Welcome to In the Board Room with Anthony!
Being with Glide SUP from the beginning has given me the opportunity to wear many hats within the company; everything from shaping, sanding, laminating, trade show guy, sales, etc. Over these years, I have been lucky enough to develop friendships and talk with people from all aspects of the SUP industry. It has always been interesting to me how differently people view some of the issues pertaining to SUP such as construction of different SUP brands, the best style of SUPs to buy for each individual’s needs, SUP athletes, state of SUP racing, and the over-all state of SUP. Being an avid paddler myself along with being a part of the inner-workings of the SUP industry, I was inspired to be a source of helpful, exciting, controversial, fun, informative, and interesting information. So is born, “In the Board Room with Anthony”. ENJOY!
This week I was lucky enough to do this interview with the owner of Surf’SUP Colorado, John Poppleton. He has some really cool insight on the state of SUP and what is to come.
John Poppleton on the Glide Retro with his classic smooth SUP style.
AJ: Can you tell the readers a little bit about your shop and how you got into SUP?
JP: I was not a water person growing up, preferring alpine rock and ice climbing instead. However Lori and I began to take beach vacations to Kauai in 2003, where I struggled to learn how to surf. We saw our first SUP in 2007 and by 2009 we saw several SUP surfers regularly out and catching waves. It just looked like a really fun way to surf. In 2010 there was a local shop in Denver that had a few rental SUPs available. I loved it from the first paddle strokes. After a few SUP surfing sessions in South Carolina later that same year, I was hopelessly hooked. We started Surf’SUP Colorado in February, 2011, operating out of our garage. I would take a trailer with 6-8 SUP boards to a couple of local lakes where I would teach people how to SUP and offer rental boards as well. That fall I became an ACA certified SUP instructor. Our little SUP business grew rapidly and by 2013 we had outgrown the garage and we opened our SUP Shop in August, 2013. In 2015 we doubled the size of our SUP Shop. We have a 900 s.f. “board room” where we regularly have 70+ new boards on display and also our quiver of rental boards for pick up rentals. In addition we have about 900 s.f. of display space for SUP clothing, gear, and accessories. We still take a now larger trailer with 28 boards to a couple of Denver area lakes where we have averaged over 2,500 participants per year in lesson, rental, and camp sessions. We estimate over 80% of our SUP Shop purchases come as a direct result of our on water activity. Surf’SUP Colorado is the only specialty SUP shop in Colorado that operates on a full-time year round basis.
AJ: How do your view the current state of SUP? Do you feel like the popularity of SUP is still on the rise or have you seen it slow down?
JP: In my opinion Stand Up Paddleboarding is still on the rise. There are just so many different ways to enjoy SUP, from surfing to flatwater, river, racing, fitness, yoga, touring, adventure, etc, that the sport can always be a fresh experience. I think it’s potential has more in common to bicycling than say windsurfing, which definitely has had problems sustaining the public’s interest. The diversity of the SUP world, not only in terms of the type of activity, but also in terms of the age of the participants, is contributing to the long term potential of the sport. We have taught kids as young as 6 to paddle successfully on their own and adults well into their 70’s are getting out and paddling for the first time. We have continued to enjoy year over year growth of sales in the SUP Shop. Even our on water lessons and rentals have held steady in spite of much more competition from other “trailered” SUP businesses and the lake marinas.
ACA Certified SUP instructor, Brittany Poppleton, teaching Intro to SUP to a family
AJ: How do you view the state of SUP in the next 3 years?
JP: We are not dependent on fad-ish growth for the survival of our business. We expect the steady and sustainable growth at our SUP Shop to continue, not only in board sales but also for clothing, accessories and other soft goods. We still get a lot of inquiries and subsequent business from the first time paddler. We also continue to see a lot of repeat business from our customers. We are seeing people come into the Shop looking to upgrade from the cheap SUP gear that they initially bought to a higher performance, longer lasting board.
Although iSUPs will always be an important part of the SUP world, especially in the Colorado river scene, we are beginning to see customers come in who are tired of dealing with the inconvenience of inflatable SUPs. They have room to store a hard board and are looking for something that they can grab off the top of their SUV, drop in the water, and go for a paddle with a higher performing SUP. We hope that this is the beginning of a significant trend for us. Because of our emphasis on hard boards and our rental fleet consisting of almost entirely hard boards we sell about 4 hard boards to 1 iSUP. We think iSUPs are really beginning to be commoditized due a variety of factors. This was really brought home to us when we saw iSUPs in a pool supply company’s booth at OR this summer. Are iSUPs in danger of being considered just another pool or lake toy instead of a serious piece of sport equipment?
Interior of Surf'SUP Colorado
AJ: What types of SUPs are your customers requesting: touring boards, all-around, river, etc? Also, do your customers request particular brands, or do you guide them toward what you feel will best fit their needs?
JP: Most of our customers looking to buy a SUP come from our on lake programs so they are already very familiar with the GLIDE and BIC SUPs, which make up almost the entirety of our rental fleet. Even with people who have no prior experience with us we really encourage them to get out to demo several types of boards so that we can fit a board to their particular paddling style and situation. Durability certainly plays into that equation. We encourage people who are buying a SUP that will also be used by family and friends, especially kids, to purchase a board that is not going to require expensive fixes every time it gets banged around. When they see how well our rental boards hold up, especially the GLIDE SUPs, they have already formed a positive impression of the brand.
