Retailer Profile: Secret Spot, Scarborough, UK

Secret Spot are celebrating their 25th anniversary…there aren’t too many surf shops who can boast that! To celebrate we spoke with HQ Manager John Bagnall to find out what makes a business span 25 years, and to find out how they’ve managed to stay ahead of the game, and not let the internet overwhelm them.

You’re celebrating 25 years, please give a brief history of your store including when it was started, who started it and who the owners and key players are.
In the mid 80’s Roger Povey set up Starboard Surf, which was a trailer he parked up renting out suits and boards on the South and North bay in Scarborough. In 1989, Roger moved into Hanover Road and changed the name to Secret Spot. This tiny unit which held about five boards and a dozen wetsuits, became church for the surfers who crammed in there watching surf vids and waiting for the BBC weather forecast to read the chart for the week ahead. By 1991, Roger had partnered up with local surfer Paul “Tomo” Tomlinson and moved to the current address on Pavilion Terrace. In 2006, Roger decided to move on from Secret Spot and Tomo became the sole owner. Nowadays, we have three locations: the store in Scarborough, the surf school and shop at Cayton Bay and the online and warehouse HQ out at Wykeham.

What percentage of your sales are from online business compared to your brick-and-mortar sales?
It would be 50% web and 50% bricks and mortar not including the surf school. We have two outlets bricks and mortar against one online presence so it’s basically even.

Did your store’s sales increase or decrease over last year?
We have seen an increase overall. A decrease in the stores slightly and a big increase online. The stores are very surf-dependant and we haven’t had great runs of swell to speak of so it’s affected us a bit in that sense but all in all it’s a positive growth.

What makes your store different and in what ways does your store excel beyond your competition?
Because we are a genuine surf shop that specialises in selling the best equipment you can buy. We are the local surf shop you still come into and chat about surfing with the guys. It’s something that’s becoming folklore! We are all surfers, we love talking about surf stuff and we love interacting with customers. We are different from the competition because not many other surf shops have the heritage we do or the knowledge. It’s amazing how many other shops are run by just businessmen, not surfers.

What trends do you see upcoming in the boardsports as a whole?
We think everything is going back to surf. Surf is cool again, not that we ever thought it wasn’t but there can be a stigma attached to surfing and surfers sometimes which we feel is disappearing. The traditional ‘surf look’ is dead and people are sharpening up and simplifying their outfits and their hardware.

What kind of advice can you give other independent retailers who are trying to compete against the big box megastores?
Don’t follow them, do your own thing. Bigger retailers tend to follow what independents do anyway so if you’re looking at them for trends then you are doing something wrong. Stick to your heritage.

Does your store sponsor athletes, competitions, etc? If so, what are the benefits to the store and to the boardsports community?
We run a yearly surf comp called the East Coast Classic and we have found this to be incredibly beneficial for us and the brands that supply the prizes. We make it a community thing and try to get everyone involved. It reinforces what you are about and that’s promoting surfing as a whole and making sure people have a good time.

If you could go back five years, what would you do differently?
Surf more, work less! Haha, no, I guess just foresee more activity online but we have always been quite forward thinking with our website. We would probably have invested further to get to where we are now quicker!


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