Karamitos expanded it about a decade ago.
While the legacy brands do well, so do newer lines like Vuori, Katin, and Chubbies. Vissla continues to perform and Karamitos called out the label for its careful distribution.
“We love the brand and we had nice growth with it in 2022 over 2021. We hope that continues in 2023,” Karamitos said. “I’ve always been a fan of Paul Naude and what he did when he created Vissla, and its distribution is definitely beneficial for specialty.”
Elastic-waist shorts and woven button-down tops are doing well on the men’s side, reported men’s buyer Tim Hatton. Meanwhile, juniors buyer Melissa Smith pointed to knitwear such as branded T-shirts and dresses as doing well on the ladies’ side of the store.
Business: Looking Ahead
Karamitos is not alone in pointing to the ongoing challenge of finding the right labor to work at his stores. It’s an uphill battle a number of retailers have noted to SES, and an issue that’s taken hold more broadly across a number of industries.
“The biggest challenge continues to be the same one that’s been impacting us for the past 24 months, which is staffing,” Karamitos said. “It’s been better in the last six to nine months, but it’s still tough.”
On the upside is the product, which is key for any retailer. There’s no shortage of product for Maui Nix, Karamitos pointed out.
“We had a really successful 2021, and if we could have had the inventory we wanted and needed, the numbers would have been higher,” he said.
That challenge began ironing itself out last year, with shipping and inventory levels so far this year normalized for the retailer.
As for more stores, Karamitos isn’t saying no to the idea.
“We’re not opposed to it, but the stars have to align perfectly for me to consider another store,” he said. “Geographically we’d look much closer to home, just because it’s so much easier to manage stores that are within an hour or two of our home office in Daytona Beach. So, we aren’t aggressively looking for opportunities, but would if one makes sense.”
For more from our Florida spring break specialty trip:
- BC Owner on Business, Sales Trends and a Move Away from Covid Comparisons
- Ocean Magic’s New Owner Ramps Up Expansion Plans
- Nomad Surf Shop Mixes Rich Legacy with Fresh Business Strategies
- What’s Selling at Island Water Sports
- What’s Selling at Quiet Storm Fort Lauderdale
- Spring Break Specialty Retail Report from Florida
Kari Hamanaka can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.