Most of our customers end up buying an all around planing shape for at least their first SUP. The 10’-11’ x 31”-33” shapes dominates our market. And that is what I paddle most of the time myself unless I have time (rarely happens) for a longer paddle. We have to really encourage folks to try a displacement/touring shape to see for themselves what a great, if different, paddle experience that can be. That said displacement/touring shapes are slow sellers in our Shop. Most people do not consider them until they are thoroughly hooked on the sport and looking to expand their SUP experience.
The river SUP market is a small segment of the overall market here in the Denver metro area where the vast majority of SUPing is done on flatwater, even on the mountain lakes. And of course iSUPs dominate the river SUP market segment. We have found that at this point in the maturity of the SUP market more people talk about wanting to get in a river at some point than actually do it. And the vast majority of SUPers have no interest in paddling challenging whitewater. However, we think that the market could mature and grow toward more river touring on easier, non-threatening Class 1 and 2 water. Obviously this kind of river running is well within the capability of the standard GSS coated GLIDE SUP or other durably constructed board.
AJ: Surf’SUP Colorado is known for being the go-to shop for great all around SUPs and families and individuals wanting to get into the sport. As the shop owner, how do you decide what boards to bring in?
JP: Our buying decisions are keyed in on several factors. 1) The quality & value quotients must be in balance. Hitting the sweet spot in the market on price is crucial. For us that means SUPs that are in the $800-1,300 range. Cheap boards suck and expensive boards are slow sellers in our Shop. 2) Durability is huge with us. But so is shape and feel. You can build a board out of kayak plastic that is super durable, but usually has a compromised shape and absolutely no feel under foot. We also noticed a trend after paddling board after board at the OR demo day that the “armored” type SUP boards can be so stiff and some are so generic in shape that they are loosing the feeling of glide and playfulness that is such an important part of the SUP experience. At least it is for us. We think that is one of the most distinguishing elements of the GLIDE GSS SUP boards. Start with a great shape and then armor it with a durable, but flexible coating. The boards maintain their feel and playfulness while holding up to the inevitable abuse that most SUP boards are subject to. 3) Obviously attractiveness plays a big part in the buying decision as well. Color scheme, a comfortable and durable deck pad, and the overall fit and finish, contribute to the “curb appeal” of any particular SUP. People want to be out on a nice looking board.
AJ: How much influence do trade shows have on your buying?
JP: We have been attending the January Surf Expo since we opened the SUP Shop. Actually being able to meet and talk with the people behind the products we decide to bring into our Shop is very important. We have received quite the education, especially in the soft goods area, by going to the Expo as we had no prior retail business experience. Much of our Shop inventory is directly a result of trade show attendance. Also the demo day at OR was an invaluable experience. I must have paddled 30-40 different SUPs that day looking to add one SUP brand to our Shop quiver that would be a compliment to our existing lineup.
Start of the NOMAD Adventure Race
AJ: What trade shows do you normally attend, and which shows have been the most beneficial in your buying decisions and why?
JP: We have attended the last three January Surf Expos and this year’s August SLC Outdoor Retailer. The demo day at OR was very valuable. The trade show aspect was a little less focussed on our particular interests. There are so many other non-SUP and surf vendors that it just felt too cluttered. We like the SUP, surf, beach, and resort atmosphere of the January Surf Expo. The ocean, surf, and Hawaiian foundations of the SUP experience are important to us and a point of emphasis with Surf’SUP Colorado.
AJ: If Outdoor Retailer is moved into June within the next couple years, will you still attend?
JP: By mid June we are too busy to allow us to get out of town for any trade shows.
AJ: Have you heard about the new trade show, Paddlesports Retailer, debuting September 12-14, 2017 in Madison, Wisconsin? If so, do you plan on attending?
JP: This could be intriguing as it sounds like there will be a good venue for a demo day. Our concern would be in having a good representation of SUP, surf and beach oriented soft goods vendors in attendance. We would probably be more apt to attend a September Surf Expo if they can work out a better demo venue.
John Poppleton ripping a wave in Hanalei Bay, Kauai, HI.
AJ: How do you feel like the changing around of dates and locations of the shows for SUPs will affect retailers and the industry in general?
JP: What is important to us is a time frame that is at least outside of our busiest season, probably a mid-September to mid-January timeframe. And a location that can host a proper demo venue is also paramount.
AJ: From a retail position, how do you view the difference between SUPs made in the USA opposed to SUPs made oversees and why? Do you think this is taken into consideration when the average consumer buys a SUP?
JP: We think the “average” consumer knows so little about what constitutes a good SUP board for their intended purpose that they end up making their buying decision based more on price than anything else. We take a lot of time to educate our customers so that they can make an intelligent buying decision. We encourage people to demo a number of boards before they decide which one is best for them. For a number of people the chance to buy a USA made product is an important part of that decision making process. We make it a point to differentiate the boards we sell from the cheap Asian made boards that have seemed to flood the market, especially the online and discount market.
THANK YOU FOR READING!