The Ambush crew inside their 12,000-sq-ft. store in Kennesaw, Georgia.

Ambush Board Co.

Location(s): 2555 Cobb Place Lane NW #200, Kennesaw, GA 30144

Owner/Mgr.: Chuck Morrow/Lee Elliott

# of storefronts: 1 (plus AmbushBoardCo.com, BuyWake.com, BuySnow.com, BuySkateShoes.com, and CheapSk8Shoes.com)

Square footage: 12,000

 

Background on how/when/why you started this business. How did you choose the location?

We have always been passionate about skateboarding, wakeboarding and snowboarding. We talked about opening up a shop for years, but the timing and area we lived in didn't match up with our vision. Then, everything lined up perfectly and we launched Ambush Board Co. on Friday the 13th of June in 1997. Our first shop was in an ordinary, 1,200 square foot space in a strip mall. We were the first shop of our kind in our area, so we wanted to start small and build the business and skate/wake/snow culture gradually. Over the past 17 years we have grown into a 12,000 square foot action sports destination and added a major e-commerce presence along the way.

What were you doing before running this business?

Our family was in the healthcare business for decades. Chuck (owner/founder) decided he had enough of it and wanted to do something he had more of an emotional involvement in. We haven't looked back since.

How would you describe your shop? What makes it unique? What do you think you're best known for?

Selection and service. I know that is what everyone thinks they are known for, but for us it is a religion. We always want to have the best product, presented to the customers in the most organized and shopable way, and sold with the heart of a shepherd tending his flock. Our goal is to take care of the current wave and nurture the next wave of skateboarders, wakeboarders, and snowboarders with each customer interaction.

How many employees do you generally have at one time?

30 (15 in-store, 15 web sales/creative department)

How do you recruit, train, and retain good employees?

Most of our team comes through our community of friends and network of Customers. If we hire a great employee and solid leader, we ask if they know of anyone else they would recommend. Typically, people hang out with like-minded people. So, when we find a good one, we usually hire all of their friends. Training is an ongoing endeavor. You're never done. A new hire can expect to go through a four-day training process where we teach company culture, systems and policies, and product knowledge. Then, we train daily as things come up and hold monthly shop meetings where we can address things that are working, things that aren't, as well as issues that need to be resolved. We also have reps come in to teach our team about the merchandise we sell. We take training very seriously.

Retaining employees is the hard part. We are a small company, so sometimes it's difficult to keep the talent you have when larger companies offer them wages and benefits we can't compete with. But, our team believes in what we are trying to do and the way we are trying to do it. Most are really passionate about their jobs (and skate, wake, and snow in general) and love what they do. Building on that passion and keeping them engaged is our most effective way of keeping solid employees.

What have been some key milestones in the shop's history since you opened?

Ambush Board Co. opened Friday, June 13th 1997. BuyWake.com was launched in October of 2001. BuySnow and BuySkateShoes came online in 2005. And CheapSk8Shoes.com was founded in 2008.

How is your e-commerce business organized?

AmbushBoardCo.com is our "parent" website that speaks to every segment of our business. We also have BuyWake.com, BuySnow.com, BuySkateShoes.com, and CheapSk8Shoes, which are specific to each particular division of our business.

If so, what percentage of your business is online vs. Brick and Mortar?

80% online/20% in-store

Do you operate a private label brand?

Yes.

Are your private label sales a significant percentage of your business? If so, what percentage?

It varies across product categories. In apparel, our brand is less than 5% of all clothing sales. But, our shop decks and wheels dominate our skate hardgoods category. Ambush decks and wheels account for about 30% of sales in their respective categories.

 

Lee, Max, and Skyler inside Ambush Board Co.

CUSTOMERS

Describe your typical customer. If you don't have a one specific type of customer, please define or break down your customer base.

We basically have two distinct target markets, one for our skate customer and one for our wake and snow customer. Both are extremely agile and move dynamically through product/brand preferences, how they like to shop, and the importance of style vs. function. That makes it really tough to describe our typical customer, but helps us in being equally as agile and responsive to our Customers' changing and evolving dispositions. As far as wake goes, this year alone saw a bunch of changes in how we cater to our customers. Cable became one of the largest segments of our business and the wake culture became more tight-knit almost over night. So, we went after the cable-specific boards, made Hyperlite System bindings our showcase binding line, and dropped and added two board brands. We also changed the way we spoke to our clientele by doing a couple of in-store video premieres (The Debut and Drop the Gun), hosted a pair of wake contests, and really tried to embrace that community vibe. The same thing goes for our skate customer. As our customers' preferences changed we started to bring in brands like Welcome, Polar, and Magenta. And now, our customers are demanding a more mobile optimized website. We are working hard to bring that to them.

