I've been meaning to check in with Mark Richards at Val Surf to see how things are going since we chatted at the BRA Summit in Puerto Rico in May.
Val Surf operates five stores in the greater Los Angeles area and is a key account for many manufacturers.
I caught up with him last week and asked him about sales, the tough economic times, and new brands that are doing well in the stores.
How the stores are doing: "Sales are down, but from what we consistently heard at the B.R.A. conference in Puerto Rico and are hearing locally from other retailers, we seem to be faring better than most."
How Val Surf is adjusting: "Needless to say, we are tightening up where we need to. We are looking deeper than ever into our reports, operations, payroll, ‘open to buy' and then adjusting accordingly."
This recession vs. previous recessions: "This down turn feels different from those in the past. Concerns are much more complex now. For instance, instead of a slowing down of a trend as it was at the end of the 80s, the problems now stem from, not only our industry, but also from the overall U.S. economy. Issues with the housing market, stocks, banks, and, very importantly, gas approaching $5 are all contributing to having a major impact on everyone's overall business.
"Within on our industry we now have to deal with the internet concerns as vendors go direct online and add brick-and-mortar stores, and retail chain take over. In addition, the number of existing large web sites that continue to move volume seems to be growing.
"Contributing to feeding the problem for all is this over expansion of vendors and retailers that have pushed too much product into the marketplace recently.
"Margins and the customers' perception of what they consider to be the fair price points of the different categories and styles are being adversely affected by a number of factors. Certain retailers have been on sale for virtually the whole year, less expensive lines are constantly being introduced by chains and athletes, and big box discounters continue to somehow get credible brands and product.
"Fortunately during these times, most manufacturers have responded and stepped up with accommodations, trade outs and aggressive terms to keep our store selection moving and as fresh as possible."
Reasons for optimism: "We are, of course, optimistic that the industry will bounce back from these current tough times. The primary question here is how long it will take. However, I do believe and trust that the specialty retailers will rally and unite to tackle the next evolution of the industry."
Newer brands that are doing well: "RVCA, Matix and KR3W. We have always valued and recognized the importance of new vendors and will continue to cultivate them whenever possible. We currently are doing a better job at reading which brands and products are selling best and moving forward strongly with them."