30/30: Surf n’ Wear Beach House

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Surf n’ Wear Beach House in Santa Barbara, Calif. has come along way since its opening in 1961. Its central location on State Street wasn’t always so central. According to owner Roger Nance the building used to be a paint shop for cars. After hearing about some financial troubles the paint shop was having, Nance jumped on the location and scaled down the multiple locations of Surf n’ Wear Beach house to be housed in just one spot. The shop is located just blocks from the beach which makes it easier to run a surf camp out of the shop.

Nance picked up a surf camp to add to the store’s offerings after his son was in danger of losing his opportunity to attend the camp surf camp. “The guy was going to sell it I said ‘you can’t do that cause my son is going to surf camp and he still wants to go’ so I ended up buying it off the guy and now my son works at it,” said Nance.

The Surf n’ Wear Beach House is home to the locally established Yater line of surfboards and t-shirts. Renny Yater has been shaping boards since the 1950’s and Surf n’ Wear is his retail outlet. His line of Yater Santa Barbara Surf Shop t-shirts are only available at Surf n’ Wear Beach House.

We caught up with Nance to find out more about how Surf n’ Wear survived the Great Recession, their surf camp and how he turned a car paint shop into a surfer’s paradise.

You guys do a lot of events, how do those help out business?

It’s hard to really get a read on that. I think it’s something we’ve done since our inception, with surf contests to outdoor barbeques, whatever we can do to get people in. It’s hard to say if it really helps but lets put it this way, it can’t hurt.

Whats your favorite local place to eat or grab a beer?

Brophy’s, Santa Barbara.

What percentage of business is online vs. brick and mortar?

It’s not even measurable online. I do very very little. I’ve never really promoted a site. I’ve got a little small site, you can buy a couple things if you want to but I don’t put any credence on that site. It’s not even one percent.

What stores are your closest competition?

I’ve got Channel Islands, I have a Billabong store, a Volcom store, Tilly’s, Nordstrom’s, (laughs) I’ve got about everything around me.

What’s your favorite surf movie?

Well, it’s going to date me but Endless Summer.

So you guys run a surf camp, can you tell me a little about that?

It’s at a local  beach which is a real slow rolling, easy to learn type of wave. I’ve been doing it for about 14 years. I actually started it for my son just so he had something to do. I put him in it and when the guy was going to sell it I said ‘you can’t do that cause my sons going to surf camp and he still wants to go’ so I ended up buying it off the guy and now my son works at it. He works it and kind of co-runs it with J.P. and another guy. It just kind of worked out.

What is one of the better selling brands in the shop?

I still do well with Quiksilver, Volcom, Billabong, they still do really well. For women’s Roxy, Billabong, same thing. I’ve got a lot of other small little lines but those two, in volume are selling.

I do all the exclusive whole sale and I retail out all the Yater Santa Barbara Surf Shop clothing and then Renny Yater, is a shaper from the mid 50’s and he still shapes today. This is kind of his retail outlet, he uses me for his retail outlet. I do all the clothing for him, I do surfboards and we wholesale them out of here. I also wholesale all of the Yater line too. I sell it out of here. It’s a really local type of brand so I sell a lot of t-shirts out of here.

Anything you guys are looking forward to over the  next few months?

Collection (laughs). No you know,  I think, it seems to be that things are getting slightly better and I don’t think it’s because our economy is getting better I think it’s because people are just going ‘you know what, screw it. I’m just going to go out there and have fun, I can’t be worrying about where I’m going to be getting my next dollar ‘ and I don’t see business ever being what it was in ’05, ’06, ’07 but you know we’re surviving and we’ve gone ahead and I’ve cut everything back. We’re not going to go out of business because of that. You just kind of adapt to the situation and keep on going.

How did you guys adapt when the economy tanked?

One thing I did was cut my payroll by 30%. You just tighten up on your buying, you don’t buy as frivolously. You really look at the line and you have to pick and choose. I mean there’s just nothing you can do about your rent unfortunately. Whatever that is you just have to figure it in there and wherever you can cut corners you cut corners. I don’t do a lot of advertising anyway and I found myself buying a lot of off-price so I get better margins on goods. You just kind  of  do the typical things to adapt.

Did you choose the location of Surf n’ Wear Beach House?

Yeah, at the time I got it it wasn’t even a location. It was another business in here. I found out through the grapevine that they weren’t doing well and weren’t paying their rent and I jumped on it. This area back then was not a retail area. This store, they painted cars here so it was a paint shop for cars. If you knew Santa Barbara better, you’d know this wasn’t a happening area a long time ago. Everything was downtown. As time went on it got a little more popular down here, it developed, new hotels came in and new retail.

Now was this back in 1962?

No, no that was the original store, I’m not that old. That was my business partner who has since passed away but he opened in Summerland in 1961. There’s been a lot of changes and a lot of different things have happened since then.

In 1965 he moved it to downtown Santa Barbara. I started working for him in 1974 or ’75 and I became a partner with him in late ’78 or ’79 and since then we’ve opened up stores all over. We had one in San Luis Obispo and all over and closed everything and I took everything and found this location and brought it all down here. It’s been kind of  a long road to here. Now  I have one single  store right here and this is where I’m going to die, hopefully, (laughs).