What’s Selling at Island Water Sports
Bright spots began to show for Island Water Sports in Deerfield Beach, Florida, when March rolled around.
“Into February, things were a little scary. February was down almost 20% and then we made up almost all of that,” said IWS General Manager Cheyne Cottrell. “It was a little nerve-wracking, but March has been good.”
When SES visited IWS in late March, Cottrell, who runs the business with sisters Karly and Linsey, had already helped seven customers from Tennessee that morning and the store was getting ready for another wave of spring break and Easter travelers.
The uptick in business last month bodes well for IWS’s overall projections for 2023, which had originally estimated a down year based on February. Now, the Cottrells expect the year to be flat after spring sales picked up.
IWS, which was started by the siblings’ late father Kirk Cottrell in 1978, originally catered mostly to locals in Pompano Beach before moving to Deerfield. Now, the store attracts a pretty evenly divided customer base of locals and tourists alike. They come to shop the emporium of apparel, swimwear, sandals, wetsuits, and skateboards on the ground floor, while perusing surfboards from Pyzel, Firewire, and others on the mezzanine level where framed family photos and event posters decorate the walls.
Sandals are big business for IWS – not surprisingly, given the short walk from the shop to the beach – with sales “insane” so far this year, according to Cheyne. Platform styles are trending this year.
Reef is the store’s top seller in sandals and one of the top five overall brands.
“We’ve tried to do our best to have a good (women’s) assortment and it’s been working,” said Karly, IWS’s merchandise manager, pointing to women’s being up double digits in March. “We’ve had some good additions. Salty Crew women’s has really filled a gap in the market for that more outdoorsy girl. They’ve done really well.”
Salty Crew women’s is the newest addition to the store and its swimwear has performed better than expected, Karly noted.
Other “continual bangers,” she said, for the business have been products from RVCA Sport, which the Cottrells said consistently perform. Vuori’s floor space in the store continues to expand and Roark has done well since the label’s product offering expansion.
“Roark, their garmenting was so heavy, so winter focused and they finally started to expand in their boardshort fabrications and what they were offering,” Karly said.
The result? The brand’s Run Amok running and activewear collection has been “crushing it,” Karly said with strong sell-through, along with its Bless Up moisture-wicking, stretch woven shirts for men.
When it comes to new brands, the buying team took a slight pause more recently on bringing in a lot of new brands, with the exception being in women’s swim where they’ve added Dippin Daisy’s, Lokal Swim Co., Raisins, and Kulani Kinis.
“We were nervous and expecting to be down, so we didn’t really want to set anyone up for failure,” she said. “So we stuck with who we had and did some variations in swim because I was having a hard time finding swim that I was really confident about from brands we were carrying. So that’s been a good one, veering outside of the core for swim.”
Movement to Quality, Color
Interestingly, IWS is seeing consumers more broadly drift toward quality as opposed to value-oriented buys, particularly on the men’s side.
“The fast fashion part seems to have slowed down a lot – that part where they just want cheap, wear once (apparel),” Cheyne said. “Now, they’re buying really good quality that they’re going to keep for a long time, which is great to see.”
Anything with color in both men’s and women’s is winning in-store. Washed out or neutral colorways are a bit slower to move, the two reported.
“Color is king at the moment,” Karly said.
As apparel sees momentum, it’s another story on the hardgoods side.
Although some in the industry have reported a softening in surf hardgoods, IWS’s business there has so far held steady.
It’s skate that’s taken a bit of a hit, dragging down the store’s overall sales. The Cottrells attributed that to the lifespan of a board, which doesn’t require constant investment. Instead, the increase in skate occurred during the pandemic and now that category has slowed.
“Skateboards last a while so I think people got a ton of them back during the pandemic when there was nothing else to do,” Cheyne said.
“We also have rollerskates, which has taken a big turn as well,” Karly said. “That craze that was happening during the pandemic has tapered off.”
That mostly holds for the quad style roller skates, while sales of inline skates are performing better.
“Some people did some cool videos on them (during the pandemic) and TikTok drove a bunch of sales at first,” Cheyne said. “I think people tried them and realized why they stopped (roller skating) 20 years ago.”
Surf and skate camps have always been a part of Island Water Sports, going back to the ’80s, and they’ve changed in form over the years.
It’s a big part of the brand and business, demonstrating that the shop is more than just a store.
IWS operates surf camps in Deerfield, hosting 80 kids each week, and one in Boca Raton, where the Cottrells’ own Boca Surf & Sail, which hosts 60 kids a week. A skate camp touts visits to five parks in five days and hosts a maximum of 26 kids each week.
Registration for the summer surf camp, which begins Memorial Day weekend, recently began and sign-ups are about on par with more recent years. The camps were sold out each year between 2020 and 2022.
A coffee shop right next door to IWS is sublet to a former store buyer who had the idea for it, adding a food element to the experience. IWS also rents surfboards, stand-up paddle boards, bikes, and e-bikes, all of which help bring people into the store.
“We’re trying not to just sell products; it’s really just pushing the entire lifestyle of being at the beach and in the water, hanging out and spending time there,” Karly said.
Staying Close to Home
It all lends to an approachability that makes up the IWS experience, which has always been about catering to fans of surf and skate.
“I love your collection of boards,” a customer told the Cottrells as he walked past them in the store, motioning to the surfboards lining the walls. “I’m just going crazy.”
That ability to interact with customers and lovers of surf and skate is what keeps the Cottrells in Florida, although they’re not opposed to further expansion.
About three years ago, IWS added Boca Surf & Sail to its fold. Any future growth will have to be carefully considered.
“South Florida has been growing and there’s lots of underserved areas,” Cheyne said. “It’s all about the location these days, so if the right location presents itself, we’d be all about it.”
Kirk Cottrell had franchised the business in the ’80s, growing to some 35 IWS stores, but the siblings aren’t looking to recreate that model.
“I think keeping it tight would definitely be a formula that works for us,” Cheyne said.
“We’re also dialed into the Florida consumer really well,” Karly said. “That’s what we excel at and I think that trying to go outside of that would be a challenge for the buyers. Underserved Florida markets are where we’d want to focus.”
For more from our Florida spring break specialty trip:
- BC Owner on Business, Sales Trends and a Move Away from Covid Comparisons
- Maui Nix Owner Talks Labor, Pricing and “Pleasant Surprises”
- Ocean Magic’s New Owner Ramps Up Expansion Plans
- Nomad Surf Shop Mixes Rich Legacy with Fresh Business Strategies
- 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.