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Upstarts: Surface Sunscreen

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Surface athlete Daniel Vanderziel

While working as GM at Hart & Huntington Clothing back in 2010, Guy Trotter was struck with an idea.

The longtime action sports industry vet was one of 60,000 in attendance during the Supercross finals in Las Vegas, and was having just as much fun as everyone else, except he couldnt help but notice one key detail: everyone was gettig a little too overexposed to the elements.

Surface CEO Guy Trotter

“It struck me that coming from the surf industry sunscreen was a part of life, but in the other action sports worlds no brand was talking to these participants and fans about sunscreen,” says CEO Trotter. “I set out on a mission to find out what was important to the athletes and fans regarding sunscreen. I spent over two years developing and researching our products and really finding the proper factories here in the US.”

The result: Surface Sun Systems, a new sunscreen brand aimed at action sports fans and athletes, with a goal to reinvent and change the perception of an age-old product. Since then, the company has been fortunate enough to bring in several investors from various backgrounds that have been able to guide Trotter with the development and structure of Surface.

We caught up with Surface’s founder to learn more about the product, how he plans to grow the company, and his mission to educate the action sports industry and change their perception about sun protection.

When did you first get your product to retail?

We launched our product in October of 2012 in key moto and surf accounts in So Cal.

What were you up to before launching Surface?

I have been in the action sports industry for over 20+ years and have had the opportunity to work as a sales manager for some great brands like OAM, Oakley, Analog, and Rip Curl.

What was the learning process like in developing and bringing this product to market?

We focused on developing sunscreen products that allows action sports participants to enjoy their sport without feeling like they are wearing another skin. Our products are designed to be light, dry and soak into the skin so dirt and sand do not stick to you while maintaining all the important attributes needed to be out in the surf. It is amazing, working with chemists and factories on the specific needs the action sports world and how excited they were to be producing something for this market. Sunscreen is considered an OTC(Over The Counter) drug product and the FDA regulations are daunting to work thru. Also the lack of knowledge many people in the action sports world have regarding sun protection is surprising. This is an area we are focusing on, teaching the importance of sun protection.

What are some of the key lessons you learned in launching this business?

Product is king and patience is key. We launched with a very strategic approach to brand management and relevancy in each distribution channel. I feel brand management and market relevance are cornerstones of our business and product development. Running a lean business structure that focuses on retail partnerships and in-store presentation are vital to our overall success.

What retail shops carry Surface?

For surf we have Jacks, HSS, Thalia, Surfride, Surf Diva, Mitch’s, Infinity, Stewarts and some really cool surf boutiques like Surfy Surf and Seed Peoples Market. In moto we have key accounts such as North County House of Motorcycles, Malcolm Smith Racing, Temecula Motorsports, Motoworld, Fun Bike Center, South Bay Motorsports and unique moto accounts like Moto Helmets.

Which ones have you partnered with to help further promote your brand?

We are really taking a partnership approach with all our retailers. This is something that we feel is a very important to building Surface Sun Systems. The moto retailers have never had a product like this in their stores, so extra attention is given to educating and engaging the employees as well as informing their customers that Surface Sun Systems was developed for them and can be purchased thru their favorite moto shop.

For the surf market, sunscreen has been an after thought for too long. We do not just drop off a case of product and walk away, we make sure their staff, retail teams and customers know our brand story, the benefits of our products and the importance of sun protection in general.

Who is your key demographic?

The fans and participants of action sports. I know this might sound cliche….but it is true! From motocross legend Jeff Ward who is 52 and rides all the time, to our amateur surf athlete Sam Reichel who is 15. Sun damage and Skin Cancer have no age demographic. Anyone of any age who craves to be outdoors enjoying action sports, is very important to us!

Do you plan to add any other athletes from other sports (surf, etc.) to your roster?

Our athletes mean the world to us! They have truly helped define Surface, from Ronnie Renner and Casey Currie in our motorsports programs as well as Bobby Okvist and Sam Reichel in Surf program to Mike Glennie in golf, each one has a unique story that fits Surface perfectly. We are currently working on additional riders in surf, other key action sports as well as golf.

What other projects or promotions do you have in the works?

We feel that the importance of sun protection needs to be brought to the forefront of all action sports and not considered an after thought. We are putting together final plans for our SPF (Surface Protection Facts) project that will include consumer promotions, athlete PSA’s thru viral web videos and in-store POP. We are launching our “Protection Starts at the Surface” ad campaign in the next two weeks as well, this campaign will focus on the true character of our athletes.

How else do you plan on growing brand awareness and distribution?

Our focus is to stay consistent with our original plan of brand management and supporting our base, working our way from So Cal out east and up the coast. I feel sunscreen is just the beginning and I see many unique opportunities to bring additional daily use products to the action sports market.

Any international retail expansion?

We are currently working on several options in key territories such as Australia and Europe. The suncare regulations are cumbersome and vary in each country, so it is very important that our international partners have a well established operating structure that can manage the government regulations for this type of product in their territory.