Surf Gear Lab Founder Story

Surf Gear Lab Founder Story

Surf Gear Lab is an online surf store offering the coolest surf products to ocean enthusiasts at affordable prices. 

My background is in digital marketing. I spent over 8 years working for ad tech startups in London. Thereafter I moved to Cape Town, South Africa to launch a content marketing agency called Contentellect which I grew to over 30 clients with an MRR (monthly recurring revenue) of over $25K. I then sold my share of the business to my co-founder earlier this year. 

Whilst running the content marketing agency I was running a surfing affiliate website called Beginner Surf Gear on the side. I noticed that there were a few products that I had written articles for on Beginner Surf Gear that were increasing in popularity every month, one of them being a surfing balance board.

I decided that instead of sending the traffic to product links on Amazon as I usually do, I was going to launch an ecommerce store and source a balance board myself. I managed to form a partnership with a company based in Hawaii which made a pretty cool balance board, called the Balance Surfer. Once we ironed out the commercials, I launched Surf Gear Lab in January 2020 and for the first 3 months 90% of the sales came from the Balance Surfer. All the traffic driving these sales came from Beginner Surf Gear.

Branching out 

I knew that being a proverbial “one-trick pony” wasn’t a smart business strategy so shortly after launching the store I set out to source a range of products with the overall aim to have a minimum of 20 products at 6 months after launch. We’re currently at 24 products and still growing. 

As an avid surfer myself I noticed there were a plethora of mainstream surf brands all offering very similar products. Although the range of products was impressive they all had one attribute in common – they priced their products at a premium. 

I quickly realised that there was demand for these same products but at a cheaper price point. At Surf Gear Lab we are able to bring these products to consumers at lower prices because we don’t invest vast sums of money in branding. 100% of our marketing spend is allocated on growing our website organically. 

I’ve used my SEO expertise (both on and off page) to steadily grow the organic traffic of surf Gear Lab month-on-month. I invest money in both content creation and link building – the two cornerstones of SEO. 

We are also able to keep our costs down by leveraging economies of scale and cost-competitive markets in Asia. We do all of this whilst maintaining the quality of our products through thorough quality control procedures. 

Our products range from beautiful changing ponchos to traction pads and surfboard bike racks. As you can imagine, any store like ours is a seasonal business with over 45% of our sales deriving from June through to August. 

Our goal with Surf Gear Lab for the next 5 years is to become a leading surf and ocean accessory site. So when someone is searching for a surf poncho, changing mat or even beach towel, we’ll appear high up in the search results. Our growth strategy is 100% focussed organic-search at this stage.

The state of the surf industry

Over the last 10 years the global surf industry has been growing by around 3% year-on-year. It’s currently valued at a total of $3.97 billion and by 2028 is forecast to be worth $5.47 billion. This growth is being driven by investment in innovation from some of the big players such as Channel Islands and Firewire Surfboards. Strategic marketing initiatives from some other players like Quicksilver and Nike are also moving the growth needle.

However, this level doesn’t seem sustainable over the long term, and we also question the viability of the existing innovation trajectory. With surfing making its debut at the Olympics this year we have witnessed a new surge of interest in the sport. The challenge will be whether surf brands can hold onto these surfing newbies over the long term. If not we may witness a market correction over the coming years. One of the key factors that will influence this will be surfing’s continued participation at the Summer Olympics every 4 years. 

There are many opportunities that exist within the surf industry. One of the most prominent is certainly surfing’s move into the mainstream this year with its debut at the Olympics. As mentioned earlier this has helped stoke the interest in the sport from a new kind of consumer. This presents a great opportunity to launch new products specifically in the form of surfing apparel and accessories, instead of traditional surfing hardware like surfboards and wetsuits. 

Advice to other business owners 

Besides all the cliched advice that one can get for free on every business blog, I’d say you need to be prepared to pivot and change your business many times over throughout the journey. This will all be in accordance with what the market wants, and the reality is that you won’t necessarily know what the market wants when you launch your business – that knowledge accrues with experience – spending time with your customers. 

Being an entrepreneur can be a long and lonely journey, so be prepared for this. Moreover, unlike in a corporate job where you’ll get commended for great work, there isn’t going to be anyone giving you a pat on the back when you’ve reached a certain milestone. You’re going to have to do that. And do that you must. Never forget to celebrate the wins, however small they may be, because the losses will seem to arrive just as frequently. Your ability to weather the ephemeral low points in your business journey will ultimately determine whether your business survives or fails.

Which brings me to my final point. The majority of entrepreneurs at some point in their business career have endured at least one failed venture. If your first business fails, rather than calling it a day and going back into employment, dig deep, gather all the learnings you can from the failure so that you’re perfectly equipped to make your next venture a success.

Resilience is one very important entrepreneurial attribute to possess. If you can show both resilience and resolve during the tough times, you’ll come out on the other side with both the scar tissue but also the success to show for it.

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