Friday, October 30, 2015

A $99.99 Surfboard Upends the Industry

On a recent Saturday along the Los Angeles coast, from Venice Beach all the way up past Malibu, tens of thousands of surfers jostled for position on the small, clean waves the Pacific was churning out. Many were riding the same board: an 8-foot blue-and-white Wavestorm, sold exclusively at Costco Wholesale stores for $99.99—the same price as the store’s Italian sausage-stuffed turducken.

Since its debut in 2007, Wavestorm has become the most popular surfboard in the U.S., with about half a million sold. Novices and veterans have embraced the mass-produced soft-foam boards, which cost much less than competing products. Entry-level soft boards typically sell for around $300, and hand-shaped long boards can go for upwards of $1,000. (...)

Surfing schools used to be the main customers for soft-top surfboards, which are covered in a thin membrane of absorbent foam that makes them more forgiving for beginners than traditional fiberglass models. In recent years, however, Wavestorm boards have found favor even among dedicated surfers, who buy them for their kids and friends, or for themselves. Veteran Scott Mortensen tested his Wavestorm against Hawaii’s epic waves. “The 8-foot model had good paddle power, turned well, and was very forgiving, unlike other soft-top boards with designs that caused the nose to pearl, ” says Mortensen, using surfer speak for a board that bends like a wet noodle, resulting in a wipeout. “We know how to put a sandwich of foam together with different layers and substrates,” Zilinskas says, “so it has adequate flexibility for different functions.”

AGIT says this year it will sell more than 100,000 Wavestorm surfboards through Costco, the only retailer that carries them. Because most board makers, including AGIT, are privately held, there are no reliable data on the size of the market. However, the industry consensus is that Wavestorm is now the leader, selling five times more boards annually than the largest surfboard brands.

Zilinskas, who as AGIT’s vice president for sales travels from his home in San Francisco to Taiwan several times a year to help oversee design, production, and marketing, says the decision to bypass traditional sales channels has been key to Wavestorm’s success. “We don’t want to mess around collecting money from little surf shops and sporting goods stores,” he says. “Margins are slim at Costco, but we pump out volume and get paid on time.”

While Costco stocks several Wavestorm products, with some paddleboards costing more than $500, the $100 8-foot board accounts for 90 percent of sales. That price, along with Costco’s policy of issuing refunds to customers whose boards break (a hazard of inexpensive foam models), has had a ripple effect on the industry. Huntington Surf & Sport, one of the largest surf shops in Huntington Beach, Calif., an epicenter of the global surf scene, no longer stocks soft-top boards. “Why even bother when you can go to Costco for $100?” says assistant manager Cody Quarress.

by David Sax, Bloomberg |  Read more:
Image: Dave Weldon/A-Frame