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    84 layoffs hit surf industry’s biggest brands following Boardriders sale
    • October 25, 2023

    A wave of change is underway for the world’s largest surf brands.

    Eighty-four positions were eliminated at Boardriders Wholesale LLC Inc.- the umbrella company that owned Quiksilver, Billabong, Roxy, RVCA and a handful of other action-sports brands. The layoffs follow the September sale of the action-sports company to New York-based Authentic Brands Group.

    The layoffs, which started in September and will continue through October, are happening in the Huntington Beach and Costa Mesa offices. They will be completed by Oct. 31, according to a letter the company sent to the state Employment Development Department.

    In the letter, the company called the permanent layoffs “necessary but difficult measures,” with 72 positions cut at the Huntington Beach headquarters, 19 in Costa Mesa, one in Mira Loma and another at Universal City.

    The eliminated jobs ranged from the top level down, from CEO to several vice presidents, jobs in the art, design, marketing, sales departments and beyond.

    While Authentic Brand Group did not respond to requests for comment, industry insiders said the downsizing marks a turbulent time for the legacy brands, all of which have a rich history in Southern California and have played a pivotal role in the evolution and growth of surfing culture here and around the world.

    Vipe Desai, executive director of the Surf Industry Members Association, said the long transition of the sale left a sense of uncertainty within the company for the past year.

    “There were a lot of people uncertain if they were going to have a job,” he said. “That’s what has affected some of the uncertainty and maybe even the morale within the brands.”

    Layoffs, unfortunately, are typically standard when brands are purchased, he said.

    Some people were rehired by the licensee, he said, while others have landed at other brands within the tight-knit industry.

    Following the sale, which also included DC Shoes, Element, VonZipper and Honolua, Authentic Brands Group announced Liberated Brands as its licensee and operating partner, the same group used for Costa Mesa-based Volcom and Spyder, a ski and snow brand.

    Liberated will become the retail and e-commerce operator for Quiksilver, Billabong, Roxy, RVCA, Honolua and Boardriders in the US and Canada. It also will be the licensing partner and wholesale distributor in the US and Canada for Billabong, RVCA and Honolua adult sportswear, activewear, swimwear, outerwear, headwear and base layer products.

    In 2018, a sale to Oaktree Capital that combined two longtime rivals, Billabong and Quiksilver, shocked the surf world when the legacy brands were brought together under the Boardriders portfolio.

    That company had already made deep cuts throughout the company with 170 jobs — 110 in the U.S. and 60 in Asia — eliminated in 2022, according to surf industry tracker 

    Most everyday consumers don’t know, or care about, who is licensing the brands, Desai noted. It’s more about who their favorite athletes ride for, or what events the brands sponsor.

    “I don’t think they care who owns what,” Desai said. “It’s only the people who follow it or want to talk negatively about what is happening because something they love is being disrupted.”’

    He warns, however, of potential “brand erosion.”

    “The consumer will make that choice at the end of the day,” he said.

    Hurley, sold to financial group Bluestar Alliance in 2019, is another brand being licensed out that has seen its business-model change in recent years.

    Its products — once sold exclusively at core surf shops — now are popping up at discount retailers, ranging from tweezers, face care and pool toys. A Hurley-branded sweater collection was recently spotted at Costco selling for $14.99.

    Throughout the surf industry’s history, there have been several brand growths and business-model changes, Desai noted.

    At one point, Hang Ten was the largest surf brand with a $12 million annual revenue. Then, that brand disappeared and OP stepped in and grew to $300 million. Then Gotcha, Quiksilver and Billabong took the top spots.

    Both Billabong and Quiksilver were born in Australia, and brought to Southern California as North American licenses.

    Bob McKnight, a business student at the University of Southern California, and pro surfer Jeff Hakman bought the license to sell in the U.S. in the 70s from the brand’s Australia founder Alan Green, building up the brand from a Newport Beach bedroom, selling boardshorts to surf shops out of McKnight’s VW bus.

    Billabong, also originally created in Australia, was introduced to the U.S. market by Bob Hurley. He bought the licensing rights and built into a $100 million business, and 16 years later in 1999 created his own brand, Hurley, which was later sold to Nike and in 2019 sold to Bluestar Alliance.

    With the biggest surf brands being run by financial groups outside of the surf industry, will they be able to maintain authenticity in the surf world?

    “I think that does pose a challenge for these brands in how they navigate authenticity,” Desai said. “I think it is a concern that a lot of people in the industry share.”

    There’s room for legacy brands to grow outside of the industry to a wider audience, while still staying core, he said. The hope is they employ people who have credibility in the surf industry.

    “Let them lead your brand, these are people who have grown up in the industry, in the culture,” Desai said. “They understand the ecosystem of the industry and how to navigate the waters of retail, the athletes… Let these folks take charge, instead of trying to run it from a 20-story office building.”

    It’s also an opportune time for small and mid-size brands to grow, he noted.

    Surfside Sports co-owner Duke Edukas, who has long run the Costa Mesa surf and snow retail shop, said it’s too early to tell how the recent sale or layoffs may impact sales.

    Many longtime reps, who have become friends through the years, have lost their jobs.

    “I know most of them and I trust all of them,” he said, noting he will miss their weekly meetings.  “But let’s face it, no one knows where this is going to go.”

    It will be the consumer that dictates what he should do on the sales floor. RVCA, for example, is the number one men’s seller and he doesn’t envision that changing anytime soon.

    When Volcom was bought by Authentic a few years ago, people worried about the future of that brand. But today, it remains one of the top-selling men’s brands, as well as a strong player in the snow category, he said.

    “The worst thing retailers can do is overreact,” he said.

    So long as the top legacy brands are still selling, the big surf names will remain on the sales floor, he said.

    “My eyes will be wide open to those numbers,” he said. “Those numbers will dictate what we do.”

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    ​ Orange County Register