With big dreams and a lot of ideas, Floridian Chris Hough and company have burst on to the internet surf shop scene in a big way. With custom surfboards, fins, boardbags and other hard goods as their specialty, TheSurfboardWarehouse.com has forgone the usual fluff that comes along with most surf shops and has instead focused their sights on taking their piece of the hard goods market.
We caught up with Chris and picked his brain about where he got the idea to start a website like this, what his goals and ideas for the future, and just how it all works:
What’s your official job title at TheSurfboardWarehouse.com?
My official title is President and CEO, although I am also the owner. I have a business partner who I grew up surfing with and one investor, but I am left to make virtually any decision because I started TheSurfboardWarehouse.com on my own.
How long have you been in business?
We have been around since July 2005. When I was 22, I created the company as a project in an Entrepreneur class during the first semester of my junior year in college. Now, I am 25.
What is your goal aside from making money (obviously)?
When we first opened, our short term goal was to put us East Coasters on an even playing field with you guys out there in California. It was a bit hard to get the same gear here that you guys have over there. But, that was then and this in now. Now I believe that we are in a position to be the best surf shop on the Internet, forget which coast we're on, we’re talking worldwide, which is very cool. We ship stuff to Sweden, Norway and Europe regularly. With the world getting smaller, it seems that people who live on or near the coast aren't the only people surfing. Land locked people can now make surf trips more easily and need to turn to the net to get the gear they want. We ship a ton of stuff to land locked areas, which would tend to prove this point. I am part of the next generation of surfers and I believe that in the world we are in now, no surfer should have a problem getting the EXACT gear they want. This philosophy is what has fueled our rapid growth.
What puts you in such a good position to accomplish this?
Determination, working 12 hours a day 7 days a week (unless there's surf, of course), my love for surfing and the desire to create something that people have told me from the beginning would never work. I love the people that tell you your going to fail. Those people make me laugh because they never did what they wanted to do. I believe that if you work hard and get things done, anything is possible.
What inspired you to create TheSurfboardWarehouse.com?
I always knew I wanted to do my own thing. I wasn't sure what that "thing" was until I began surfing and got stoked about it like we all do. In the Entrepreneur class in college we had to make a mock company. The company I created was called The Surfboard Warehouse. All of my research said it would work and by the end of the class I had done all the boring stuff, then it was just about making it happen. We opened with four shapers and took custom board orders for them. They then shipped our customers the finished product. We now have about 10 very well known shapers on the site and open contracts with about a dozen more. We don't have any time at the moment to get that part of the site updated, but we are working on it. Thank God somehow accessory companies found out about us and gave us a chance. They liked our idea. I can now say that we sell Surf Gear from every major accessory company. Just this past week, we signed our contracts with Quiksilver and Hurley. At this point, we are only going to sell their back packs and luggage and just stick to the stuff that people need to travel and ultimately surf.
Where is the company based?
Proudly Tampa, the GULF coast of Florida. In reality, it's the Internet so we are everywhere. No matter where you live you still have to find good waves. We’re no different on the Gulf – we just drive a little further, I guess.
The custom surfboard order section of your site looks very promising for those without direct access to a shaper in person – design your own boards online. Plus it seems like there are a lot of shapers available to the user through your site.
If you need a board, we can get from almost any shaper for you. You just have to make a phone call. Long term, we’re putting everything in 3D. All of these shapers best boards will be in 3D rotateable models. We’re going to have a paint program so you can draw right on your board, hit submit, get a quote, buy it and have the exact board you created arrive at your door made by the shaper of your choice.
Free shipping is an absolutely vital thing for you to have in order to secure more online business. Does this come at a pretty heavy price tag? Are you footing a pretty heavy shipping bill at the end of the day?
We do offer free shipping on all of our boards. This is because if you, as an individual, shipped your board it would cost you. However, we extend our shipping discounts to you and include everything on our end in one final price. This makes the price tag much better for the consumer and you have nothing to worry about, we get it all done. On Accessories there is not free shipping unless you catch a special. HOWEVER, we have seen prices that other companies charge for shipping and it’s ridiculous. We extend our shipping volume discounts to everyone and help everybody with the high shipping costs that we all have to deal with. Every single day we’re developing ways to bring our shipping rates down.
Just a few of the recent custom boards put together through TheSurfboardWarehouse.com
So the shipping cost, as minimal as it is, is built right into the final price?
Yeah. If packaged properly, it really doesn’t add too much to the overall cost of the boards.
What are your overall expectations for 2008?
Well, we obviously intend to improve upon last year. But we have a new fin program in the works called Finatic™. It is going to be a revolutionary way for surfers to find which fins will help take their surfing to the next level. I can’t say much more, but Finatic™ will change the way people think about fins, I can promise you that!
Do you see others possibly following in your footsteps as possible competitors down the road any time soon?
There are others out there right now, maybe not doing the custom board thing but, certainly selling surf gear on the Internet. Some have been here longer than us, but we are on our game. I am going to market my company as the best because I believe we are. I am young, I surf and I relate to my generation of surfers. I feel I know what they want. We are going to do things differently. We’re not going to follow the norm or be told something's crazy and not try it. After all we’re surfers and I am not sure if it’s in our DNA to fall in line.
Awesome. Thanks Chris. Looking forward to hearing about Finatic™.
Look for it in Spring 2008, it will change everything! That’s all I can say for now.