Buyers Upbeat Coming Out of Surf Expo
The market may be saturated with talk of heavy promotions and picky consumer buying behavior, but retailers enter 2024 upbeat.
Buyers came away from Surf Expo with exposure to plenty of newness from a floor dominated by a combination of smaller independents and emerging brands.
“Surf Expo’s always a little bit of both: you’re always going down there to shop your existing brands, but we also looked at a few of the new lines,” said New Hampshire-based Cinnamon Rainbows Surf Company owner Dave Cropper.
Cropper said he’ll now digest and mull what he saw from the newer crop of lines before writing orders.
“We’ll probably work with them, but we just haven’t written anything yet,” he said. “It’s still fresh. We’ll now sit down and probably come back to them.”
Mark Richards of California-based Val Surf, who was walking the show floor with son Blake Richards, struck a similar balance as Cropper – meeting with lines already committed to, recent additions to the store, and those up for consideration – after not having been at Surf Expo for some time.
“We really enjoyed the show and I’m embarrassed to say that it had been way too long since Val Surf had been to Expo as this overall presentation, attendance, and vibe were great to witness,” Richards said.
Newer brands at Val Surf are also being coupled with a ramp in private label.
“We have shifted dramatically into putting more energy, dollars, and presentation into our private label, Val Surf, plus transitioning our budget into growing with some of these smaller, up-and-coming brands as well,” Richards said.
Luke Mesanko of Wanderlust Land & Sea told SES he had several productive meetings at Surf Expo and is excited about several brands.
“I had a very engaging meeting with Jason Steris, the new CEO at Roark,” Mesanko said. “I love that Hitzel (Founder Ryan Hitzel) hit the pavement last year and added some key figures that should position Roark for a big push in upcoming years.”
In addition to meeting with brands such as Katin, Dark Seas and Rhythm, all existing vendors that Mesanko said run good businesses that cater to retailers, he was also impressed by product he saw at Fair Harbor.
“Fair Harbor’s tops – henleys, thermals and flannels – look very strong and if they can better equip their at-once business, they are poised to take off,” Mesanko said
And, if Howler Brothers, which also exhibited at the show, could tweak their assortment to be a bit more coastal, “they’ll really be a big player someday,” he said.
Coco Tihanyi, president and co-owner of Surf Diva Inc. in La Jolla, Calif., also reported a productive time at Surf Expo.
Reef, Xcel Wetsuits, Havaianas, Rhythm, Katin, Slant Six, Salty Cali, Simbi, Seatree Studio, Town Pride, and Jigsaw Surf Co. were the mix of brands Tihanyi met with at the trade show and either placed orders with or would consider in the future.
“I loved the show,” Tihanyi told SES. “I found a good mix of surf, boutique, swim, and novelty brands. I was also happy to connect with my peers and the management teams of brands that we sell at Surf Diva Surf Shop.”
She spoke on a panel during Surf Expo and said her business also leaned heavily on private label and items such as ornaments and candles, to help offset deep discounting by some brands.
Key Face Time
The face-to-face interaction makes it easier to hold meetings assessing past seasons’ performance, while establishing new relationships that can blossom into long-term business partnerships.
That was the case for Katin and Coastal Edge President D. Nachnani.
About four years ago, Nachnani and his sales rep met with Katin Vice President of Sales Dale Rhodes and that has since grown into a “very healthy business” for Virginia Beach, Va.-based Coastal Edge, Nachnani told SES.
“It all started with a meet-and-greet at the show with Dale,” Nachnani said. “I think there’s a real miss that brands have when they don’t attend the show in one way or another. When we’re discussing the past (performance) and discussing the present and where we’re at with each brand that we’re trying to grow, it’s a lot easier doing that face to face, and we haven’t quite come up with an experience that emulates that face-to-face interaction.”
Nachnani made use of his time at Surf Expo meeting with the artist Ayden Stoefen of Stoefs Studio, who Coastal Edge has a collaboration with this year. There was also Critical Slide Society, which will be added to Coastal Edge stores this year. The executive also called out Dune Suncare and Free Fly.
While heritage brands such as those under the former Boardriders group, Volcom, and O’Neill all did well for Coastal Edge last year, the stores are also seeing momentum around lines like Dark Seas, Katin, Florence Marine X, and IPD.
“The traditional brands all are a very important part of our business, and we look forward to seeing what the opportunity is in the future with those brands, but Coastal Edge has always been known to really explore freshness and newness for its customers,” Nachnani said. “It’s about being strategically innovative, and trying out new lines in some of our locations, which has always been a part of the strategy.”
Retailers reinvigorated with budding brand relationships and exposure to new lines now look out to the rest of this year with optimism.
Tihanyi said she’s looking forward to a “good 2024,” with a focus on solidifying brand partnerships and serving Surf Diva customers.
The focus for the assortment moving forward is “making sure we have a well curated selection of limited distribution brands as well as novelty items,” Tihanyi said.
Cinnamon Rainbows, which is currently in a temporary space, is set to move back into its Hampton Beach shop in the summer of 2025 after repairs from a fire are completed.
“Business is good. Obviously, with the changes of some of the bigger brands it gives opportunities to some of the other brands. Just as an example, I remember when Cory (Higgins) from Jetty had a small T-shirt line and that’s now a stable brand in our lineup,” Cropper said.
Coastal Edge also has plenty to be upbeat about this year: two WSL East Coast competitions, including the Coastal Edge Steel Pier Classic presented by Katin, and the roughly dozen skate contests it holds annually.
“We’re celebrating our 33rd year in business and we have gone through hurricanes, earthquakes, fires, tornadoes, and a global pandemic,” Nachnani said. “I think we’ll be able to pivot. We’re optimistic because we do our best to grow our community and not really listen to anything else. We’re very focused on what we can do to serve our customer. Nothing else matters to us, so we consistently challenge ourselves to try to market differently to our customer to grow our community by offering them rich experiences through our cultural pillars.”