Vissla CEO on Sales Trends, New Collaborations, and Business Advice for New Brands
Rosenthal & Rosenthal’s Maria Contino, western region sales manager at the factoring and financing firm, interviewed Vissla CEO Paul Naude about a range of topics impacting the surf and skate industry for SES.
Maria Contino: Now that we’re a ways into 2023, what’s Vissla’s runway looking like heading into the spring and summer months?
Paul Naude: The first quarter was up and down, largely due to abnormally cold weather, particularly on the West Coast. Based on our DTC business we’re seeing a very active online consumer and we’re optimistic that there’s pent up demand which will benefit retail as we get into summer.
April through September is the strongest period for the industry, and we expect that trend to continue this year.
Maria Contino: Anything exciting on the horizon for Vissla that you can tell us about?
Paul Naude: We’re launching a few exciting product collaborations. It’s always been a part of our lines and allows us to push the boundaries and add variety to the collections.
This summer, we’re really excited about a wetsuit collaboration we’ve done with one of the world’s top French fashion couture brands. Product will be available globally through their stores from May onward, so we look forward to good brand exposure from that. They actually “found” us and we worked together to create the collection made by leading Japanese wetsuit maker, Axxe.
We also have a couple of new marketing initiatives that should bring some excitement to surfing and generate some good content for online entertainment. Our focus is to create a point of difference as this new chapter of modern surf culture develops.
Maria Contino: With the pandemic largely in the rear view mirror now, we’re seeing many businesses still trying to recover from supply chain slowdowns and inventory issues that crippled the industry over the past couple of years. How do you think about preparing the company for unexpected challenges or disruptions you may face in the future?
Paul Naude: We performed quite well with our supply chain during the pandemic and had a good record of getting product to market. We put resources into this area and have stayed as nimble and close to it as possible. As a result, we’re pretty stable right now but continue to research and develop options where necessary.
Certain categories are easier than others and I believe that the industry overall is now more experienced at the art of pivoting in this area when it’s necessary.
Maria Contino: You’ve been in and around the surf and skate space your whole life. What’s been the most significant change that you’ve witnessed in the industry since you started?
Paul Naude: The core fundamentals of good, innovative product, ever-evolving hardgoods design and understanding the changing intangibles in this niche market remain as the key foundational factors for the industry as a whole.
But the most significant change over the past few decades has been the introduction of digital platforms for social media, marketing, and vast amounts of exciting content that gets launched virtually daily. As an industry, we’re more connected to the consumer now than ever before which generates real-time feedback, which is a positive for everyone. The newer brands that started in this digital era have the edge in this area.
Maria Contino: What do you see as the biggest growth opportunity for surf and skate brands right now?
Paul Naude: As interaction with the target market increases through the internet, so will direct-to-consumer and retail sales. There’s a significant opportunity for new and exciting retail concepts, particularly in many under-traded areas where there’s little to no brick-and-mortar outlets.
There’s been disruption in the bigger brand arena in recent years and this has created and continues to create opportunity for newer brands with a fresh perspective. Emerging global regions have really come to the fore in recent years and continue to generate growth opportunities.
Maria Contino: If you were to give your younger self one piece of advice about running a surf and skate company, what would it be?
Paul Naude: Identify your target market and create compelling product and brand story to support it, along with a reliable backend.
Get professional advice on your business model and make sure that you secure enough capital to support your growth for three to five years or more.
Maria Contino: What value does Rosenthal & Rosenthal add?
Paul Naude: We’ve been really fortunate to have a long relationship with Rosenthal & Rosenthal. They have a good understanding of our industry and have supported our growth for years. They’re a privately held family institution and are very personable, approachable, and helpful.
Maria Contino: What advice would you give to other companies looking to bring on a financing partner? Anything they should look for in particular?
Paul Naude: Look for a partner that has a track record in your space and understands your business and its needs. Be sure that you have a contact person that you can talk to. You want to develop a long-term relationship. Changing finance partners can be really disruptive.
Maria Contino is the western region sales manager at Rosenthal & Rosenthal, a factoring, asset-based lending, PO financing, d2c and e-commerce inventory financing firm in the United States.