Located in the World Surfing Reserve of Ericeira, Portugal Magic Quiver surf shop is a business focused on forging partnerships and innovating boardsports retail as we know it. Owner, Mario Julian Wehle has turned the shop into a social hub and only works with brands who can bring more to the table than just product.
Mario, along with the help of his wife and designer, Petrina has also embarked upon a new business venture, the Magic Quiver Surf Lodge. The Lodge sits 100 metres away from the surf shop in the centre of Ericeira and is finished with similar surf chic, stylish aplomb. Kitted out with an intriguing line of handmade surfboards in weird and wonderful shapes; from twin fins to longboards, asyms and more, the Lodge complements the store nicely, allowing Magic Quiver to extend their customer experience past hardware and apparel.
Can you tell us about your background and what led you to Ericeira?
I used to go on a lot of family holidays with my parents as a kid. Lots of travelling and being by the ocean. I got hooked on surfing when I was 10 or 11, when I was in Cornwall and trying out bodyboarding. And from then on I’d always try and convince my parents to take holidays by the sea and with waves instead of the flat Italian lakes. My interest for surfing started to grow as I got to around 16-17, when I started going to France; Biarritz, Arcachon, Lacanau and places like that. And while I was studying I really started trying to improve my surfing as much as possible, doing more trips and getting more time in the water.
The plan was always to live somewhere by the sea, where I could surf.
I moved to Kuala Lumpur where we stayed for almost seven years and travelled a lot again. But I still always had the idea of moving to a small, cute town by the sea – a good place for the kids to grow up and for me to surf. And then we narrowed it down to Ericeira, Biarritz and San Sebastian. And in the end, after visiting each place a couple of times, my wife and kids liked Ericeira the most. For me, I was a little bit indifferent about it; I liked all three of them, and I was ok with either choice. Ericeira seemed more affordable, approachable and it had more business opportunities, because it wasn’t saturated already with big businesses and shops, B&Bs and cafés etc. It also had the best climate, the most sunshine. And this was a big point with Petrina and the kids being born in Malaysia, they were born in the tropics and need the sunshine and aren’t so keen on the cold and the rain.
What’s the story behind Magic Quiver?
Long story short, I’d like to think of the shop as a platform for an alternative side of surfing. Something more casual and raw. At Magic Quiver we curate an eclectic blend of brands and surfcraft. The idea is to offer something interesting, fresh and authentic that arouses curiosity.
Were brands receptive to Magic Quiver in Portugal, or has it taken them a while to get on board?
At the beginning it was actually pretty easy to get good brands into the shop because the brands we were focusing on, no one was really interested in. Other shops weren’t into them. For example, I think we were the first shop in Portugal, maybe even Europe to sell brands like The Critical Slide Society or Banks. Other shops were selling the usual suspect, so the brands we work with were keen on having a store in Portugal, but it did come with a lot of effort, in terms of paperwork, shipping, currency exchange etc.
Brand partnerships are super important to what you do. You’re the only people in the area who do Patagonia, The Critical Slide Society or Oh Dawn.
The shop started as a traditional retail business, but I’ve learned over the years that it’s a pretty tough business and especially when you’re in a seasonal spot like Ericeira. But the industry isn’t really set up for a seasonal business; the way you buy and sell product, I think it works it you have a year round business, in a city for example. But with payment condition terms, it’s not really suitable for a place like Ericeira where you have a really short season. We had trouble making it work and instead switched our focus away from the classic pre-ordering one year ahead, receiving the product, selling it, going on sale two months later model, and started to really look at other ways of dealing with those brands. Demanding a little bit more flexibility from their side and a bit more understanding for the situation.
And were brands receptive to that?
Some were, some weren’t. Those that were, are still in the shop, and those that weren’t disappeared after time. Now we have some super strong brands who offer us good terms, and more of a partnership than just selling us their products. We also started getting more involved with some brands like The Critical Slide Society for example, where we are the sales agents in Portugal and Germany, which gives us some extra margin and a little control over the brand direction in our territory. A problem we used to have with some brands in the past was that because they had no representation in Portugal, things were out of control and not really done in the brands’ spirit. Brands sometimes didn’t even know what was going on here, or even what shops the products were in.
