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I stopped by Jack's Surfboards first off-beach Thursday and did a walk through with Bobby Abdel, right, a partner in the business and main buyer. We also talked about the economy, how business is going and a little bit about different industry brands.
The new store is big - 9.500 square feet - and is just north of the San Diego (405) Freeway at the Oak Creek Shopping Center in Irvine. It is Jack's third largest store after Huntington Beach and Corona del Mar.
Bobby said Jack's studied the area carefully and believes they have found a good spot. The store is between the Tustin Marketplace and the Irvine Spectrum Center and close to UCI, Concordia University and Irvine Valley College.
There are not many convenient places to buy cool clothes and shoes near UCI. Two college-age guys walked in when I was at the new store, and were shocked by the large selection.
"Dude, look at all the glasses," one said.
Bobby said his family feels good that they are opening new stores at a time when others have to close stores. Next up is San Clemente in April or May of 2009.
The Irvine store has an extensive collection of clothes for kids to satisfy the families in the area. Thursday, several moms were shopping the store.
Bobby said Jack's made an extra effort in this store to merchandise accessories in with the brand collections. The Volcom Girls section, for example, which has prominent real estate in the front of the store, has Volcom purses, belts and other accessories adjacent to the clothes.
Billabong, Quiksilver and Volcom have especially huge sections, though nearly every brand has its own area. I saw nice displays for smaller brands as well, including O'Quinn and Atwater.
The Irvine store also has the largest shoe department of any Jack's store. Bobby said he thinks there will be a lot of sneakerheads in the area with the nearby colleges. For the first time, Jack's is also displaying coordinated clothing next to the shoes.
I asked Bobby if any brand was really coming on strong right now. "With this economy, nothing is kicking butt," he said.
He said September was not too bad, and October was flat. Overall, Bobby said Jack's is down a little but not nearly as much as other retailers he hears about. He said Jack's hasn't cut employees.
Bobby is examining his buys closely, trying to just buy merchandise the stores need. "Now is not the time to try anything," he said. Or if he does, it will be a small amount and has to be something really good.
At this point, Bobby said he hasn't cancelled orders, but is working closely with brands to adjust orders. For example, if flannels aren't selling as rapidly, he's asking for later shipments.
I asked Bobby if he was worried about opening a big beautiful store at one of the toughest times in recent retail history.
"We are optimistic," he said with a smile. "We hope it will change. But we are being careful. And these stores were planned a while ago. We can't back out. San Clemente has to open, like it or not."
Insight: Bobby said he can't get enough of their flannels, which sell as soon as they hit the floor.
7-Diamonds: The best-selling wovens at Jack's. "They are very big in all the shops," he said. Bobby said a lot of industry men buy them when they need a dressy shirt but don't want to wear the competition's brands.
Edgier/skate brands: There is an area for the edgier brands, including a large selection of Vestal clothing. There is also Nike 6.0 and Nike SB clothing, which Bobby said is doing well because it is something different. He also said Element is doing well.
Obey: He signaled out Obey as a top performer. "They are doing very, very good."
Fyasko: T-shirts are top sellers, Bobby said, with kids liking their graphics.