Bob McKnight’s son Robbie is launching a belt company called CUATER.
The new brand will be sold out of the gate in premium surf accounts and online at cuater.com.
The belts, ranging in price from $30 to $50, include an eye-catching signature paper belt series with photo quality images imprinted on a paper-like fabric.
We asked Robbie why he is jumping into the industry and how his Dad is helping with his new venture.
The belt category has been getting some attention in core stores lately, with the current market leader, Arcade, a young brand, moving into the dominant position in 2015.
Why did you want to create a belt company?
Robbie McKnight: It has always been a goal of mine to build a company from scratch, and the concept of a belt company originated while I was working with the Quiksilver team in France.
Pierre Agnes and Miky Picon welcomed me with open arms, and really showed me the ropes. On top of this cultural experience, I was also very curious to learn more about Moskova, which Miky co-founded. His idea of homing in on a single category and putting a brand behind it really resonated with me, and from then on, I was set to go off and build a company. I felt that belts were an underserved category in the action sports arena.
When I got home, I shared the concept with my family and their support behind my decision has been overwhelmingly positive.
Who are the founders of the company?
Robbie McKnight: Ben Donnelly and I founded the company. At the end of the day, our team was born out of pure friendship and relationships. There is clearly a natural lifestyle crossover between action sports and golf in SoCal so that is definitely where the foundation of our team got started.
My Dad and Travis Brasher (Founder and CEO of TravisMathew) act as advisors who help us on strategy. We also have former TravisMathew CFO Nathan Boroff helping us with the high level financial and operational decisions.
Ben and myself operate the day-to-day activities. We both work on product. I’m handling all marketing and sales while Ben focuses on the financials and operations. Although there is a natural crossover between our areas, we both seem to complement each other.
There seems to be a lot of new belt companies lately. How does CUATER plan to stand out?
Robbie McKnight: Belts are actually still quite an untouched category that has not gotten much exposure in the past. Our wholesale experience has been very positive so far, and everyone believes that this is a category currently lacking in sales and an area that is certainly capable of improving.
Our goal with CUATER is to deliver our consumer a positive shopping experience while providing a one-stop shop for your belt needs. Our belt range includes three different styles, other interesting benefits and aesthetics, and great price points.
Our stand-out product that we really believe in is our paper belts. Never executed before, we are able to print photo-quality images onto this paper-like fabrication, which is then stitched onto a sturdy backing. It’s amazing to us how strong our paper belts actually are, while still holding the properties of being thin, lightweight, and weatherproof.
As you can imagine, our paper belts give us the ability to do collaborations with artists, athletes, and designers, which is something we’re really looking forward to bringing to you in the future. We also have the ability to do a customs program in the future. The more used and worn these belts get, the better they look.
What retailers will the brand launch with? How are you handling direct sales?
Robbie McKnight: On top of our online store, we will be working with a few select core surf shops. We are hoping we are able to further develop the belt category, which will be helpful for everyone.
We are being very exclusive with distribution and are hand selecting each account. You will be able to find us in 15 surf doors from Los Angeles to San Diego in the coming days. Our goal behind this is to be as transparent and close to the process as we possibly can be. We want to be on the floor with the shop employees and customers to hear any feedback and opinions we can get.
It’s very special for me to launch a brand and work in this industry that has been such a huge part of my Dad’s life. These accounts have always been at the forefront of authenticity in surf, because of their history, quality, reputation and service. It’s crazy to think that Hobie surf shop was Quiksilver’s first account, and now it will be ours. Now that’s special!
Along with Hobie, we will be launching with, Jack’s, HS&S, Val Surf, South Coast Surf, Surfride, Surfside, and Sun Diego. In these stores, you will be able to find our belt-specific fixture, which will definitely stand out amongst the other store fixtures with its visual appeal.
As we shopped around and visited stores, we found that accessories were really spread out around the store. With this in mind, our focus around the fixture was to keep our belts separate from any other brand while still taking up a very minimal footprint.
On top of our retailers, you can also buy our full line of product directly from our cuater.com website.
What lessons have you learned from your Dad about business and the action sports industry over the years? How is your Dad helping you with this venture?
Robbie McKnight: Watching my dad and being a member of the Quiksilver family has been an invaluable experience through the years. It has exposed me to the ups and downs of building a successful business. My dad has always believed that everyone in the company must share the same passion and enthusiasm for the company and its values.
One of the most important lessons I have learned from watching my dad is that in difficult and challenging times, I should always go back to the roots of my family to regain direction and support. It is a lesson that will be helpful in all areas of my life. The very first time my dad pushed me into a wave, I recall the sensational feeling that went through my body and the sense of awe I felt. I knew then this was going to be one of the passions of my life and that it would be the sport I could always turn to for inspiration, reassurance and personal challenge. Over the years, I began to grasp the beauty and the power of the ocean and how surfing was an art intertwined with the environment. Connecting my passion with my career has always been a goal of mine, and I think that CUATER accomplishes this with perfect synergy.
My dad brings invaluable experience. He has seen it all through his 40 years with Quiksilver. From discussing high-level decision making to nitpicking product, my dad always brings game to the business. It's amazing to me how young and energetic he is, and putting myself in a position to have him help me has been really fun for both of us.