A Tale of Two Surf Shops. Kind Of.

I grew up spending all my summers on Long Beach Island, New Jersey. That’s where I learned to surf. And just before anybody makes the comment yes, the surf is generally lousy and for anything really good we have to pray for hurricanes and a change in the prevailing south winds.

We still have a family beach house there, and I was back last week on vacation. We left, naturally, on Friday, the day before Hurricane Bill hit. So instead of getting surf, I got stuck with a five hour weather delay in the airport. Life is not fair.

Enough bitching and moaning and explaining. Naturally, since I was on vacation, I took the best part of a day and visited surf shops and I wanted to contrast two of them.
The first is Farias, which has been on the island for 35 years and has three locations. I was in the largest location in Ship Bottom. It’s open all year. It was attractive, well merchandised and well lit. The large selection of boards was upstairs.
It’s a big store and they carry, well, all the soft goods brands you would expect them to carry. Go look at the list on their web site here. http://www.fariassurf.com/products/surf-gear/ Even though Farias was large and carried all the requisite stuff you have to carry when you’re on the main street of a summer vacation town, it did a good job feeling surf focused- because it is.
The second shop was the Brighton Beach Surf Shop. According to Michael Lisiewski (who’s business card says, “Owner/ Surf Instructor,” the shop was opened in 1962, giving them 47 years under their belt. I’m assuming it was his father who started it- either that or Michael is the best preserved guy I’ve ever seen. They also started Matador Surf Boards around the same time.
Here’s the link to their web site. http://brightonbeachsurfshop.com/   Check out the list of soft good brands they carry- oh wait, they don’t have one. That’s because they don’t carry any of the usual soft goods brands. Not one of the 22 industry standards that Farias carries are sold at Brighton Beach. Of course they have some soft goods- sweat and hats and t-shirts. Many of them say Long Beach Island on them. There are probably some store t-shirts as well, but I don’t specifically remember them. Hey, I was supposed to be on vacation.
Why don’t they carry them? First, because merchandising just one of these brands the way Farias can do it might come close to filling the whole Brighton Beach store. If I’m exaggerating, it’s not by much. The place is a bit small.
Second, that’s not what their focus is. As I stood there, the kids came in and went out asking about surf boards and surfing. According to Mike, these are his key customers.
At Brighton you can get “Everything you need for a day at the beach.” You can get that at Farias too. Like Farias Ship Bottom store, Brighton Beach Surf Shop is open all year around. Unless Mike is out surfing or isn’t there for some other excellent reason. 
So we’ve got two surf shops, both focused on surfing, but very different in terms of how they do business and where they make money. Is one better than the other one? Nope. At 35 and 47 years, it’s pretty clear that they both have strong business models.
But what fell on me like a sack of hammers after my tour was that you can’t be Brighton Beach Surf Shop if you try and carry even one or two of the brands that Farias carries. And you can’t be Farias if you carry only one or two of those brands either.
Maybe I just don’t get out often enough, but it suddenly occurred to me that there might no longer be room for shops caught in the middle. You either carry a large assortment of brands (or you’ve got to figure out which ones to carry and that’s a crap shoot) or you carry few to none of the broadly distributed brands (because you can’t merchandise them well or compete on price).
Perhaps that’s already been obvious to everybody but me. Who says you don’t learn anything on vacation?