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Honolua sees opportunity with SUP market and more

By Tiffany Montgomery
November 02, 2009 5:55 AM

Today we talk with Honolua Brand Director Pat Fraley about the rewards and challenges of selling and marketing a surf brand for an older demographic than the typical teenage customer targeted by most surf brands.

Pat also discusses the growth potential with the SUP market, how Honolua refreshed its approach for spring and the brand's biggest challenge.

The retail climate is tough. How is Honolua faring?

We have weathered the storm well. Believe it or not, during the downturn we have been presented with some good opportunities where we have actually grown our footprint in some high profile accounts. It has definitely been a challenge but we have turned it into a learning experience.

When the economy turned I saw it as an opportunity so we put a plan in place to look at the business from the inside out. The goal was to be well positioned going into 2010 so we could make a good go of it. We are already seeing the benefits of our efforts.

What are the Honolua's key categories?

Tops typically drive the men's business, so that makes up a large percentage of the business. However, we are an authentic, core brand so we really pride ourselves on our boardshorts. It's the one category that separates a core brand from the rest. Because we take the category seriously, boardshorts are a big part of our business.

Any home runs for spring with retailers?

The whole line is being received really well. We have a new boardshort fabric and some knits that have really drawn a lot of interest.

Prior to designing Spring, we spent a lot of time talking with key retail partners about what they felt about the brand -- product, direction, our customer -- basically a report card from our first few years.

With Spring, we took that input and really focused on quality of fabric, finishing, details and wrapped it all up in a message our customer understands and the response has been incredible. Our goal was to create a clear point of difference and direction and I think we have done that. Our Spring 2010 line has really solidified the direction of the brand.

How are you getting Honolua's marketing message across to consumers?

We are taking a very hands-on, grass roots approach. We have really embraced the growing number of events up and down the coast. From local paddle events to bigger events such as the Molokai to Oahu race and the Catalina Classic races. These present a great opportunity for the brand to be front and center because we are not competing with the younger brands. It's also an opportunity to be alongside brands that are complimentary to the Honolua message.

How does Honolua identify with SUP?

The origins of SUP are rooted in the Hawaiian Waterman so we have been involved with it from the brand's beginning. Eric Diamond, our Creative Director, was one of the first on the West Coast to embrace it.

Our crew in Hawaii has been doing it for years. Buzzy Kerbox and Archie Kalepa paddle a lot of the races and have really helped pioneer the sport. Archie was actually the first to paddle the Molokai Race on a SUP back in 2004. After that, the category was officially added to the race.

Just last month Archie reached another milestone by being the first to paddle 187 miles through the Grand Canyon. So you can see, it runs through our blood.

How could the growth of the sport impact Honolua's business?

It's already having a big impact. It doesn't replace surfing. It's complimentary to it and just another way to stay in the water. It's a lot easier to learn than surfing so it has a broad appeal. Although I see entire families doing it, most of the participants are typically older so the younger industry brands won't embrace it. That leaves a nice marketing niche for us.

Because its appeal is not limited to the coast, it's also been a great entry point into the outdoor market because it is really growing in the inland lakes and rivers. It's only just beginning so I think there is great growth potential for some time to come.

Are there any other apparel brands that are targeting that market?

Right now it's mostly hardgoods companies. Joe Bark has started a new apparel line specifically for paddlers. There are a few more but not many. I'm sure that is going to change. I hope it does. More brands addressing this market legitimizes what Honolua is doing.

Is it challenging at all to get core retailers to carry a line for an older consumer?

To date this has been our biggest challenge. I understand that the brand is not a good fit for all retailers but I was surprised early on at how many retailers didn't feel there was a customer for a brand like Honolua.

The retailers that understand the brand have had great success with it but there are many that still haven't come to the table. It's a very similar situation to the juniors market in the early 90's. It took a while for the industry to really embrace it, but now look where that business is. I think with what has happened in the last year the industry is realizing that we need to look for new ways to grow the business and that there is an opportunity in a men's customer.

We are well into our third generation of surfers in the United States. We are not all teenagers anymore. It's a big market that doesn't get much attention. That needs to change. Some accounts already do it with great success but ultimately I want to see shops specifically for this customer. I know of a few retailers with plans to do just that.

What are Honolua's key accounts?

Some of the core retailers that have supported us from the beginning are Hansen's, Hobie, Jack's, Harbour, Becker, Spyder, Val Surf, WRV, Brave New World, Heritage. ... The list goes on!

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