BTR: How has surf retail changed since your days at Ventura Surf Shop?
MB: I was working at VSS from 1995-99. Retail is everchanging but over the last 7 years that evolution has been accelerated. Amazon and DTC have completely changed retail and consumers shop differently now. The consumer is more educated with quick access to information. When a customer walks into a retail store they expect more from a retail shopping experience. The shop really needs to give the customer a reason to want to want to shop there. The days of just throwing product up on a wall and expecting it to move are coming to an end.
Good customer service is a very important component in retail. This was true when I was in retail and is even more relevant today. For the general public walking into a surf shop can be somewhat intimidating. If they walk into a shop and are ignored, they’re going to be less likely to ask questions or feel welcome. On the other hand, if they walk in and are greeting by staff and the staff is educated and willing to help that person, that person is going to feel welcome and comfortable shopping there. The difference between when I was in retail and today is that if people didn’t feel welcome then, they would give their business to the shop down the street. Now, most people will walk out and go direct online or to Amazon. Good customer service leads to customer loyalty. If you have a loyal customer, they will continue to shop with you. Give them a reason to come into the shop even if they know they can get in on online for the same price.
- Provide the best possible customer service.
- Give the customer an experience that they can’t get online.
- Create customer loyalty and community.
BTR: As a surf accessories brand, your sales come mainly from Surf Shops. How is Pro-lite evolving to support surf shops?
MB: We’re not in department or big box sports stores so core shops are our life blood. We’ve always tried to support shops that support us. Inventory availability has been tough across the board for all accessory companies over the last 2 years. As this became more of an ongoing issue we took a look at the shops that have been supporting and relying on us for years and we made a conscious decision to allocate inventory to those accounts first. The most beneficial thing that we can do as a supplier for our retail partners is to make sure that we have inventory in stock on consistent basis.
Around a year and a half ago we also made a decision to limit the number of authorized dealers selling Pro-Lite product on 3rdparty ecommerce sites such as Amazon. The accounts that are authorized to sell through Amazon must abide by a very strict MAP policy which we police heavily.
BTR: What is the main differentiating factor between Pro-lite and your competitors?
MB: Pro-Lite consists of 4 guys in a warehouse in Ventura. We’re a small company and this has everyone here wearing many hats, which can be challenging at times but what it also does is give everyone here a chance to really touch most aspects of the business and understand what it takes to make this thing successful.
We’re still independently owned and self-financed so we don’t have to answer to a large board of director’s or a bank. Because of this we can be a bit more nimble than some of our competitor’s. If we see something that needs to be changed whether it be product, marketing, production or operations we can pivot quickly without having to go through a bunch of channels to do so. A couple of our main competitors have been bought and sold a couple of times over in the last 6 years and are now part of a portfolio of brands at larger Investment firms. This makes it much more difficult to change quickly when the market shifts.
We’re proud to say that we’ve been holding our own in the US against other accessory brands that have way more money and resources than we have access to.
BTR: Micah, you have been the creative mind behind Pro-lite’s innovative products. What product are you the most proud of and how did you come up with the concept?
The Smuggler bag for sure. As surfers we’ve been battling with the airlines on baggage fees for years. Up until recently most domestic airlines were charging on a per board basis. The Smuggler was the answer to that and kind of a f***k you to the airlines. The Smuggler basically allows you to take 3 boards while only showing 2 when they check your bag. It was a concept that I’d been working on for a number of years but had been struggling to find the right solution to the problem. A false bottom was the original concept but aesthetically it just didn’t work and was just a bit too obvious. So, after many samples and tweaks, the dual entry which only showed 2 boards on either point was the solution that worked. We were nominated for a SIMA award for this bag a couple of times and it’s definitely our best-selling travel bag,
BTR: Anything new we should look forward to in 2020?
MB: We have a new variation of Micro-Dot (our traction formula) which we’re pretty excited about. A couple of our team guys have been testing it and the feedback has been great plus the new look is super clean. The first pad in the new Micro-Dot is a collab pad that we’re doing with Eithan Osborne and Stab. This pad should be coming out in the next few months with more pads in the new Micro-Dot launching in Spring.
Finding ways to make products that are more environmentally friendly or have less of an impact on the environment is very important. A few years back we started using some recycled materials on of our day bags, the material’s made of mostly recycled plastic bottles which is pretty cool. This is something that we’re looking to use throughout more of line over the next couple of years.
We’re always working on new product or ways to make products better; some new materials and tech are in the works but like anything new we’re working on we go through a meticulous testing process before we launch.