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Tom Holbrook On Quiksilver’s Retail Strategy

As part of an on-going series, we’re talking with some of action sports leading brands & retailers about the evolving retail landscape. From company-owned stores, selling direct online, and multi-brand retail acquisitions, some of the industry’s finest sound off.

Quiksilver EVP of Core Developement Tom Holbrook

Quiksilver EVP of Core Developement Tom Holbrook

In this first installment, TransWorld Business reached out to Quiksilver’s EVP of Core Development, Tom Holbrook. A true veteran of industry, Holbrook’s history at Quiksilver stretches back to the company’s early days, and his knowledge and perspective on the action sports market offer rare insight into the issues affecting the industry today.

As the industry’s largest brand, Quiksilver was one of the pioneers as far as developing its own retail network. Can you discuss how the brand ventured into retail and how that strategy is changing?

We have a few new stores in the works in the US market, and some great updates coming to existing locations.   I will focus on the direction for what we are doing here in the States more.

As I work with many of our brands and divisions here and focus on our core market and key customers, I tend to deal with the impact of our retail program.  We have gone though a big evolution over the last few years in our approach to our own retail stores.  The greatest take away now is that our goal is to make our stores more reflective of our brands today.

Also, looking back many years, an increased mission arose to do a better job for the “consumer perception” of how we would like our brand displayed. In the ‘hey day’ of the large national chains and department stores, their visual directors wanted to change many of the Industry logos and branding to what they thought was best-that was an issue too.  Even today, how many fake surfboards anchor some large retail environment trying to sell our industry’s product?

We were the first brand to really develop “in store build-outs” for our best shops- we wanted them to have the most authentic decor that reflected our brands-and to help sell our product better… Also over our long history, I believe we still showed more sensitivity as to where we drop company-owned stores compared to some other brands.

How does Quiksilver decide which locations are prime targets for company-owned retail, and which are reserved for core accounts?

We were guilty as company five years ago; as we had an over aggressive roll out to many malls with new Quiksilver stores. We have always been cautious of putting our stores too close to our key, core beach markets though.

We also partnered with some great “licensee stores” in some very core markets over the years-like Laguna Beach 17 years ago with EJ [Eric John] and Randy Hunt, or on the North Shore with the Kanaiaupuni Family. Or soon in New York with the Unsound crew.

On the other hand when four other industry surf brands elected to open company stores on lower State St. in Santa Barbara, we chose not to. There are only 60,000 people in that town year round-plus some great core accounts.

We have not been perfect in our retail development, but we still believe we can create overall brand excitement by showing how we can “tell the story” better regarding our products than most accounts are able too within their limited space.

The key is the balance of where a company can put retail stores that are viable; yet also maintain support and strength with the neighboring core customers.

How have you seen things change? What role has the economy played?

Over the last few years all the “rules” this Industry grew up with seem to have changed-accelerated by the tough economy.  Long time surf account owners were ready to “look at their exit plan,” manufacturer’s started buying accounts, and more industry brands opened their own retail stores.

There were less strong independent stores across America for brands to sell to.  Quiksilver was going though its dark days with Rossignol. We have all learned much over the last few years. The economy issues have shown everyone how we can all work smarter-we have gotten closer to our accounts.

Quiksilver went through its own management changes. Under Craig Stevenson’s leadership (who has a strong “core surf” background) starting a few years ago, we started tighten up even our own internal relationships between the sales and retail groups. There is much more interaction and partnership now than [before] when separate company groups almost ran independently.

But most important, it was time to create a new vision of our brand, more hardcore, authentic, and further away from the “teen retailer” image you could find in some of our mall stores a few years ago.

Right now, if you have a chance to see our Lincoln Road store in Miami or Lewers/Kalakaua store in Waikiki, it would give you a better idea of where we are heading.  At the same time, South Coast Surf Shop in Pacific Beach has a great new build-out for QS and Roxy that reflect the new direction, more creative, but yet are more efficient in capacity and display of product.

What is exciting now is the re-opening of two existing QS Retail stores, one in downtown Seattle on 1st Ave, and then our Santa Monica Store on the promenade this month, with boards, wetsuits, and a whole new look.

Our big, directional flagship will be in Venice, California in August where we’re creating and environment that is more of a gathering place for our products and divisions to be displayed in very creative setting. It was not picked because it’s the greatest specific retail location ever-it’s a good location-but it’s being developed also because of it’s unusual and interesting warehouse type space, and it’s proximity to LAX, which is a hub for many of our global family and partners. And , it’s close to the beach.  This store will be tied to the local community, but will let people know what Quiksilver is really about today.

So, how does Quiksilver maintain its long time core surf accounts?

Our core shops have been our backbone for over 30 years here in the states. We need to take even better care of them. Limited distribution products (like the Union Boardshort program), more attention, special events, and support for what helps them perform daily with our brands.

Our investment in visuals and core shop build-outs has never been greater; this will continue to grow going forward as well. Our accounts have been very loyal to us over the years. They know that regardless of what issues they face, we’re going to work hard to continue to have their support.

Yes, we are also proud of our retail development-it is more calculated, and thought-out than ever before…Over the last few years n the US, we have actually closed more than 20 under performing mall-based locations. The doors we open, or in many cases re-model here in the States, will be a more powerful brand statement that we believe will stimulate the consumer towards our brands in general…The newest doors and re-models reflect a more authentic, creative direction that is based on making the best products under the Mountain and Wave Brands.

Both dealers and vendors are in this together.  At the end of the day we are all fortunate to be in this industry and feel the passion we all share for the lifestyle