Sharon Fowle speaks with Ross Lindsay from Jungle Surf in Tuncurry and discovers that selling online is not always the answer to success. The need to stay ahead in retail means being one step ahead of your competitors. Jungle Surf ensure they provide good customer service and go above and beyond by offering a great shopping experience.
Ross gives every effort to provide all the tools, information and right equipment for customers to participate in their sport, building long tem relationships along the way.
What got you into this business?
I’ve been into surfing since I was in my early teens. I grew to love the sport. I did my apprenticeship as an electrician 25 years ago and hated it. I got myself a job working, and soon after, managing a surf shop in Nelson Bay. I met some of the industry’s representatives and ended up becoming one myself. I started my own sales agency and worked for 18 years in my own company, representing Aussie surf labels around NSW.
I bought Jungle Surf, both the retail and wholesale business, 9 years ago from the Emmerton family, who are a well known surfing family in town. The wholesale division became too much to manage, so I closed it and kept the retail side of the business going.
What are the current trends in surfing these days?
Keeping an eye on current trends is crucial to business. We have to keep evolving if we’re going to survive. Through blogs, suppliers’ design concepts and industry magazines, I’ve found there is a real movement to a retro surf and vintage surf concept. We are making changes to the appearance of our shop to coincide with this trend. There is definitely a resurgence of all things vintage. Fluoro colours are coming back, especially for junior girls’ wear. Shorter length shorts for guys and cleaner looking T-shirts; it’s a real ‘80s revival.
How does the Great Lakes region rate in terms of surf?
A lot of professional surfers come through, because they’re travelling to the Gold Coast from Sydney. The surf here is phenomenal.
There are a lot of places where you can get great surf footage, especially Pacific Palms. The clarity of the water and the beaches makes for good image shots. It’s the most consistent place for, surf and there are good waves in town too.
What’s the biggest surfing growth sport?
We are trying to be different, and one of the ways we are achieving this is by supplying stand up paddle boarding (SUP). It’s an activity that you can do on flat water on the lake, or you can go out on the open beaches and catch waves.
If you are so inclined, you can buy a 14 ft down winding stand up paddleboard, which is designed to go out in the open water. If there’s a big southerly, you can start at the southern corner and get blown from Forster to Blackhead. It’s easy to learn on flat water with the right equipment. You don’t have to be a surfer; anyone can do it. The board has to be the right size, but it’s a great general fitness activity. It’s great for improving core strength and is particularly good for anyone who has back problems or similar issues; you can’t help but use your core muscles.
The sport is letting people get out into the environment. We have beautiful waterways; I paddle board on the lake in the morning and with some polarized sunglasses, I have seen flathead, stingrays, dolphins, literally swimming underneath me.
How important is your online presence for your business?
I’m just in the process of rebuilding my website. Online is very specialised. There is a local retail surf shop that has an online shop, and I know they are in the process of pulling it down, because it’s so much work to maintain it. The owner is a very good businessman. For someone like him who has committed a lot of money to it and yet is pulling back, highlights that you have to be committed to it in a big way to make it work.
I’m dealing with over 100 different companies. To put that many brands on the site and manage the stock levels while I’m selling it out of my bricks and mortar here, then trying to also sell online and to be able to control the inventory and stock levels would be very difficult. Not to mention, the need to upload photographs, set up blogs, warehousing and physically sending out of the product. It’s as lucrative for me to remain with this one outlet, rather than spending my time maintaining an online shop.
The way I’m approaching it, is that our new website will feature products which we have in stock. It will be a reference place for customers and will have blog articles about stand up paddleboards, latest skateboards, latest fashion trends etc. Customers can come and see what we’re doing and what we have in the shop.
Are you concerned that it will narrow your market to the Forster Tuncurry region?
I Just opened an account with Instagram social media. A lady from Cronulla phoned and purchased based on a photograph I downloaded. Instagram is one of the fastest growing apps, more so than Pinterest and Google+. I heard about Instagram through the Great Lakes Council Women in Business Pod. So, I can still sell nationally and get my products out through more convenient methods.
What are the effects of the new Woolworths development for Jungle Surf?
The announcement of Woollies and the JR Richards developments were the two things that tipped me over the edge to move the shop to a bigger premises. It was great news. Jungle Surf had to grow to survive, otherwise the other retailers would have had more space to be able to merchandise and stock more product lines.
We needed to get bigger to compete with them. If we hadn’t jumped at it, I would slowly become less significant in town.
What else are you doing to keep ahead of the competition?
We do regular radio advertising. We are also the official supplier for Great Lakes College. Even though it doesn’t relate to surfing, it was a good idea, because it was an opportunity for people who might not be surf oriented to come into the store. While they are shopping for school stuff, they also check out our merchandise.
We provide sports gear, including all the associated hardware like boards, leg ropes, flippers, wax, wet suits etc. This has ensured our survival. If we were in a shopping centre, we couldn’t house this equipment. It’s too expensive to have high-ticket items on display in a shopping centre store. They are items that don’t necessarily sell every day, so they take up valuable space. I recommend having a surf shop on a strip rather than a shopping centre, for this reason. The growth area is in surfing hardware.
We maintain our customer base because we provide advice and arrange to bring them for a paddle, to give them hands on assistance. We have arranged with Naish, one of our biggest suppliers, to give a demo day on 6 October. They are bringing up every board that they produce and are setting up on the lake, so people can try the boards. They will also be able to swap, buy, sell or swindle!
It’s important to provide an environment where customers can walk into the shop with an exciting atmosphere. We have to provide a service that our customers can’t resist. They can touch and feel the merchandise and get advice. We can professionally fit them for swimwear.
They can find info on skateboards or body-boarding, giving customers a hands on experience. If we don’t know the answer, we’ll find it. We’ll repair anything we sell if necessary. You can’t get that type of help as easily online.
We are not threatened by the internet and feel we have an optimistic future in this growing industry.
This story was published in issue 68 of the Manning-Great Lakes Focus