 

BRANDS/PRODUCTS

Discuss your current product mix. How is it influenced by your region?

Our product mix is directly tied to our success with certain brands and categories. We go big in categories that have solid sell through and offer less in categories that don't perform as strongly. The market is almost saturated with competition (both locally and online) from footwear and apparel retailers (not to mention the brands that almost universally sell directly themselves), so we keep that inventory lean, yet healthy, and stocked with items that we know our customers want and will produce sales. We have more of a stronghold on the hardgoods market as those customers rely more on service, expertise/advice, and want to touch and feel the merchandise. Plus, aside from the snowboard industry, manufacturers are not actively competing against us in this space.

What percentage of your inventory is dedicated to...

Hardgoods 50%

Men's Apparel 20%

Women's/Juniors Apparel N/A

Footwear 20%

Accessories 10%

What brands have you carried the longest?

We have carried Volcom and Vans continuously since the day our shop opened. Most brands come and go, but we have sold Burton, Ride, Hyperlite, Liquid Force, and Emerica for nearly all of our existence.

What are currently your three most profitable product categories?

Wake hardgoods is by far our most profitable category. The margins are solid, sell-through is almost guaranteed (as long as we buy with the knowledge we have gained over the past 17 years), and the product lines are current for almost an entire year. Plus, we have worked hard to become synonymous with the wake industry so our name recognition in that category is sound. Skate hardgoods would be second, even with the low margins. We just continuously turn over that inventory which makes for low holding costs and good cash flow. Footwear would be third, though that market is getting more and more competitive each day.

What has been your best selling brand over the past 6 months?

It's really close between Hyperlite/Byerly, Nike, and our own Ambush-branded skate hardgoods. I would say that all three are right up there.

What's your overall impression of the local market over the past year?

The local market is on fire. We just got a 40,000 square foot free, public skatepark, as well as a major cable park in our area in the past year alone. The skate and wake culture in our town is alive and well and keeps on growing every day.

What are some things that brands are doing to help your business?

Offering co-op advertising dollars for SEM, giving markdown dollars on slow sellers, offering discounts and free shipping on large orders, sponsoring our skate/wake events with product, and making good on promises.

Are there any brands or programs that really stand out?

Vans offers a pretty successful program where they issue credits for dollars that we can then use on SEM for their brand. Liquid Force, Hyperlite, and Ronix offer us great terms, dating, and discounts. And Deluxe is always down to help out with extra incentives on specific high volume orders and with free product for promotions and giveaways.

What brand(s) has/have stood out as the best overall "partner" since you've been in business?

Nautique Boats, Hyperlite, Deluxe, Ronix, Liquid Force, Dwindle, and Red Bull

 

The Ambush online crew.

BUYING/PREDICTIONS/TRENDS

How have you altered the way you buy over the past few seasons?

We alter the way we buy and what we buy every season. Sometimes it's only buying off-price snowboard merchandise and skate shoes. Other times it doubling down on a brand or picking up new brands. Our buying strategies are always changing as the market and consumer demand changes.

Are there any profound trends that you're noticing right now in your region? Overall?

Most trends come in the form of apparel. Socks and 5-panel hats have been hot for a few years now. Now printed wovens and volley shorts are gaining momentum. For the rest of our products, trends come in really small segments of a product line. For instance, shaped decks are really popular in skate hardgoods as more people transition to skating bowls and pools (pun intended). In snow, goggles with an easy to change lens are super popular. And, in wake, wakesurfers, cable boards and System bindings are our best sellers.

What are your expectations for your business over the next 6-12 months? 1-3 years?

Sales have been down consistently over the past 5 years. But, now they are up dramatically. I see this upward trend continuing well into the future as we work our way through what remains of the recession, listen more intently to what our customers want, and figure out more inventive ways to make it easier for our Customers to shop our store improve the Customer experience (both brick and mortar and online).

Where are you seeing the best margins?

Surf/skate apparel and wake hardgoods.

What brands are consumers coming in and asking for the most?

