September 6-8, 2013
Orange County Convention Center
One thing that has never been overlooked by the Val Surf philosophy is the importance of the customer’s surf shop experience. Although there are many parts to making this experience one that is memorable, let’s focus on two distinct areas: customer service and social networking.
By Blake Richards, Val Surf
Virtually every day for over fifteen years, I’ve watched the world change in unexpected ways and I understand now more than ever how essential it is to be changing with it.
Our surf industry is no exception. In fact, it might be feeling the sting of these transformations more than most. However, we are trendsetters and marketing gurus, along with being the envy of those imposters who are constantly seeking to capitalize on the true lifestyle of the surfer. In some ways, this may give us an upper hand in setting the tone for our industry moving forward. The more we set ourselves apart from the stores that piggy-back on our unique and amazing industry, the more viable the true surf-skate-snow shops should become.
My name is Blake Richards from Val Surf. I jumped into the family business when I was fifteen years old and I’m soon approaching 30. At fifteen, there was no Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Foursquare, and Pinterest―just to name a few. Recently, I watched my 2 ½ year old niece swiping her finger across an iPhone to find her favorite video or picture. Life as we know it is changing, and changing rapidly.
Val Surf is known, perhaps more than most retailers, for its high level of customer service. We are known to have an avid surfer, skater, and snowboarder on our sales floors at any given time. These days technology is changing simple purchases. Buying a pair of boardshorts used to be a no-brainer. Today we have $100 board shorts with four-way stretch “Diamond Dobby” technology, along with $300 Go Pro cameras, and snowboards that have Rocker Camber technology with “Magna Traction”―also known as “C2BTX”.
Have I lost you yet? For the average customer, I probably have. The fact is, the shoppers are savvy enough to know there is always something new, and they value the knowledgeable, involved staff that is always happy to help. More people are coming to Val Surf looking to benefit from our expertise and experience. We can explain why the $100 boardshorts will save your life (not literally of course) on a 13-day boat trip to the Mentawis! We love that it is our own experiences and personal pioneering that help them make the best, most proven choices. Plus, when they return to the shops to share their own stories, we are happy and proud to have been a part of their journey. We are excited that our lifestyle and philosophy have helped them enjoy their endeavors.
Val Surf has five locations in Southern California, making it easy for our patrons to visit us. Most of them live within 20 miles of one of our stores, inviting them to be a part of the Val Surf community. For those who either live farther away or simply enjoy shopping or following our path via electronic means, we offer contact through many media.
Val Surf’s Facebook has 8,310 fans. The Val Surf Instagram has 1,135 followers and I only started it two months ago. Of course www.valsurf.com is only a click away! With all of these avenues to reach out to our customers, it is easy, free, and effective to stay in touch with them.
With these points in mind, I must say that I treat Facebook and Instagram very differently.
Facebook is a networking machine. This is where I like to put up product and show our latest and greatest offerings. The more “likes,” “check-ins,” and “comments,” the more it becomes viral. My objective is to sell product, either by inviting customers to our website, or having them visit their nearest Val Surf. If we are having our annual “Back to School Sale”, I can post our flyer and status update so that thousands of people will see it. The best part is that it takes me only minutes to post, and it does not cost a penny.
Within a few minutes, Robert Weiner from Roberts Surfboards sees the post and he shares the link to his Facebook, which then reaches all of his fans as well. Not only does this help us with our sale, but we might sell more Roberts surfboards as a result. This form of social networking has worked and is still working effectively today for Val Surf. As rewarding as this is, it is still the experience that gives us the upper hand. Pictures speak a thousand words and Instagram is fast becoming the new craze.
I treat Instagram as an experience. It is a glimpse of what Val Surf sees and does. Why keep posting more and more pictures of product? Very likely, the customer has seen a new product either in the mags, online, by way of their peers, or on other social networking sites.
Instagram is a different type of venue, and that is why I believe Instagram is blowing up. Followers prefer to see a picture of Eric Koston at our North Hollywood shop gripping his board in Val Surf’s back room; they enjoy seeing their favorite shop kid eating a burrito on his lunch break; or they just like seeing a picture of our team riders Dillon Perillo and Andrew Jacobson at the Lakers game.
This personal interaction is the experience customer’s love, and it is a most valuable form of marketing for us. As these posts are sent, they create a brand image from a new and interesting perspective. This connection will then separate us, the legitimate retailer, from those non-endemic retailers who are capitalizing on what our industry has created. This reconfirms the value and the necessity of the true specialty shop.
I have been following Kalani Miller (Kelly Slater’s girlfriend) on Instagram. She currently has 5,739 followers. Does she have so many because she is nice? Or because of her swimwear brand Mikoh Swimwear? Or, perhaps, is it because her last post was Kelly eating banana pancakes on the North Shore of Oahu?
The picture of Slater certainly fueled the intrigue, but it is the connection of these entities that adds fuel to the fire! The bottom line is that all of the posts united separate interests together at Internet speed in a way that all who want to can share.
Walking into Val Surf to the smell of surf wax, to talking about someone’s first skateboard, to the picture of my dad and me on Instagram promoting 50 years in business―are all experiences that we know are unique to us.
With today’s troubling economy, we are well aware that we have to convert those shoppers that only care about the best price into consumers that have pride in what they buy and wear because of the story behind it and the values that created it. Involving these customers in the lifestyle through all of the avenues I have stated here is a simple but very effective way to tell the story and accomplish just that!
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