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Tiffany Montgomery
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Shelter strives for creative over commercial

By Tiffany Montgomery
July 22, 2008 5:52 AM

There's lots of debate these days about the survival of core shops and how they can compete with larger chains that carry the same brands. At the Board Retailers Association Summit in Puerto Rico, panelists discussed ideas for differentiation and reinventing the surf shop model.


Shelter surfboard shotWith that backdrop in mind, I decided to stop by a new shop in Long Beach called Shelter after Jade Howe sent an email telling me I should check it out. The store is new and it remains to be seen if it will become financially successful. But, Shelter is trying something different so I thought it was worth sharing what I learned.


Graham Day and his wife, Kim, say they wanted to operate a store that is the antithesis of the modern surf shop. Graham says going into the typical surf shop today nearly gives him an anxiety attack. The relentless POP marketing and big brand competition for shelf space is a major turnoff, he said.


So when Graham decided to leave the music industry after 13 years working on the business side, he and Kim chose to open a surf shop that harkened back to his days growing up surfing in the South Bay. Then, surfing was about the love of the ocean more than competition and commercialization, he said.


Shelter The DaysThe Days (pictured here with their son, River, 2) opened Shelter Surf Shop on Fourth Street - a destination for independent, funky stores - four months ago after operating a shop and online operation for a year out of a warehouse in Signal Hill. That space was a crash test to see if the concept could work in a hard-to-find space far off the ocean.


"We were selling enough to pay the bills," Graham said.


Now, Shelter gets a lot of foot traffic as well as people who have heard of the store driving from Orange County, San Diego and Los Angeles.


The store has a warm and natural look. The Days built the fixtures themselves, and broke through the plaster on the ceiling to expose the wood beams.


"We wanted a nice, warm inviting space that felt like the beach before the beach became a mall," Graham said.


The philosophy behind the store is to carry apparel brands, art and surfboards that can't be found everywhere else and have a limited edition vibe. They carry organic and sustainable merchandise as much as possible.


"Quality is the gimmick here," Graham said.


Apparel brands in Shelter include HippyTree, Yellow Rat, Livity, Ando & Friends, Gonz and private label Shelter T-shirts designed by artist friends.


The Days sell two brands of wetsuits: custom fit from the Japanese label Axxe and off-the-rack styles from the UK brand Nineplus.


Surfboards are handshaped by Terry Martin at Hobie, Josh Hall, Mike Hynson, Greg Liddle, Jeff Beck and others.


The Days don't advertise, but rely on word-of-mouth, grass roots marketing. Both Kim and Graham blog frequently on the store's website and post on message boards. They have monthly parties that draw 300 or so people.


This month's party on July 26, for example, includes a free screening in the parking lot of George Greenough's film "The Innermost Limits of Pure Fun" with live bands providing music for the soundtrack.


So far, the store isn't making large profits but Graham says they've only been in business a year and half and they have realistic expectations. He does believe the model can work, plus he has some other business ideas for the store he didn't want to reveal.


Some of the big brands have expressed interest in being carried in the store, but Graham has declined.


"I say, ‘No, not right now,' " he said. "I'm not knocking what they're doing, it just doesn't fit into our philosophy."

 


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