How much of your business is hardgoods?
It’s hard to say and depending on season, but probably around 30-40%.
And could you put a percentage on how much of your business is done with locals vs tourists?
It’s really hard to put a percentage on it, but of course in the summer months, between June and September it’s mainly tourists. There are lots of Portuguese tourists, families from Lisbon who have their summer homes here and spend their whole summer break here. There’s a fair share of Portuguese and after October through March, it’s locals that we’re selling to. And with the locals, it’s more hardgoods than clothing. Clothing works mainly in summer. Actually, last year we stopped buying in full winter collections, because we realized it wasn’t really viable at all. We made the money back on product that we bought, but never really made a profit with it. So now we focus on Spring and Summer and a little bit of Autumn with apparel and mostly skip winter. We buy some more technical products from the likes of Patagonia. Maybe some warmer sweaters, but never full collections. Last winter was the first time doing it and it went really well, we managed to sell off all the stock and didn’t really feel like anything was really lacking in the store during winter. And now it means we’re able to really start clean in Spring instead of dragging winter bills into the new season.
And it’s not just collaborations with brands you’ve been working on, you’ve also had some top shapers come through as well. How do these guest shapers fit into your business model?
The concept of the shop, as the name implies, is all about the surfboards surfboards. Surfboards in a more eclectic sense that just your high performance short boards, which you find in most shops. The idea was to bring shapes to this area that weren’t already available in this part of the world. Different types of surfboards for different types of surfing. Instead of buying these boards from the US or Australia it seemed like a good idea to bring these shapers here because the production costs are pretty low here in Portugal and Ericeira has some really good surfboard factories and craftsmen. For example People like Nico from Wavegliders, who is a really good shaper and glasser, and usually does all the laminations for our guest shapers. It’s a great experience for the shapers as they can come here for a week or two, bring their wife and their kids, make a couple of boards and have a holiday.
How many boards do these guys shape in a week?
It depends. In the first couple of years, it was just around 10-15 boards because the clientele wasn’t here yet. Even if the shapers were really famous in California or Australia, people just hadn’t heard of them here in Portugal or even Europe. The numbers are growing, we had Gary McNeil here in March and he made 26 boards in a couple of days. He’ll be back in September and we’re pretty sure this time it’ll be increasing again.
Usually with these trips we try to make them mostly custom orders. We have to limit it because the guys are only here for seven to ten days and only want to make a certain number of boards. Some guys come here to work super hard, and they’ll get to the factory first thing in the morning and some guys take a bit more of a casual approach; surf, make a couple of boards, hang around a bit.
And you’ve also turned the retail space into a café/bar space. Please could you explain your reasoning behind this?
Well, the shop was suffering. The whole retail concept in a seasonal town just wasn’t making enough money, so we decided to add the drinks; coffee, beers etc to give a bit more life to the shop. If it’s a shop just selling boards and clothing, people come in, they browse and they usually don’t come back the same day, or the next. If it’s a shop it doesn’t have anything that’ll pull you back in store. Whereas a café/ bar, you can pop in several times a day and it brings a lot more footfall into the shop. And usually when there are more people in the shop, this attracts more people to come in. Sometimes when there’s an empty store, people are too shy to walk in and the idea was just to make it more approachable. People come to the shop to see movies, hang out and see concerts and not just to come and buy surfboards.
And you’ve diversified into accommodation here in Ericeira with the Magic Quiver Surf Lodge. Could you tell us more about the rationale there.
I had two businesses running separately at the same time. There was the accommodation and the shop, and we realized more and more that the clientele from the shop was the same as the apartments we were renting out. We used to get a lot of people in the shop asking us for recommendations on where to stay and, and something with a similar vibe and atmosphere to the shop. So we sent a lot of people from the shop to the apartments and vice versa, and after a while we decided to put it all under the same brand. This meant we could give the holiday rental business more exposure through the Magic Quiver brand. Now we can offer a more holistic experience and people that like the shop trust that they will like the apartments.