Whalebone Surf Shop
With more than 30,000 permanent residents and more than 25 surf shops, competition is fierce along the Outer Banks. Add an arsenal of fringe beach, gift, and resort wear shops that lure many of the islands’ visitors and marketshare is stretched even thinner.
But Whalebone is one shop that’s managed to stand out and grab a good slice of the retail pie on this isolated stretch of coastline. Part of its success is luck, part of it is location, but the biggest part of it is dedication. “I’ve taken an average of one day off every three months for the past twenty years,” says Jim Vaughn, who runs the shop with his wife April.
The Vaughns’ commitment to Whalebone is manifested in their attention to detail inside the shop. Men’s boardshorts are sorted by size and then by color within each size. The surfboards are neatly arranged by brand, type, and length up in the loft. There’s a life-like seascape of the Outer Banks with flowing sand dunes, tall grass, shaky wooden piers, and green, sun-kissed, A-frame peaks air-brushed by Noah Snyder’s dad, Robbie, that runs along the walls just below the ceiling.
When we dropped in on a muggy Tuesday morning in September you would have never guessed it was fall, the attacks in New York and Washington D.C. had happened two weeks earlier, and the official end of summer was a week in the past. Whalebone was busy, and the husband- and-wife tag team effort was in full effect. Jim was hustling back and forth between the register and the fitting rooms, and April was shuffling between the office upstairs and the telephone downstairs.
“It’s been on fire,” April says of Whalebone’s juniors’ department. “One of the best years that we’ve had as far as sell-through. As far as sportswear goes, it was the first time in a couple years where we found ourselves reordering not only once, but twice from a lot of the companies. It looks like it’s going to be awesome for next year.”
“I think that the industry really is stronger than it’s ever been,” Jim says, as he rings up one customer’s order. The Vaughns are certainly banking on a bullish industry. They just opened up a new custom-built store in Virginia Beach, complete with bamboo flooring and posts — and another airbrushed mural by Robbie Snyder, this time of Tavarua.
Yet whatever happens, the Vaughns are just happy to be part of the industry. “I used to go to a trade show, and after three days I’d be beat,” says Jim. “Because when I go there, I don’t get to eat, I work my ass off, I run around, I don’t get to talk to people. So I’m shuffling into the show one morning, I’m walking behind two guys with white shirts, black pants, string ties, and pocket protectors. I’m thinking: ‘Skate guys.’ Then I walk in, look up, and go, ‘What is this?’ Stark-white tables in a straight line — all with white tablecloths — the same chairs. And I walk back out and look up and it was a mathematicians’ convention. No matter what we all go through, I really love this sport, I really love this industry — more so now than ever.”
Window Brands: O’Neill, Lost
Major Display Brands: Rusty surfboards, Whalebone
Strongest Categories: Polynosic and polyviscose wovens
Weakest Category: Walkshorts
Strongest Brands: Quiksilver, Volcom, Whalebone
Best Rep: n/a