Recently, I broke the sad news that San Francisco’s Wise Surf Shop is closing their doors after 51 years in business. In 2017 I was doing Surf Shop interviews for Transworld Business and Rob was one of the people I called. The San Francisco Surf scene is like no other, so I wanted to get his prospective on the industry and the future of surf shops. Below are two of the questions I asked. Hopefully we can learn from them.

Retailer: Wise Surfboards
Location: San Francisco
Years in Business: Bob Wise has independently owned the business for 49 years
Interviewee: Rob Aschero
Job Title: General Manager/Buyer

BTR: How do you feel brands can better assist Brick an Mortar?

RA: Are sales managers going to read this thing? I am not sure many of them
read, or listen, to anything because there are many conversations I have
had that seem to fall on deaf ears pretty regularly and I would imagine
other buyers, owners and shop guys have had the same sort of experiences.
Brands need to commit to brick and mortar as a viable part of their
business model, and listen to their concerns and address them, and I think
a lot of them have taken the easy way out the past 5-10 years as the lure
of perceived easy pickings online, both direct and through online dealers,
has seemed to become the focus of their concerns. Brands have to realize
that there is a finite amount of product that you can sell in any given
year and just because you manufacture something doesn’t mean it is all
going to sell regardless of how many doors or websites you are selling it
on. Brands have to tighten up their distribution online and work closely
with those websites that are going to support the brand and the sport of
surfing. Are there not enough brick and mortar retailers, who also have
well managed websites, to satisfy the online shopping masses looking for
surf gear? At the end of the day once surfing as a business proposition
goes south joesurfonline.com starts selling troll dolls, scooters or
whatever else they can make a buck on because surfing never meant a thing
to them other than a way to make money. Overproduction has been completely
out of control in the industry for way to long now to the point that I
doubt most of these companies have the faintest idea of how much in season
full margin product they could actually sell. They are going to have to
take many steps back to figure that one out and I doubt many of them are
willing to do it. Lastly, I am sure there are countless brick and mortar
guys out there who enjoy selling stuff, not for the paycheck, but for the
love of it, I know I do even after 20 years of doing it. But how do we as
brick and mortar guys, with all this knowledge of product, decades of
practical experience in the water and passion and love for surfing sell
something to the customer standing in front of us, with a wetsuit we spent
a half hour fitting him into, and a smart phone in his hand saying it’s
$150 less on idontsupportsurfingijustprofitfromit.com? And that is the
rub. I will go to war with my knowledge, technical expertise, practical
experience and salesmanship with any website, anytime, anywhere but it
isn’t a fair fight because companies are to spineless to enforce the ever
laughable MSRP and everything is always cheaper online. Guess what Mr.
Numbers Cruncher at Brand X? That new wetsuit your frothing over, that you
claim to be the best, warmest, most flexible one ever, that is hitting the
stores 8/1/17 is already worth 20% less than whatever you think it is
worth and by not enforcing the MSRP of the products you sell you are
completely devaluing the worth of what you manufacture and in time will
start to impact your bottom line.

BTR: What do you feel is the future for Surf Shops?

RA: That is a hard one. If manufacturers continue on their current path than
the surf shop as we have known it is really going to fade out. The legacy
guys, you know who you are and much respect to you, are starting to get to
the age of hanging them up, as well they should to hopefully some private
ex surf shop owner island where they all sit around surfing perfect waves
all day long and drinking cold beers at night eating lobster while
laughing at the shit show they just ducked under like a sneaker set at
Ocean Beach. There will be existing shops that will conform to todays
environment and figure out a way to get by on hard work, creativity,
embracing change and a bit of luck. I do think those centered around surf
spots with very user friendly surf that cater to the entry level surfer
will do well if they can embrace their rental market and really
concentrate on converting those people into customers with over the top
customer service from day 1. I would assume we will be seeing more
corporate owned stores, don’t get me started on that rant, as some of the
market is freed up by other doors closing. I just think it is going to be
hard for the average surf stoked person to open up a surf shop with the
capital and experience required to have a chance to succeed in todays
retail environment. I have been saying if someone is smart enough to run a
business and has the money required to start one then he or she is
probably smart enough to know to not open up a surf shop. I personally
still have faith in small business and I think in time things will sort
themselves out and there will be areas of opportunity for some surf stoked
teenager to go from shaping boards in his parents garage to starting a 50
year professional journey just like Bob Wise did back in the day.


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