Polar, Magenta, Welcome, Real, and Anti-Hero skateboards, Hyperlite bindings, Slingshot wakeboards, more "core" brand skate shoes (Emerica, Dekline, Lakai), HUF apparel, and Go Pro Hero 4 cameras.

What new brands are gaining traction for you?

The aforementioned brands plus Thrasher apparel.

 

CUSTOMER SERVICE

Name the top three reps that service your store and what makes them special.

We have so many good ones that, but if we are only picking three they are:

Eddie Beverly (Hyperite) - he is one of the few reps that actually puts dollars in the register. At off-site selling events, Eddie has a built-in clientele that he steers towards our businesses and produces sales for us. Plus, he enthusiastically supports all of our events, puts on special training clinics for our sales team, hooks up our employees with wakeboard product seemingly on demand, and provides knowledge and insight into the inner workings of wake industry that helps with our buying and marketing strategies. Eddie is more than a sales rep. He is a friend and business partner.

Brad Handel (Deluxe Distribution) - Brad is always available, responds quickly to emails and orders, always does as he promises, and is quick and accurate when dealing with issues. On top of that, he supports all of our events, opens the Deluxe Café resources to our shop (making cool POP for all his brands with our logo molded into the design), and is always sending us products for giveaways, Instagram contests, and product reviews. But, most of all, he comes to us with ideas on ways to build sales for both of our brands. He is the most proactive rep we have.

Cory Wilkinson (Supra/Krew) - Cory has experience working in a shop, so he knows what it takes to be successful at retail. He is very active in getting us web banners, site imagery, social media/marketing assets, and merchandising tools for the web store and shop. He also is quick to respond to any of our needs and to take care of any issues, works with us on sales programs/markdown dollars, and supports our events. Cory is also one of the best inventory monitors around. He keeps tabs on our stock to make sure we don't run out of the hot sellers and that we markdown the slower movers in a timely manner and in a way that is beneficial to our business.

 

OVERALL

What's one key lesson that you've learned through running this business?

The most important lesson that we have learned is to be flexible. Everything changes all the time. You have to be able to change and adapt with it. Secondly, having the self-awareness to know what you are good at and what you are not good at. We have learned to look inward and do more of the things we are good at and less of the things we are not good at.

What is your top concern for your business and/or the industry as a whole right now?

The brands are becoming our biggest competitors. Whereas we were once a partner in the distribution of our vendors' products, we are now competing against one another for almost every sale. I don't know if many of the shops in the industry can handle that level of competition. The brands need to decide whether or not they want to put their own stores in every town or leave retail up to the shops.

What makes you optimistic about your business and/or the industry right now?

I am most optimistic about how good everyone is getting at playing their role in this industry. Most of the companies are stable, organized, making great products, producing well-thought- out marketing campaigns. This industry used to be full of unfilled promises, lackluster product, poor order fulfillment, bad accounting, and was extremely unorganized. This industry is maturing and people and companies are getting better with it. The same thing goes for our business. We are just now getting good at what we do. I can't wait to build on it and see where we can take our shop/webstore.

What are the standout events that you host or programs that you run for consumers?

Game of S.K.A.T.E. (we are about to host our 21st game this month), March Radness (skateboard contest), Wake Classic (wakeboard contest), Shoe Club (buy 8 pairs of shoes and get one free), Skateboard Club (buy 12 decks and get one free)

Do you expect your business to grow over the next year?

Of course.

Are you currently considering expanding or opening a second location?

We are continuously looking for and developing new ways to get people's eyes on us and the products that we sell. In the coming weeks/months we will be rolling out a full on Ambassador program and an omni-channel loyalty program. We're also working on new ways to leverage user-generated content, not only for marketing purposes, but also to give shout-outs to our friends and Customers. And, we have been experimenting with geofencing and other location-based technologies, and technologies to help people find the perfect wakeboard, snowboard, or skateboard for them.

Do you sponsor a shop team? Who are some of your standouts?

Skate: Travis Glover, Zeke Logan, Trey "Catnip" Abad, Josh Butler, Jordan Smith

Wake: Harley Clifford, Ben Horan, Mike Dowdy, Josh Palma, Scott Stewart

Last specific moment that really made you love your job?

Recently, we gave a tour of our shop and web sales/creative office to a group of college seniors. The students were blown away by the level of sophistication in our systems, uniqueness of our SEM/digital marketing strategies, and the enthusiasm of our people. Seeing their faces made me proud of what we have built over the past 17 years.