Lifelong surfer Symon Cousens has been at the helm of Elemental Skate Shop since he took over the Middletown, Rhode Island retail space in 1996. The 1,500-square-foot shop, which is about a quarter mile from the beach, serves as a resource for all things skate and is managed part time by son Cheyne Cousens.
When retail space opened up in 2007 across the street from Elemental’s Acquidneck Avenue location, Cousens jumped on the opportunity and Island Surf & was born. As Elemental’s sister store, Island Surf’s 8,000-square-foot, two-story retail shop is stocked with veteran surf brand staples like Quiksilver, Billabong, and Hurley, as well as SUP boards and surf hardgoods, and caters Sport more to the women’s demographic, while Elemental sticks to edgier brands such as Brixton, Insight, Bow and Arrow, and Raw, and serves a skate demographic searching for skate hardgoods and footwear, according to Cousens.
While the summer has been slow at the shop due to lack of waves, Cousens is confident that as Hurricane season gets underway, board and wetsuit sales will gain momentum. With a staff of experienced teachers, the shops offer surf lessons at Middletown’s Second and Third beaches, as well as open their doors regularly to the surf community for movie premieres and other special events in order to keep the stoke alive and well. We checked in with the shop owner on a Friday afternoon as he was winding down from the week to gather a bit more information about the surf and skate retail market in New England.
What do you see moving at the stores right now?
The top categories for the past ninety days are as followed:
8. skate hardgoods
Wetsuit sales have been a little soft. We carry beach stuff in both stores; towels, sunscreen, and chairs. We are about a quarter mile from the beach and our business spikes drastically during June, July, and August, and then a little bump for Christmas. I haven’t looked at this year, but last year we did as much in the first week of July for sales as in January, February, and March combined.
When we bought the store they were a little more focused on year round business, but we did snowboard at that point and we don’t do snow hardgoods anymore. That’s a really difficult business, and we stopped selling snowboards probably about two years ago.
Margin wise, what’s your top category?
SUP is still our top category. It’s a big ticket item. We’ve carried SUP boards for about five years, but it really didn’t take off until 2010. In 2010 we bought a lot of different stuff because we really didn’t know where it was headed. As we’ve gotten more experienced with it, we’ve fine tuned it a little more. We have six brands we go heavy with now, where originally it was closer to ten.
What brands do really well at the shops?
Quiksilver is number one at Island and Nike is number one at Elemental. We do sell a lot of Nike SB. Vans is in the number two position over there [Elemental] shoe wise, but its about half of Nike. But I’m seeing Nike slow a little bit so we’ll see what happens. TOMS shoes has been helpful, too. At Island Surf we didn’t do footwear up until now, so TOMS has been good.
Are there any sales reps that have helped out the store, or made a positive impact with educational workshops, etc.?
Yes there are; there’s a lot of good ones actually. John Gilli from Billabong and TOMS, Rob Molt from Sector 9, Greg Levvy with O’Neill, Surftech, and Surf Hardware, and Paul Danchek with Volcom, to name a few.
What are your projections for 2013?
A little bit of growth, I don’t really have a number. We haven’t had much swell, but we’re heading into hurricane season so I’m hoping wetsuits and boards bounce back a bit, but that’s more short-term. Other than that, just plugging away and trying to react and listen to what’s new and different, and what people ask for.
What are you changing for your buying strategy moving into 2013?
I sort of have an isues with the industry always big push for spring, which is basically winter for us. We’re dead, it’s New England in the winter time. We are trying to react to that and come up with some sort of formula. Often times spring is better than summer lines, but based on our sales here, the firrst months of the year are being eclipsed during July.
Have I come up with a plan? No. But that’s what I’m up against. It’s a New England thing because in California and Florida and the areas of the country that the surf brands cater to, spring is an important season.
Patagonia only does two seasons, warm weather and not so warm weather, and that works for us. I think that model would work better overall. I used to go to January Surf Expo and buy for summer, and it made sense. Now if you go to January expo I think you are looking at back to school which isn’t a real important time for us, so I’d like to see a show more geared toward summer and late spring. The earlier you have to buy the further out you are forecasting and that’s more difficult.
Are you partnering more closely with any particular brands?
We were lucky enough to have Hurley come through with “Rip My Shred Stick,” that was probably the best event we’ve ever had. A lot of participation with the kids at the beach, a lot of one-on-one with the pros, and it was a full day event so those guys were in the water for four or five hours. There was a lot of interaction with the public, it was a beautiful day with little waves, so it was perfect. Hurley brought all the buses back to the shop and set up in the parking lot, printing boardshorts and shirts, and it was really well done. We appreciate all the brands that have come though; we’ve hosted Billabong and several others in the past.