Surf Industry Veteran Paul Naude Launches New Brands VISSLA and D'BLANC
New Juniors Brand to Follow For Spring '15
Transworld Business had the chance to sit down with Paul Naude to get an update on the launch of his new company. Although word has been out for months now, and a solid lineup of experienced people have already joined the team, certain details (including exactly how many brands there would be and their specific names), have been closely guarded until now.
The Business Structure…
Three brands will ultimately operate under the holding company Stokehouse Unlimited:
1. VISSLA – Will be the main new men's surf brand, targeting 12 to 25 year-old males, and offering a full men's surf line including boardshorts, walks, Ts, knits, wovens, fleece, jackets, and long bottoms.
2. D'BLANC – Will be an accessory company focused on eyewear at launch. The eyewear will be Italian made and fit into the $90 to $120 price range.
3. Naude says another brand will be launching in the Juniors market for 2015, but that's still "a work in progress." More specific plans are expected to be announced early in the new year.
"It's a modern surf company aimed at the youth surf market," says Naude. "This is a youth-driven industry. I think the youth market does, and has always, driven what's happening in surfing and I don't see that having changed."
Naude credits a combination of hardgoods innovation and high-performance (aerial) surfing progression with revitalizing the industry. "Personally, I think surfing has never been more exciting than it is right now," he says. "I use the term 'modern surf company' because I believe that there is a shift. We have entered a new era in surfing. And I think it's being driven by an amazing amount of innovation and creativity on the hardgoods side, particularly board builders. It's really opened the minds of most surfers around the world."
"We look to capture the excitement and energy that's going on with those two bookends of surfing [hardgoods innovation and progression], together with aiming at everything else in between. Vissla will cater to ‘kids having fun in a surf-related environment’ and the ‘Surf everything ride anything mentality.'”
Naude Breaks Down The Distribution Strategy…
"The intention of this business is to make some great product, have a lot of fun doing it, and hopefully make enough money to continue to do those things in perpetuity. The intention is not to build a multi-hundred million dollar business. I think that it is possible to build a company in the surf space that can be viable and relevant by trying to 'keep it real' and sell to the distribution base that you want to sell to, and I think one can achieve a reasonable level of volume and control."
"The intention is to distribute product primarily through independent specialty stores, globally. Whether there's one or two bigger accounts that we choose to work with down the road or not, we haven't really got to that point yet. But certainly, initially, the focus is on independent specialty, and a controlled e-commerce environment."
"I think the biggest change in distribution is the e-commerce side of things. We view the e-commerce side of the business as being very interesting. We'll certainly be engaged in it out the gates. And at the same time we're really going to endeavor to control it as much as possible so we can maintain premium brand perception. Our intention is to get into e-commerce, maintain premium brand experience there, try to control it, and try to involve our retail account base in our e-commerce business as well."
"We're not chasing volume, so I think that as long as we produce great product and back it up with some great marketing and service, I think there will be enough business to be done globally through our chosen specialty account base."
"We will have credible, global distribution on day one," says Naude, "The Northen Hemisphere will deliver with us, Southern hemisphere will start delivering July." He also says that all key markets, including Europe, South America, Austral-Asia, Japan, and Canada, will be covered by a combination of distributors and joint ventures. All "strong teams," that will become known within the next couple weeks. It's already known that former Billabong Chief Executive Derek O'Neill will be heading up Europe.
Naude reinforces his focus on the importance of youth when he lays out the organization's staffing philosophy. "I've brought in experienced talent in key positions. And then we're brining in a strong infusion of youth talent to work with those people. In terms of key positions I've got a lot of talent experience there. People that I've worked with for many years. People that I trust. I'm pleased with what I think is my 'A-team,' really pleased.
"We've got a small team at this stage. Number one priority is product development and brand building, and obviously a tremendous amount of work being done on setting the company up from an administrative point of view. Next step will be building the sales team. And that will be followed by distribution."