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30/30: 16 Years Of Maine’s Liquid Dreams Surf And Skate Shop

Mark Anastas has been leading the charge for the past 16 years to make Liquid Dreams surf shop what it is today. Back in 1996, after putting in time working at a surf shop in Palm Beach, Florida, Anastas returned to his Maine roots to try his hand at running his own business.  Liquid Dreams’ first location was in Ogunquit, in a 1,500 square foot space. The shop quickly became a trusted resource for the surf community, and eight years later, Anastas moved his operation down the coast to the neighboring town of York.

While the York location, going on its ninth year in business, is still running strong in its original location, this past May, Anastas—a lifelong surfer, who received his degree in Sports Management and Business Management—moved the original Liquid Dreams shop in Ogunquit closer to the beach, multiplying its retail floor space from 1,500 square feet to 8,500 square feet. The new location, which sits on 3 acres of land, also boasts a restaurant, Hooks Chill and Grill, which is run by Anastas and his wife and co-owner Rachel.

We caught up with Anastas at the shop on a recent weeknight after the daily rush had died down, and got the chance to ask him a few questions about how he’s adjusting to the larger retail space, what buying strategies he’s utilizing, and how partnering closely with brands and their reps has made life easier.

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The original York location on Long Beach Avenue.

Do you have an online store?

Yes, it’s still in its infant stage, but we are doing about 20 percent of total revenue online. That was a part of the whole move, believe it or not,  just to be able to not only grow the bricks-and-mortar store, but also online. You’d be surprised how much space you need to run an efficient online store, with storage and warehousing and the whole works.

What does your inventory breakdown look like?

We’ve always been a core shop. Our boardroom itself is 2,000 to 3000 square feet, and we have 400 boards in stock, so it’s a large percentage of hardgoods, for sure. If you didn’t want too get nit-picky, I’d says it’s like a third men’s apparel, a third women’s apparel, and then hardgoods make up the rest, between surf, stand up paddle, long boards, and long skateboards.

Wetsuits is also a huge part of the business because we are in them year-round. We also carry shoes and accessories.

This store is so new, and because of the move, everything has been across the board as far as gathering data in our different regions.

What product category has been performing particularly well for you?

Apparel sales have been through the ceiling now because the store is all properly merchandised and has proper racks, POP, etc. Product sell-through [since the move] has been huge, but a lot of that has to do with the fact that for 16 years our customers couldn’t see it and now its all properly spread out and merchandised.

But as far as one particular category, Stand Up boards sales are through the ceiling. Beater boards are selling like crazy, and hanging footwear has also been great.

What has been the single best-selling brand in the shop over the past 6 months?

TOMS. I was one of the first dealers for TOMS in Maine. For the first few years, we couldn’t give them away, and now we are selling 15 to 20 pairs a day.

Do your sales tend to fluctuate dramatically between summer and winter?

Our summer waves get small, but there is so much time to explore and cruise around on Stand Up boards. We carry just over a hundred SUP boards.

We have a big local following which is great, it’s the life blood of our business. Does our business quadruple come summer time? Absolutely, but it’s still  all about working for the local commnity and the surfers. That’s what I love and why I went into this business . It will always be the life blood of both my stores. We are all over the place with customers, and definitely from September up till about May it’s all locals, but that ranges from Downeast Maine down to Southern Maine. We have a lot of support from the locals, for sure.

What brands have outshined the rest in your shop lately?

Softgoods wise, the Quiksilver  family. Between Quik Womens, Roxy, and men’s, that seems to be doing the best. Then Billabong, Volcom— those have been the top three. Our own brand of Liquid Dreams  shop T-shirts, too. It’s crazy how much private label we are selling right now. Part of it is we are a big store and we are now becoming a destination, attracting that type of Ron Jon guy who is eating at the restaurant and then has to come next door and get a T-shirt.

Which reps have been working well with the shop recently and/or in the past?

Greg Levvy— he does O’Neill and Surftech —as well as Mark Angeelo Rip Curl and Creatures. Also, Bart Hopkins with Quiksilver  and Paul Danchak from Volcom. Buck Rowley with Oakely has been a star for me this summer, for sure.

That’s why if you walk in you see a lot of that stuff in here. Working very closely with the reps this year has been more important than anything going from 1,500 to 8,500 square feet, we didn’t just order millions of SKUS and hope for the best. We partnered with reps to grow it organically and are filling in when we need it, and taking note of what isn’t selling well.

What are your overall expectations of the business over the next 6 to 12 months?

For us,  just learning how to really manage this new larger space. I knew during the summer it was going to be crazy and crank, and we were going to do all this business. I haven’t had a fall or winter yet, and I would like to see how we do and learn from it. I try to look at things from different perspectives, and I’ve found things that I can already do better with this store. And that’s good. When your store is running like 12-cylinder engine, there’s only one way to go and that’s down. That’s not what you want, so it’s good to find things you can improve on.

I have 16 years of history going at my other store, so I kind of know what to expect, but this store was put together to perform a certain way so it will be interesting to see how it does in the Fall.

 Are you changing the way you are buying for 2013?

This past year we did what we did last year. Now that we have the background of how many of each product we can sell, we obviously are buying more because we are so much larger. I’ve also noticed more this year, because of the size and the destination feel, that we are getting customers that wouldn’t normally walk into a surf shop so we can be riskier when making our buys. Usually when I’m buying I have that specific customer in mind, but now we have a lot of people coming in and out of here that I haven’t ever seen in my life, a lot of people who are just curious. This was a restaurant that we bought and made into a surf shop, after all,  so it’s a pretty unique space.

Are you partnering with any particular brands to do collaboration product, or limited edition product for core shops, etc.?

We’re talking about it with some people for sure. I think when you go to a level that we’ve gone to, it does open up more opportunities and I’m definitely one of those guys who likes to explore those opportunities. We will be doing a lot of stuff with some of those key brands in the future. We’ve done some stuff in past but now we can take things to a completely different level, whether it’s board demos, wetsuit demos, pro signings—there’s so much you can do in a space this size.

Even before we expanded the store to this size, we were the biggest shop in Maine. I was growing at such a pace that I was overflowing my store. We’ve been in that drivers seat before, but now it’s opening up other doors as well.

I feel like for the Northeast, sometimes the brands are more focused on what’s going on in Huntington or Florida. But I think with a store this size they are starting to recognize it and want to work one-on-one with us and some of the other stores in this area.