With beach sand on the floor, bamboo poles and an overall tropical theme, Kelly Sorensen says On the Beach’s “timeless look” attracts tourists and locals alike in search of an authentic California experience. We chatted with the veteran surf retailer about what’s selling at this Monterey, CA, store. – By Samantha Sciarrotta
Footwear Plus: How’s business? Kelly Sorensen: Business has been kind of flat. The surf industry is going through kind of a hiccup–it’s not as popular as it has been. With chain stores and the Internet, customers don’t need to go to the beach to get beach clothing. You don’t forget the big boys, but we need to put the “special” back into specialty retailing by focusing on some new brands, like Salty Crew and Depactus.
FP: How are your footwear sales, in particular? KS: Again, a little down with chain stores like Tilly’s taking a bite. There are just more people selling the same stuff, and our own vendors selling online doesn’t help; we’re competing against the brands we’re trying to support. It’s just a new environment for doing business.
FP: What is your store’s go-to shoe brand and why? KS: Vans is still hitting it pretty hard, Adidas and even Converse. They’re all casual, but if you throw a pair on with khakis, they give you a cool outfit. And Ugg is a staple just because of where we are located. We’ve been selling the brand since we opened, when they used to only be available in surf shops.
FP: Are you looking to expand your footwear assortment? KS: We’re getting back into women’s shoes.
FP: What is the breakdown between male and female shoe customers? KS: Women dominate because the Ugg business is so huge, but if you cut that out, it would be 70 percent men. As far as sandals, it’s 50-50.
FP: Do your locals have any unique shoe preferences that differ from other beach communities? KS: Vans sell well. We just brought back Sperry Top-Sider. It’s all beach-driven.
FP: How significant is your local clientele to your business? KS: Locals account for 80 percent of our business. We’ve been voted the No. 1 surf shop in Monterey for 20 years in a row. We sponsor local events, put on skate competitions and hold snowboarding trips throughout the year.
FP: How would you describe the overall mood of your customers right now?KS: Definitely cautious. Everybody wants the best value for their dollar now. Years ago, a lot of people had play money. Now, they live within their means. And it’s the same with us: we’re not buying like we used to, and we’re buying closer to season.
FP: The good news is… KS: There’s been a lot of fun surf! Seriously, we’ve cut a lot of inventory, about $150,000 worth, including our entire snowboard selection. We’re trying to get a jump on what’s hot instead of having to sell stock.
FP: The bad news is… KS: There’s so much online and chain store competition, and it’s hurting the mom-and-pops.