What is the origin story of the store?
It started on a hill in the very small coastal town of Yallingup in 1988 by local, Mark Hills. He then closed down and rebooted up the road in Busselton, a larger town, in 1993. This time with business partner, Richie Rigg.
I don’t know who was the better surfer, but out of the water they complimented each other well. Mark a natural marketing intellect and Richie a broader business discipline. I overlapped their partnership for a couple of years until Mark exited in 2004. Richie was 100% owner until I took the reins in 2011.
Now it’s a 9-store collective group under 2 trading names across a 300km diameter in the southwest of WA. Hillzeez Down South Surf Shops and also Subculture, which has greater urban/street reference points in its brand edit.
What do you find value in or benefit from as an SBIA financial retail member?
SBIA brings awareness to key issues, is a forum to pressure test “what good looks like” at a macro level, and to provide a conduit for robust discussions by members. I see value in that.
We are in the broader action sports market, but also the broader apparel and footwear space. It’s important our identity doesn’t get lost and we can delineate what we do as an industry – as to what others do in theirs.
Also, the NRA membership being supplemented by the SBIA membership was a good initiative and it’s been very helpful for business advice and advocacy across the broader scope of retail.
What do you love about being a shop owner in the boardsport industry?
It was quipped to me once there are 2 types of people “those who go to work to build a great resume or those who go to work to build a great business”. In this industry I’ve met the latter in great abundance. Surrounded by people having a crack, all in, skin in the game, trying to create better business.
Whether it’s the agency, independent retailer or the brand that’s been going for decades, or the one that has been going for days, I have met with many quality people trying to build better business everywhere.
You get out what you put in, and the last 2 decades have been a great time to be in business, with somewhat less barriers than previous times. 20 years ago we were running floppy disks in the post to update stock files in store. Running a report meant waiting for a dot matrix printer to spit out copious amounts of paper. Now we have affordable technology at our fingertips, software that small businesses would never previously have had the budget for.
I am also grateful for all of the relationships I’ve formed with current and past employees through the swings and cycles of retail. Nothing works if you don’t have a solid team. It’s also great having the autonomy to reward deserving people.
What do you think your consumers are looking for in a surf/skate shop?
Customer service and connection is a given. We are “specialty” retail, not impersonal big box.
Aside from service, for many consumers, a technically correct product, trusted quality, a good fit with a warranty is enough. But for a growing segment of our market, the retailer and the chosen brand values have to bind with or reinforce the values the consumer subscribes to. The story behind product X of brand Y stocked by retailer Z is now of increasing importance.
It has less to do with an athlete sponsorship and more to do with the where, how and why questions in the environmental and social space. Brands are doing remarkably good work and we have to be conscious as retailers not to erode but enhance the message. We also have to be careful not to confuse our customer. If same product X is distributed into big box A, it all falls over in our specialty retail space.
I’ve seen enough to know that if a brand Y distributes identical product to the lowest band of the customer pyramid – you soon mean nothing to a lot of people. It becomes a price conversation. One only has an appetite for the product if their membership card gets them 30% off RRP, or if their 2 for deals become endless options. No other story matters. Discount becomes the overriding proposition, or you get substituted.
How do you think having a social media presence benefits your business?
It’s important to have the right conversation with our consumer to drive patronage, and I realise that whatever may be successful today is probably going to be outdated 12 months from now. Posts, reels, stories, time of day, times of week, Tik Tok, collaborations, reposts, shares etc. It’s all in the execution. We hit, we miss, we learn.
We have found our best engagement are posts that are “newsworthy” enough to be reposted. For example, we did a collaboration beer with a brewery, that surprised a lot of people, and sent gift packs to carefully selected politicians, foodies, pubs, bottle shops, athletes, other local businesses, even an ex-Bachelor cracked a Hillzeez Summer Sour on his Instagram to several thousand followers. Always difficult to monetise the benefit, but we created a lot of conversation and an enormous amount of reposts from a lot of Instagram accounts.
To visit a Hillzeez or Subculture store in-person, check out their website for all store locations and contact details.