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For the last seven years, Frank Scura, founder of the Action Sports Environmental Coalition (ASEC), dreamt of action sports brands coming together with retailers to showcase eco-friendly lines in 100 percent green environments. Today, his ideas are coming to fruition and the results are paying dividends.
Hobie, Pacific Beach Surf Shop, Surfside Sports, and Sun Diego are four stores that have already launched Green Rooms. All have seen positive results, and in some cases, substantial profit increases.
I talked to Frank Scura and the various Green Room retailers about the concept of the Green Room, how it came to be, and how consumers are responding.
Frank presented the Green Room concept at the first annual ASEC summit in Laguna Beach about three years ago. He brought in experts including Michael Burbank, then CEO of the UBS Financial Personal Wealth Management division.
Michael explained that the housing bubble was not going to last and that action sports brands needed a way to collectively stimulate new economics during a forecasted recession, as well as a way to keep customers from going to mainstream stores versus independent retailers.
“It was the whole idea of ‘coopatition’ - competitors uniting on common practices to collectively gain benefits that could give them an overall competitive advantage in the open market,” said Frank. “Being green was not only the right thing to do, but it could help business and provide action sports companies a bigger and better story that mainstream press would be excited about.”
Frank displayed this concept about five ASR’s ago by bringing in various brands and working with them to display eco-friendly products from their line in a 100 percent green environment. “There were a lot of brands that had one or two SKUs that were green in their line, but mixed in with the rest, it was hard to tell them apart,” said Frank. Merchandising all green products together, however, created a more powerful presentation.
Jake Schwaner and Mark Christy who run Hobie, both live green lifestyles and had quietly been producing their own private label organic clothing line for the store. When they saw the Green Room at ASR they thought the concept would work perfectly in their Laguna Beach Hobie store.
This past June, they opened their first Green Room using 600 square feet of the Laguna Beach store where they already had Patagonia products. They also included Volcom, Billabong, Element, Hippy Tree, Ando and Friends, Livity, Arbor, Sector 9, Evocal, Hurley, L-Space, IPath, and Quiksilver in the space. Each brand built a green display to showcase their products.
The build-outs include Element shelves made from compressed cow dung, a Sector 9 showcase made of skateboard scraps, and a Billabong display using plastic bottles to explain how their boardshorts are made from recycled materials.
Hobie used mostly existing brands for their new store, but with ASEC’s advice brought in new lines from eco-minded companies like Livity, Evocal and Arbor.
Since opening, Jake said same sales from last year to this year in that space rose 20%. Because of the success, Hobie opened an entire green store in San Clemente, converting their 1,200-square-foot hard goods store into a 100 percent green retail space with soft goods.
Using natural lighting and all custom-built displays, the shop has been bringing in new customers and sales every day. Sales in that store are also up 20%. Selling clothing rather than surfboards also has contributed to margin increases.
“Our local customers that shop our stores really like what we have done because it represents something that makes sense and is completely different than any other surf shop you go into,” said Jake. “You can always come in and find something new and fresh that you don't see anywhere else.”
Jake said going forward, he plans to add more accessories, green surfboards and green gifts to the shop. He says he also plans to collaborate more with Evocal, a newer eco-minded company that works with local artists to make custom T-shirts and green displays. He said Hobie recently acquired a 4,200 square foot space in Dana Point. They plan to put large a “green footprint” in the location from the lighting and landscaping to the brands they will carry.
Besides Hobie, Frank helped San Diego’s oldest independent surf retailer, Pacific Beach Surf Shop, completely renovate their store this past Thanksgiving. Owner Randy Strunk has been involved in various environmental organizations and causes for the last 16 years, and has always only carried surfboards that are 100 percent made in the USA.
After meeting Frank Scura at a Board Retailers Association meeting, he knew that going green would be the perfect opportunity to revamp his store and make it more up to date with his lifestyle and beliefs.
Randy, right, hired the folks from Evocal to create a common look using green materials, and restructured his order so that 75% of all apparel he carried was eco friendly. He brought in new brands including Hippy Tree, Satori Movement, Ipath, Arbor, Evocal, Ando and Friends, and Livity into his shop. He even built a stage to bring in eco-minded bands and speakers.
“Since I have redone the shop, we have been able to reverse that declining trend in business,” he said. “December was up. This month (January), we are already up 17% over last year at this time.”
Randy said the shop has also been getting a bit of press, as well as new foot traffic. “Now customers have a new reason to come to my store, and they seem so excited about the products,” he said.
Besides PB Surf Shop and Hobie, ASEC helped create a Green Room in Sun Diego in Carlsbad. CEO Dave Nash said he hasn’t seen dramatic increases in sales yet, but he has definitely heard positive feedback from customers and thinks it is an important addition to his store.
ASEC is also helping Surfside Sports expand their green platform in their Costa Mesa location. Frank is really excited about Surfside Sports because it is located right next door to Mother’s Market, a major natural foods grocery store that he thinks will draw even more customers to the shop.
“Part of this green concept is to tap into new customers in the local community,” said Frank. He said green customers are more brand loyal and will pay more for the products they are looking for and can relate to. “The art of this is that you build a deeper relationship with your customers that can’t be broken by a price war,” he added.
Frank said ASEC strives to build 100 Green Rooms in the next two years. “This industry is so influential,” said Frank. “The competitive advantage of doing the right thing is what is going to keep us on top.”