Bird Rock Surf Shop in La Jolla, California was recently nominated for a SIMA Image Award in the Breakthrough Retailer of the Year category.
We caught up with co-owner Ben Murphy to find out how the store, which opened in 2007, got started, why the owners carry so many hardgoods compared to many surf shops, and how they have grown their business and customer base during one of the hardest times in history to be a surf retailer.
We opened our first shop in 2007. My brother, Matt and I grew up in San Diego then we both studied business at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. While on the Central Coast, Matt started shaping surfboards and I worked in surf retail – mostly at Wavelengths in Morro Bay.
After graduating, Matt moved back to San Diego, found a warehouse space in Sorrento Valley to shape boards, and lived in Bird Rock. A few years later, I was getting ready to graduate and trying to figure out what to do next. That’s when Matt mentioned there wasn’t a surf shop in the area. We really had no idea what we were getting into, but we pieced together our life savings of $20K, signed a lease and went for it.
Yes, we started with an extremely tight budget and an 800-square-foot boutique shop. It was definitely a challenge. The first six months were just the two of us working all day everyday without any income. We had to make a lot of sacrifices and chose to reinvest any and all profits back into the business in order to grow inventory levels.
It’s been a crazy four years. We opened with the small, 800-square-foot location, then after a year, we made a huge leap and moved into a 4,100-square-foot corner location.
That location, along with hiring two good friends (Pat Tugend and Scott Van Vugt) to help with purchasing and day-to-day shop responsibilities, really helped us grow and solidify our presence in the neighborhood.
Unfortunately, after two years our landlord became extremely difficult to deal with and we had no choice but to move again.
We were extremely blessed to find and secure a 5,000-plus square foot location just one block down the street. We’ve been in the new location almost a year now and couldn’t be happier.
We try to focus on our core market -- surfboards and wetsuits are still our best sellers. We currently stock over 350 new and used surfboards. We try to carry a unique product selection focusing on our core local customer base. We carry brands like Rusty, Rip Curl, Reef, Hurley, Billabong, Ezekiel, Olukai, Toes on the Nose, Honolua, Hippy Tree, and more.
Yeah, we pride ourselves in still being a board shop. The money and margins are obviously in the clothing, but customers can get clothing anywhere, so we try to differentiate ourselves by staying core and having as many surfboards as possible.
One of our main goals is to educate our customers. It doesn’t matter what their experience level is, we really focus on making sure everybody finds a board to suit their ability. And if they decide to shape their own board, we’re here for advice and assistance.
See Page 2 for more about Bird Rock, including financing challenges during the recession