This project started with an idea & a personal desire – to be able to try a wide range of surfboards in order to experiment with different shapes & keep things fresh. Taking it one step further, I also saw a potential gap in the market for “higher end” rental boards as most rentals are either soft tops or the most beat up boards you could find. Essentially unless you’re a total beginner, there are very few, if any, decent boards available to use without buying one.
So I teamed up with Alex McCall to run through a rapid validation exercise he’d been wanting to try incorporating aspects of the Design Thinking process.
Made for surfers, by surfers
The thinking behind it was to serve 3 potential groups of surfers:
- Travelling surfers, as travelling with a surfboard is notoriously annoying and expensive, but there often no choice given the poor supply of rentals at most surf destinations (including NZ).
- Surfers wanting to “try before you buy”, giving them a chance to try out different shapes & sizes before picking one they want to buy for themselves.
- The everyday surfer who likes to mix things up & constantly try new boards (such as myself). This actually seems to be the weakest argument for pursing this project, but it was my personal driving force 😄.
As a way to support local shapers who are constantly up against the big brands, we also wanted the quiver of boards to be mostly or completely shaped locally with the idea being that we would be promoting local brands and encouraging people to try & buy local. An added benefit is that as a travelling surfer you’d be riding boards designed specifically for the local breaks.
So putting this all together, the concept was for a rental service business that hired out quality boards made by local shapers. For every rental that was made, shapers would get a percentage of the profits giving them an opportunity for recurring revenue. Surfers would be given a chance to try something different without needing to buy brand new and travelling surfers would actually be given opportunities to surf quality boards without needing to bring their entire quiver from home. #winwin
For reference, there are a few similar things already out there.
The Quiver - Surfboard Rentals On Demand
Rent boards on demand 📲 Ever been high and dry when the waves are firing? Reserve a board in advance, pick it up and you're ready to shred. Search all boards Demos (Coming Soon) Unlimited earning potential 💸 Put your boards to work and make money renting them out.
Alex Knost, Brown Microwave Television, Andreini, Arenal, Barrett Miller, Campbell Brothers, Daily Shred, Dash, Dead Kooks, Deepest Reaches, Gato Heroi, Gordon Smith, Grote, Jive, Liddle, Mystic Hulls, Rick Surfboards, Ryan Burch, Ryan Lovelace, Somma Special Designs, Son of Cobra, Spacetime, stpnk, Surfboards Australia, Trimcraft, Elmore, Tyler Warren About Our Memberships: Day Pass Membership - Grab a sled from one of the best shapers on the planet, surf it for up to 24 hours, then bring it back.
Ideas are great, but how do they translate to the real world? Specifically in NZ?
Being surfers ourselves, we decided to start by interviewing shapers to get more insight on their perspective as they were the ones we were trying to support.
Over the course of the month, we held 1 over-the-phone or in-person interview each week along with a team check-in to share what we learned. Unintentionally, we managed to speak with a pretty eclectic mix of shapers with varying business models, such as:
- Shapers who are doing it as a hobby business, making only a handful of boards a year
- Shapers who are building not just boards, but a brand and are producing hundreds of boards a year
- Shapers who are pushing innovation through the use of tech and selling not just boards to surfers, but services to other shapers
- Shapers who create one-of-a-kind boards & run workshops for surfers to build their own
In order to avoid any biases in the responses we got, we kept our questions vague by asking the following:
- What are some of your biggest challenges you have as a shaper/business owner? (This was to keep things broad at first and see just what challenges shapers had in running their business. The question in the back of our mind was, “will rental boards help drive sales for these guys? Or is there something else that we should be focusing on?”)
- What are some of the most common questions you receive from potential customers? (Another broad question – are surfers mostly asking questions to help them decipher which board to go with? Or something totally different that we’re not aware of?)
- Can you tell me about the sales in your business and your aspirations? (This helped us determine where they saw themselves going with the business. Was our concept going to help get them there? If not, perhaps we’d need to go back to the drawing board to find a different idea.)
- Can you tell me about how you market your brand? What works well? What's challenging? What do you wish was easier or that you could do differently? (Part of our concept was to help promote local shapers – was this even an area of the business they needed help with?)
- Do you offer demo boards? Can you tell me a bit about that? (The closest thing to a rental is demo boards, which some shapers offer. Finding out about this helped us gauge if a) surfers were even into the idea of demo boards without yet asking them ourselves, and b) if demo boards actually helped the shaper! If not, then our idea of offering rental boards as a way to encourage sales was going to miss the mark. But if so, then we might actually be on to something...)
Although a small pool, we had a wide range of info to go off of given the variety of shapers & business models.
After conducting the first 5 interviews, Alex & I got together to try and form a picture of what we learned so far. We did this by writing down any and all problems or insights we came across and put them onto sticky notes. We then grouped them together to see what the common themes were giving us clarity around the main pain points.
The common themes were:
- There is a lack of already skilled staff & training new staff is expensive.
- Shapers are craftsmen, so balancing the high quality they’re after in their boards with the price sensitivity of customers & already low margins is difficult.
- Most saw marketing (e.g. social media) their brand as a necessary evil – they either didn’t want to do it, found it difficult to do, or both. But it was also the main thing that drove sales.
- Overall demo boards didn’t seem to be the main thing driving sales. In fact, the overhead associated with building, maintaining, and organising demo boards far outweighed the sales they converted into. Social media and other similar forms of marketing seemed to be much more effective for most shapers, despite social media also being a major pain point.
Back to the drawing board we go
So what did we learn from this first round of research & idea validation? Well, we obviously didn’t test every idea we had but we clearly missed the mark that locally shaped boards for hire could help drive sales.
But what we did learn was that there’s this big gap between what works best to drive sales and what shapers want to be spending their time on.
- social media & influencer-style marketing (i.e. showcasing other surfers riding their boards) had the biggest effect on sales
- most shapers didn’t like to do social media or similar forms of marketing – they wanted to be building boards
Answering a question with a question?
All-in-all, this exercise probably led to more questions than answers. For example:
- Other than a few casual convos with friends, we hadn’t yet interviewed surfers to get their side of the story. Are high end rental boards even in demand? Or am I the only one interested? 😅
- Rental boards may not drive sales of new boards, but could there be enough demand for rentals in order to offer shapers an additional income stream by giving them a % of the profit?
- Is there an opportunity to be a marketing engine local shapers can lean on to help drive sales against the big name brands? What would that even look like?
- What about travelling surfers? Obviously covid has slowed this down, but as travel continues to open up will that be something in demand & worth exploring?
ℹ️ This project has since been put on hold and while there still may be some opportunities here waiting to be revealed, both Alex & I have since moved on to other projects. If you have any questions about this or similar projects, feel free to get in touch.