ASR: Rumors and Lies

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asr, rumors, lies

It’s the surf industry’s Fall Classic. A three-day shaka-thon where deals are made, businesses built, and (at least a few) orders written. But this weekend’s San Diego ASR show wasn’t even a few minutes old when one of the more intriguing rumors turned out to be just that: a rumor.

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Swell.com and Hardcloud.com haven’t merged — despite what you may have heard elsewhere. While the VC, executive-level, financial types from each company have had a few conversations, nothing has been signed. But if such a merger did occur — not that it will, mind you — it will be an interesting first day at the new-and-improved business. Employees at both company insisted (gloated?) that they would be the ones to help the other company find a way out of its (real or imagined) problems.

In the meantime, the rather spacious and sorta slick Hardcloud.com booth looked busy, and the site is up and out of beta testing. October 5 is scheduled launch of Swell.com, who weren’t at the show. Bluetorch was at the show, but that’s another tale.

There were more than a few hardgoods stories at ASR. Surftech was pushing its Ratboy epoxy board. Rusty has a unique board with a three-quarter-length stringer, dubbed the Flextail, that seems to be building on the innovation legacy started with the C-5 program. Lost was typically busy as the giant Randall head trolled the aisles. Noticeably absent were Channel Islands and FCS¿both are strong, category-leading companies that decided not to show.

Wayne Lynch’s new Evolution board brand may have been the biggest hardgoods story at ASR. With co-owner Clark “Beau” Riedel reportedly planning to spend a cool half-million on building and promoting the brand, and with shaper Brian Bulkley lending his ample talents to the project, Evolution might become the new, exciting independent board brand¿unless Quiksilver snatches them up. We’ll see.

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The Wayne Lynch designs might also herald the return of other legendary shapers from the 70s. Word has it Terry Fitzgerald will relaunch a line of Hot Buttered boards¿complete with the trippy, cosmic airbrush designs he was famous for.

So, we’ve done the 60s with Greg Noll’s boards. We’re now seeing 70s stalwarts like Lynch and Fitzgerald get involved. Could the reinterpretation of the neon and polka-dot 80s heyday be just around the corner?

In the early 90s the Urban aisles of the ASR show held the thunder and most of the traffic. In the past few years, the skate market has been the high-traffic zone. But this year, finding a jostle-free path down the main surf aisle of the show was as difficult as finding someone speaking English in the Air Tight booth. It seemed each of the 20,115 conventioneers were parked into main aisle between the Hurley booth at one end and Rip Curl booth at the other. Nearly all the surf lines appeared to be rocking with the majors, new threats, and up-and-coming brands seeing their share of traffic.

Reef unveiled two new booths: one for girls and one for guys and raised more than 500 dollars for the Surfrider Foundation (which the brand will match) with a Wheel Of Fortune. Op also unveiled a new booth, complete with “Fembot” go-go dancers. (Oh, behave!) They drew in the crowd, but woe to the buyer who had to actually get past them and into the booth.

The Billabong and Billabong Girl booths were also a foot-traffic choke point. Parts of the Juniors’ line is tre fashion forward with stretch-denim jeans, skirts with studs, and even rhinestones. The brand also launched a line of men’s watches at the show.

In tangential Billabong news, Meg Bernardo, who once worked with Marketing Director Graham Stapleberg and most recently was at MKM marketing, has been named the new executive director of Surfing America. The nascent organization seems to be gaining heaps of momentum and will open an office on the seventeenth of next month. Billabong has also hired a new Juniors’ marketing manager, Jessica Trent.

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Speaking of stuff for girls, Globe continues to move forward with its Gallaz “footwear for females” program and has introduced additional styles and colorways for Spring 2001, including a Layne Beachley signature shoe.

So the youth and mainstream surf-apparel marketplace is covered, but is there a trend toward the older and more sophisticated shopper? Brands such as Solitude and Quiksilver seem to be aggressvely going after this more affluent customer. And with the sales of hybrid boards continuing strong, this is a small but fascinating new trend to watch for.

Alex Goes, a new 30-piece apparel line from Quiksilver, hopes to cater to women in the 25- to 40-year-old market (we’re talking some cashmere here). There is also word that Quiksilver Silver Edition will hone its target demographic from the 30- to 40-year-old crowd down to the 25 year old. If true, it’s an interesting development when coupled with Alex Goes.

But these two bits were just a small part of the huge Quiksilver presence at the show. Combine the Quik, Roxy, X70, Alex Goes, and Silver programs, and buyers had a vertiable Quiksilver Club Med to choose from, a one-stop shop where all needs are catered to — and this doesn’t even include the wintersports or Hawk skate brands.

O’Neill also was rocking and had the entire international contingent on hand, including the new team heading up the Australian program: National Sales Manager Rob Bain, PR Manager Shannon O’Brien (no relation), and Group Product Manager Frances Kyrikos. “O’Neill has been a small but strong player in the Australian market,” said Bain. “But with O’Neill Europe’s financial assistance, our marketing will really strengthen.” This thought was echoed by O’Neill Europe CEO Ben Kunst: “Australia is a very big market with very large brands. I think people are looking to find something different there, and O’Neill will be a clear choice for these people.”

Of course, O’Neill sales continue to be strong in the states¿both within the wetsuit and sportwear collections. Marketing VP Mark Tinkess says sales are up in specialty stores 30 percent across the board. The brand is also taking some interesting risks, with its unique C4 jacket/trunk hybrid.

In the wake of the first night’s “One Ill Reef” party¿sponsored by O’Neill and Reef (get it?)¿I have a question. Was I the only one who saw “One Ill” everytime an O’Neill logo appeared? Hmm…

ACG had a “soft launch” of the So Cal influenced softgoods line (meaning they were trying to keep it low key and grassroots) and with the hiring of Guy Trotter as marketing manager, the So Cal team seems to be jelling. Some of the neon-colored, acid-washed pieces are either tremendously fashion forward or just too cool. The retailer and consumer will ultimately decide.

The Volcom booth, as usual, exuded pure energy. The punk-rock veneer outside the booth is genuine, but the line inside is first rate, surprisingly sophisticated, and is appealing to an ever-broadening customer. With the company and the brand showing such continued growth, it will be fun to watch how the brand image evolves (if at all).

All the excitement hasn’t escaped from the Internet world in the wake of the Bluetorch “repositioning.” The pending launch of Dan McInerny’s Hub 360 had quite a few saying it would soon be the B2B site in the surf industry. With a host of the majors supposedly onboard, and with rumors of big-buck VC funding, this is a story we’ll definitely follow in the weeks to come.

See you in Florida.