EDITOR'S NOTE: Our Retail Wednesdays series profiles a different specialty retailer each week, in an effort to spotlight success stories and gain insight from shops that are continuing to grow in the face of a challenging economy. This profile is powered by our friends at Building The Revolution.

hobie surf shops

The Hobie crew

Retailer: Hobie Surf Shops
Location: San Clemente, Dana Point, Laguna Beach and Corona Del Mar
Years in Business: Since 1954
Interviewee: Jake Schwaner
Job Title: Managing Partner

How has business been so far in 2017?

Business has been good with the exception of February when we got all of the cold weather and rain.

Brick-and-mortar retailers are struggling, in part because of the growth of e-commerce. Is the traditional retail model broken?

I think the traditional model of retail is definitely going through some dramatic change for sure. Is brick and mortar struggling or doomed? I think the retailers that might be struggling would be the traditional ones. The retailers that find it really fun are the visionaries that embrace the change that is happening right in front of our eyes. There is a new retail revolution going on and the ones that can see that and embrace it will lead the way. E-commerce is here to stay and as "Specialty Retailers" you better be authentic, innovative in your thinking, selective in your product offering, and provide an experience that will blow consumer minds.

What types of specialty retailers do you feel are leading the charge on retail innovation? Who are you drawing inspirations from?

Quite honestly I don't see too much innovation going on out there in our specific type of specialty "surf shop" retail. Our industry seems to be a little dazed and confused and looking for direction. Not to say we have all the answers, but we travel and shop. We visit and take inspiration from the Patagonia retail stores and really like how they show that you really can buy better, consume less and maintain sustainability top to bottom.

We also visit and look at niche boutiques from Abbott Kinney and the new trendy hipster type of outdoor malls. We also like what Proof Lab in Marin is doing and Sawyers Supply in Santa Cruz. We are heading up to Tofino, Canada, here soon and heard there is some fun things going on up there, too. Whenever we travel to other coastal and mountain towns we usually find someone who is forward thinking and creating a fun experience.

We noticed you have ramped up your grassroots events. Do you feel grassroots events will always have a place in brick and mortar? Which 2017 grassroots events at Hobie have been your favorites?

Our marketing strategy has always been very grass roots. We know that if we have our feet in the sand, have authenticity, and are emotionally tied to our community, then grass root events will always be welcomed. Can you even imagine Amazon having a community event with Mark Richards or Keith and Dan Malloy? Therein lies your answer. They will never be able to connect and touch the soul with physical human beings in an intimate setting. As for favorite events for 2017, that is tough as we have had so many loyal brands that have supported us in this adventure like Patagonia, Quiksilver/Roxy, Salty Crew, Katin, Vissla and Hurley. All great events and our community was way involved with all of them.

What are you doing to evolve Hobie’s retail strategy?

To evolve you have to recognize the uncertainty out there in demographic shifts, slow economic growth, sociopolitical insanity and the rapid change in technology that is really at the root of much of this disruption. Once you feel it in your gut and you see the vision, you can then set your plan.

Our strategy for both e-commerce and brick and mortar are basically the same. We just keep going back to basics and keep a laser focus on technology and demographics. I look at what I wore all through 7th and 8th grade in the late sixties/early seventies, and it was the white pocket T-shirt, Levi's and blue House of Van shoes. Look around at what kids are wearing in coastal high schools today, and it’s pretty much the same thing – the basics!

We stay focused on our core values of innovation, quality, community and service. Make it easy, make it fun, be passionate in what you do and provide and experience that will blow their minds. They will come back and spread the word for sure. Again, this pertains to both e-commerce and shop level retail.

How do you balance between your e-commerce platform and brick and mortar presence?

Again, back to the basics. We like to work, run and manage our stores, e-commerce included, from the top down. We value our relationships we have with our core vendors that share our same common goal and always make sure that our businesses are mutually growing in a very organic and sustainable way. We are all very much hands on and take ownership in our product mix, our sales and our own destiny.

What have you found to be the most valuable update or change you’ve made lately to the way Hobie does business?

When it comes to change or updating our business model, I like to view it as ‘how do we evolve with the changing times to keep it all balanced?’ This business is dynamic and it's always moving. Again, we recognize all the shifts I mentioned above and evolve with them.

But, at our core, the most important asset we have is our people. We have more than a dozen people that all started with us at 16, who surfed on our surf team, worked on the floor, and became buyers, designers and managers for us. That's 10-15 years of a core group of really talented and passionate beach and mountain people. We could not do it without them.

Our goal is to continue to remain the most sustainable retail company in the surf industry. As we move forward through the challenging waters of retail, we are partnering with more brands that put social responsibility and the environment first. Sustainability is a journey and we will be transparent with our vendors who share the same destination we have set our sails towards.


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