In the upcoming issue of Source, we have a full trend report detailing what’s going on with surfboards and shapes in 2015. In the first of our brand previews from this segment, we spoke with Firewire’s CEO Mark Price to talk through everything including: new shapes, innovation, special margins for grom boards, and also why a ‘clean’ distribution is paramount at Firewire.
Are surfboards sales going upwards, downwards or staying the same as the previous years?
We see continual strength in hardgoods, especially surfboards. Core stores are re-appreciating the value of this category as a revenue stream as well as a means of differentiating their floorspace from other channels. In addition, the variety of models and technologies offered to surfers today has never been greater.
Which models/shapers/categories are trending?
Performance Hybrids are definitively strong right now. With the emphasis on ‘grovellers’ over the past few years, it’s possible that many surfers have recently purchased a small, weaker wave board and are probably now looking to replace their older ‘higher-performance’ boards.
How’s the women’s and grom category performing?
Grom boards are tough, as kids are growing constantly and so I think parents are loath to purchase a premium priced board. That said, we’ve implemented ‘grom pricing’ whereby we take a lower margin in order to reduce the retail price point. Hopefully if they like our models and tech, we’ll get a full margin purchase down the road as they grow up. On the women’s side, I think there are less woman surfers around the world than the market believes. It’s still an important category and we offer a wide range of models that are scaled down for lighter surfers irrespective of gender.
Have you noticed models which tend to disappear?
We’ve seen a dramatic decline in the pure retro shortboards for a number of years now. I think surfers are realising that they can still approximate the speed and flow of retro designs, but they can also enjoy higher levels of performance with ‘retro-inspired' designs that offer increased performance.
Firewire specialises in high-end/high-priced surfboards, do you intend to cater to the entry-level?
No. There are brands that are already dedicated to that segment of the market and we’d prefer to remain focused on ours.
Though you count some of the best surfers in the world among your team with Michel Bourez and Sally Fitzgibbons, relying on an army of ambassadors doesn’t seem to be the focus. Can you comment on that matter?
We’ve always believed in quality over quantity in every facet of our business. Our distribution is one of the cleanest of any surfboard brand sold at retail, and we are very selective in the collabs we offer the market. While we’re always looking for valuable additions to our surf team, with the success and overall statue of Sally and Michel, the bar is pretty high in terms of possible additions to our team.
"Innovations in surfboard construction" is Firewire personified: what is the next step for your company?
Our R&D pipeline is rich with new developments in materials and construction methods. That said, unfortunately I cannot disclose specifics at this juncture, but suffice to say we will continue to innovate even if it means cannabalising our existing products and technologies to some degree.
Can you please comment on Kelly Slater’s coming on board and the intention to make Firewire an even greener surfboard manufacturer?
We’re not in a position to comment on Kelly’s involvement with the company just yet. He has made a formal offer and assuming everything goes as planned, once the deal is completed we’ll be ready to speak about where we’re taking the company under his direction. That said, I don’t expect any significant changes in what we do and how we do it because we are already constantly pushing the boundaries of surfboard design and ‘greener’ ways of building surfboards, which are definitely areas of interest to Kelly.
How do you dispatch your production between core shops and larger retail chains?
We believe that when it comes to surfboards, distribution is critical, and therefore we are absolutely committed to supporting our core stores. We don’t sell to sporting-good stores or major surf shop chains whose primary focus is on apparel and accessories while treating surfboards as eye candy. For example, in the US we only have 90 doors whereas our top competitors have considerably more. Therefore product allocation between channels is not a major issue for us.
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