Surf Industry Backpedaling: End of Head-to-Toe?

The San Diego Union Tribune has weighed in on surfing’s industrial woes, finding the woes to be strong and healthy and sprouting a little family of infant woes as well. The woes are getting a lot of attention lately. After a visit to ASR January, the Tribune reported a general hunkering down of action sports businesses in response to falling consumer demand and excess inventory. The article states:

“Some industry insiders predicted that as many as 30 percent of all action sports retailers could go out of business in 2009…many brands are scaling back on the types and quantities of products they make.”


Could this mean that shoe companies will stop selling clothing, and that clothing companies won’t make sunglasses, and that sunglass companies won’t offer wax? Surely most readers will have noticed that, when times were good, brands like Reef made the funny little jump from sandals to jeans and sweatshirts. Volcom started making shoes (being Volcom, however, they couldn’t just call them shoes. “Shoes” is conformist.) Oakley entered the clothing/footwear/wetsuit/sub sandwich markets. If you feel so compelled, you can get Quiksilver shades, Vans walkshorts and Rip Curl boots, and wear them all while riding a Patagonia surfboard. Wild, isn’t it? Like the companies’ logic is, “You’ve seen us on your feet, why not try us on your legs and torso?”


Just because you cut my hair, doesn’t mean I’ll come to you for knee surgery. Expansion is natural when a company has some actual advantage in serving the new market – not when it’s just a way to leverage brand-name recognition with generic products in new categories. It’s not that all the surf companies did that, but I’m certain a few will find it’s time to return to the businesses that made them successful in the first place. Could this mean the end of head-to-toe merchandising, the possibility of having a single brand meet all your soft-good needs? Sort of, but not really. Since Billabong owns VZ and Kustom and Xcel, wearing all those things is really just wearing Billabong. Your Electric frames are Volcom frames, et cetera. But as far as just splashing a logo all over junk products, it could be a hard sell from now on. 2009 may see a trimming of the industrial fat, with a focus on high quality instead of broad quantity. A positive development, on the whole.