Surfscape Draws Mixed Crowds at Inaugural Event
While some vendors reported slower-than-expected demo activity, others seized on the opportunity to tell their product stories to a larger-than-anticipated mainstream crowd.
The Surf Industry Members Association, which organized the event, said Surfscape drew more than 7,000 consumers to the Huntington Beach City Parking Lot over the weekend. Brands such as Vissla, O’Neill, Roxy, Quiksilver, Billabong, Xcel, Lost, Firewire, Rip Curl, Dakine, Jetty, Body Glove, and many more showcased everything from boards to T-shirts. Most there were focused on product demos or directing consumers to their online shops, although some were stocked with inventory on hand. Those brands that did sell at the event generated in excess of $100,000 in sales collectively, according to SIMA.
“Our first event was successful on many fronts,” said SIMA Executive Director Vipe Desai. “We see potential for growth and expansion to service other regions to energize consumers, drive sales, and support small brands (in ways) that will help grow the next generation of surf brands.”
The results of the weekend indicated that there is enough interest to hold the event again next year, according to Desai.
“Small brands were the big winners at Surfscape, and I heard from many newer brands that felt they were officially welcomed into the surf industry and that being alongside and near the established brands was a sign of validity and credibility,” Desai said.
Hang Loose, which recently announced its launch in the U.S., was one of those brands. The company, with headquarters in Oceanside, was showing its Peruvian organic PIMA cotton T-shirts and sweatshirts at Surfscape, including tops with a print made especially for the event.
“It’s mostly newer (consumers). We’re just starting so everything’s going to be new,” said Hang Loose’s Luciano Cavalieri about the type of people stopping by the brand’s booth on Saturday.
Multiple companies reported a more mainstream visitor passing through, offering a chance to expose their labels to new generations of potential surfers or brand loyalists.
Connor O’Neill in O’Neill’s art department said that was the case when a younger visitor stopped by and asked what the company sells. It was the first time he had faced such a question.
“That was interesting to hear someone that knew nothing about us,” O’Neill said.
The company was offering wetsuit demos and also giving out promotional items, the latter of which were gone by the end of the day Saturday.
“People were here more for the promotional stuff and less about the surf because the event started at 9 a.m. and the wind had already picked up,” O’Neill noted. “Having that (promotional product) was awesome because I feel like we got a fair amount of potential loyal customers.”
Dakine saw about a 50/50 mix of brand fans and newcomers. The company, like many others, was there to demo product.
“It’s the first time this has happened, so I think everyone’s just trying to figure it out,” said Dakine sales rep Boston Titensor. He pointed out that Day One was a learning experience to see who was coming through the event and how best to interact with them, whether they were retailers, core consumers, or a more mainstream customer.
“We’re not selling anything here,” he added. “We’re trying to drive business back to the retailer. That’s my goal, and if somebody’s interested in our brand and new product, we want to inform them about it.”
Xcel Wetsuits offered a similar take, with the brand showing off its latest wetsuits and recently released boardshorts.
“It’s the first event like this here in a while, so it’s fun to see everybody gathered here. We call ourselves a tribe and it was great to see the tribe together,” said Courtney Kincaid, who leads sales at Xcel. “You get in front of consumers and show our product off and meet-and-greet with people directly. We deal with wholesale a lot, so you don’t get to see customers and their reactions, unless it’s a website reaction and reviews, so it’s great to have people come up and give you their input.”
Trying out product was a big component of the event, allowing surfers at all levels a chance to feel and experience the product at the beach.
Demos were sluggish on Saturday, according to Rip Curl team events manager Noah Cohen, who said he and his team would make slight adjustments to the booth for Day Two that would be more relevant to a non-core consumer.
“Traffic from a non-user standpoint has been great, but actual demos have been slow,” he said. “There has been a steady stream of people, a lot of foot traffic. It seems to be a really good attraction.”
Rusty Surfboards Marketing Director Ryan Willson said it was a pleasant surprise to see so many board builders at the event, pointing to Haydenshapes and Firewire.
Willson said surfers received a registration card to obtain a board from vendors, with a process similar to the long-standing Camp Shred, an annual consumer event centered around surf product demos held in Cardiff by the Sea this past March. He also said the RFID bracelet given to consumers at the entrance was helpful from a marketing perspective in collecting contact information.
“It was a cool tech element,” he said of the bracelets, “and the demoing process was pretty successful.”
Willson, nearing the end of Surfscape Day One, was able to parse through the crowds and determine an interesting mix of visitors stopping by the Rusty booth.
“It was people who aren’t into surfing in general that have questions,” he said, “And of the core people who are here, they’re more intermediate, advanced, specifically here to see the gear. So you don’t have that beginner surfer as much here. It’s general public and then the more intermediate, advanced surfers.”
Ultimately, vendors weighing in on the event applauded the potential of Surfscape as a marketing play for individual brands and the broader industry. Future years will see further refinement of whether it’s aimed at general consumers, the core, wholesale, or all of the above.
There are clearly plans to use this weekend’s inaugural event as a launchpad for larger ambitions.
Surfscape even drew a group from SIMA Europe who are interested in bringing six to eight brands from Europe to the next event, according to Desai. The idea is to test whether the U.S. consumer has an appetite for overseas brands.
“We’re going to start working on next year’s event right away since brands have already indicated they want to come back next year with a larger space, and want to block out dates and set aside marketing dollars,” Desai said.