Since breaking into the action sports accessories scene more than a year ago, SOL REPUBLIC has emerged as a leading headphone company in stores ranging from Best Buy and Apple, to core surf, skate, and snow retail shops. At Agenda Long Beach, the brand launched a high profile collaboration with electronic music producer deadmau5, garnering the attention of many retailers at the show with its Professor Meowington “headphones for cats” campaign.
The company also dropped its action sports-specific product at shops like Jack’s in Huntington Beach and a handful of core retailers, giving consumers the option to customize their SOL REPUBLIC headphones at in-store kiosks. The marketing strategy, explains President Scott Hix, is a multifaceted one that includes telling the brand’s story and conveying its passion around music in big box retailers like Apple and Best Buy, while also zeroing in on the core action sports retail segment.
“The reality is, this channel is as much trend-setter, taste-maker as it is emerging,” says Hix of the action sports market. “If we are going to live up to what this channel represents to the consumer, we’ve got to create a set of products that’s exclusive for them. It’s a destination point and that’s really what this channel is about for us. It’s really about creating trend setting and taste making for our core retailers.”
With athletes like pro surfer Julian Wilson acting as a brand ambassador, SOL is riding a wave into the action sports market with a careful approach to product placement in the market, and is also gaining momentum and buzz around its collaborations with more mainstream public figures like Deadmau5 and Olympic athlete Michael Phelps, who was rocking his Sol Republics before all of his Olympic swims.
We sat down with Hix, as well as Co-Founder & Marketing guru Seth Combs and Action Sports Channel GM Marc Fiore, to learn more about how the brand is developing its action sports specific sales, the Deadmau5 collab, and how the brand has grown its following exponentially over the past year.
When will the action sports specific product hit retail?
Hix: It has begun to already roll out. The full product line is available, and is shipping. We’ve been ecstatic about the response from some of the core retailers.
They will merchandise this product, which is custom configurable, and we try to help with the merchandising approach by providing a kiosk that is ready-made to go straight into the stores. So they have product already being merchandised with different bands, drivers, and cables.
Fiore: We are displaying our Remix program which is an actual system, so you can buy a complete set starting at $99 to $129, but for $35 you can change the whole look of the headphone by buying a new soundtrack – which is what we call the actual band.
What has been your marketing strategy to build the brand to where it’s at right now?
Hix: We’ve been clear that we are not just a headphone company, we really are a lifestyle company rooted in music. For us, the acceleration of our Saviors of Sound—the DJs, the music, artists, and athletes—who believe in the power of music and have been supportive of the brand, have really helped us grow exponentially. Today we have 180 of them around the world, that are out actively talking about the brand. People like Steve Aoki on the DJ side all the way through Julian Wilson on the surf side coming together for a common love of music and believing in the power of what music can do, whether it’s within a sport or a personal level.
Equally important is this cult-like following of individuals out there who are falling us on social media, which has grown to over 10,000 in less than six months. That all adds up to the catalyst of creating this lifestyle brand around music. We are building it over time and not overnight. We weren’t worried about whether we were going to sell X amount of headphones in the first year. We were more concerned about Seth’s metrics in marketing, and the brand itself. The relevancy, potency, and authenticity of the brand that was being created. That will give us license to do a lot of things over the next few years.
Stoked to see the kiosks in the shops. How many accounts will they be in?
Fiore: We are dealing with the top core retailers and select national chains.
What has been the response at retail to the action sports specific product and kiosks? Any particular shop case studies that have seen great success over the past month?
Fiore: Jack’s Surfboards has brought in product and kiosks and has been very successful in the short time they’ve been selling SOL REPUBLIC. They’re looking to expand the line and deepen the partnership.
What’s been the overall response to the Deadmau5 launch since it hit at Agenda? What retailers have picked up this line?
Fiore: Over all response have been phenomenal. The majority of core market retailers that SOL REPUBLIC has opened since Agenda brought in the deadmau5 SKU and the initial performance conversations have been positive.
What do you think sets this brand apart from other headphone company’s out there and gives it its DNA?
Fiore: Coming from the action sports side, one thing that attracted me to SOL REPUBLIC, when you talk to everyone inside the company you feel empathy for music. And that is the lifestyle that, just like in action sports, transcends a lot of different categories. It’s a brand that cares about how the music sounds, and if it sounds good you feel better.
Hix: We didn’t build the brand to be pop culture, or action sports oriented. It’s really a brand that’s authentically rooted in music lifestyle, so I don’t care if your passion is surfing, skating, or you’re in band or science club. Music really transcends all of those and is the common thread. It’s not as if we created an action sports brand or hip hop brand, we’ve created a music brand and that’s a common theme. No matter what you do for personal recreation or motivation, music is the common denominator.
Fiore: It’s like what Seth always says, math and music are the two universal languages and that resonates because you can take it anywhere you want to go.
Combs: Even within the action retail channel we have the ability to differentiate within that group, as well. So the product lends itself to be able to create these unique value propositions. We are coming in unique to this market with product and marketing and this is the kind of stuff you’ll be seeing out of us in the future.