Interview: When surfing sparks entrepreneurship 0

Hi Johnny and Welcome. I usually start by asking about the business, but I should start by asking about you this time. So, tell us a bit about you.
Johnny: Thanks, Christian! In a nutshell, I’m 32 years old, obsessed with surfing, and passionate about business. I started surfing at 14 and instantly fell in love with the sport. I’ve been lucky enough to travel the world and have experienced some of the best surf locations on the planet.

img_3010What made you decide to open a surf and skate shop in the Channel Islands?
Johnny: I remember telling my school careers advisor, at 15, that I wanted to open a surf store, however after leaving school, I spent seven years working seasonal jobs, which allowed me to follow my passion for travel and surfing. At 23, I was allowed to get involved with a local surf shop, and although it was struggling, I saw massive potential in the business and thought it would be a great way to get my foot in the door. I was committed to updating the store to benefit the local community and ensuring that it stocked a range of quality products from the best brands. There has always been a passion for surfing in Guernsey, but there weren’t any local stores keeping up with the demand.

Where are the Channel Islands located, and why are they appealing to surfers?
Johnny: The Channel Islands are small just off Normandy’s coast, comprising of Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney, Sark, and Herm. Yakwax is based in Guernsey as it’s where I grew up, and so the location has always been close to my heart. Collectively, the Channel Islands have a great active surf community and some fun waves to boot.

How important is it to be “an expert” in what you sell?

Johnny: I believe being able to offer honest advice to customers and sharing their passion is vital! I am confident that the years of first-hand industry experience that the Yakwax team and I have for surf, skate, and snow sports are what sets us apart from the competition. We are all passionate about giving the best customer service and ensuring the customer leaves satisfied that they have made a great purchase.

As I’m driving a 1972 VW Hippie Bus, my image about surfing is living la Vida Loca, without commitments, without being attached to a location. I guess you had to invest in opening a legal business, shop, and inventory. Isn’t this quite a big step? How did it all start?
Johnny: It was a huge step, and it drastically changed my lifestyle in terms of being care / commitment-free – but it’s the best thing I ever did! I got involved with Yakwax when it was struggling. There was no stock system in place, no budgeting, no proper branding, and no future progression plans. Saying that the basic structure was in place, the store had a small but loyal customer base, a physical shop, and a cool range of suppliers that appealed to a young audience. I took over the company to launch an e-commerce site to develop the customer base and grow the business and its structure.

Do you have to be business savvy to become an entrepreneur?
Johnny: Naturally, it helps to be savvy, but the best way to learn is through experience. I didn’t have any previous business experience, but I was committed and passionate. If I were to offer my advice to an aspiring entrepreneur, I’d say you will make mistakes, you will work long hours, and you may have some sleepless nights, but the more you do it, the more you learn – Running your own business leaves you with a great sense of satisfaction and pride!

I see you have 2 partners. How did you decide to start a business together? Do they come with different skills, and you realized you’d get things done easier together, or is it just a common passion?
Johnny: My partners each bring individual qualities to the business. One is more of a silent partner; although he’s 100% passionate about Yakwax, he has other commitments elsewhere to pay the bills. He’s great, though, because he gets what I’m trying to do and offers 100% support, and gives me the confidence to pursue things. Liam is our manager at the shop and possesses a wealth of knowledge in the skate industry, and has been instrumental in building our catalog of brands. He has a keen eye for what’s on-trend, so we’re always evolving and stocking relevant quality products.

They say follow your passion, and you’ll never feel like working again. It doesn’t work for me this way. As soon as it’s a job, I wouldn’t say I like it. How does it work for you?
Johnny: For me, when it’s something you truly care about and have goals in mind, it doesn’t feel like a “job’. I regularly work 12 hour days and still leave thinking I could do more! In my previous roles, I’d be banging my head against a wall after a couple of days, but at Yakwax, I find the time absolutely flies by. I think the key is having a passion and setting goals. This way, you always have something to aspire to, which is the driving force for me.

How is different from any other shop for surfers in the UK?
Johnny: There’s plenty of good quality surf shops in the UK, and we don’t necessarily single any of them out to compete with. Our goal is to be the very best we can be and make the most of our resources. We want Yakwax to be a store that we’d be stoked to use as customers and feel we achieve this through having the following:

  • Quality Products
    • Great Customer Service and very approachable
    • Value for Money
    • Trying to always better our services
    • Listening to customer feedback and finding ways to incorporate it

The goal is always to provide customers with exactly what they’re after or offer them something that they are going to benefit from.

Do you deliver only to the Channel Islands?
Johnny: We actually offer worldwide delivery. We have shipping options for Mainland UK, Republic of Ireland, Europe, and International countries and The Channel Islands. It’s quite mind-blowing when we get orders from all corners of the globe and super remote places.

Who is your typical customer? And any advice regarding surfing in the Channel Islands? Where can you catch the best waves?
Johnny: Locally, our typical customer is 10 – 40-year-olds or simply people wanting to make the most of the beach lifestyle that we’re so fortunate to have here in Guernsey. We get a variety of customers, from retired guys looking to get involved in surfing to those that were the pioneers locally and are still going strong into their 70’s.

Wave-wise, Vazon is the most popular beach and is home to the Guernsey Surf School. The bay itself holds all tides (they are huge over here), making it a firm favorite. For more experienced surfers, Portinfer is a great option on a mid-low tide.

What is your best-selling product? How do you choose what to sell?
Johnny: Believe it or not, our best-selling product is Stance Socks which are taking the world by storm and have turned the sock industry on its head. It’s now very cool for kids to receive a pair of socks at Christmas as long as they’re made by Stance. Purely on the surf side of things, Xcel Wetsuits and Channel Islands Surfboards are always really strong.

When it comes to product selection, we first look at what we want to use ourselves. We’re all surfers that thrive on using premium quality products that will enhance our performance or overall enjoyment, so our selection stems from that. Still, we will also have various options to cater to everyone’s budgets.

Is there a best moment to buy skate and surf stuff?
Johnny: Surfing and Skating are both very seasonal. Skating is way more popular in the summer months due to the light evenings and dryer, warmer weather. Surfing is super popular in summer, but we get our best waves in autumn/winter, so you have a nice balance of beginners and newcomers in summer and the more hardcore seasoned surfers in the darker months.

What would be your elevator pitch about the shop?
Johnny: Yakwax is a business that focuses on providing quality products that fit our customer’s needs. We’re committed to being flexible throughout our growth, investing in technology and future trends to stay ahead of our competition. This, coupled with our combined expert experience, is what has allowed us to grow year on year. More importantly, we can offer our customers advice to enable them a higher level of performance and fun.

I’ve read an interview you did before, and you said that since being a child, you have wanted to have a surf shop. What would you say to people being afraid of following their childhood dreams?
Johnny: I’m a firm believer of grabbing the bull, or Yak in this case, by the horns! I never want to look back later in life with regrets about what I didn’t do. It’s better to try and fail than never try at all. Dream, Believe, Achieve is something I tell myself most days. Everybody dreams and thinks of great business ideas, but it seems so many people don’t believe in themselves enough to achieve their goals or turn their dreams into a reality, and it’s a great shame!

Start small and see where it takes you but give it your absolute all, so even if it doesn’t work out, you will never regret it. Chances are, if it doesn’t work out, you will learn a whole new skill set that can be applied to future projects.

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