Importing Private Label Surfboards: An Overview
Sourcing, Manufacturing, and Importing Surfboards.com Surfboards in 2023
Why Private Label Surfboards?
A confluence of events/realizations occurred in early 2023 that made it possible. First, we had the money and it wasn't already allocated to other inventory. As you might imagine, purchasing a container of surfboards is not cheap. Next, we had the desire. We had been selling surfboards for nearly two decades and frankly, it hadn't been a great business. Margins on surfboards are small, shipping is expensive, and damage is a pain. It wasn't until we were selling soft top surfboards that margins improved and damage went down (shipping is still expensive). So what was once a headache now had the possibility of being accretive to the business. Finally, I didn't want to regret not trying. I'm getting on in years and didn't want to look back on Surfboards.com wondering if we could have moved the needle with private label surfboards. So we started by trying to find a manufacturer.
Finding a manufacturer
Our team does not have the equipment or expertise to make surfboards. I wish we did. The possibility of building a manufacturing facility comes to mind on the occasions when my optimism overwhelms my good sense. So like any unseasoned private labeller, I turned to Alibaba to find an overseas manufacturer of soft top surfboards. There we found manufacturers trying to get our attention by showcasing pictures of surfboards that they apparently made for other brands - some of which we like and admire. From there, we simply emailed the contacts. And guess what? They emailed back with many of the details that would help us make decisions. They obviously do this for a living and we were not the first ones to ask them to make surfboards for us.
Deciding on Specifics
The manufacturer we chose offered two types of surfboards in various sizes. We chose the one they recommended for individual use instead of surf schools as individual surfers are our target market.
Next, we had to decide on quantities and sizes. The expense of shipping a container from China to Denver doesn't change if the container is only half full so of course, we wanted to fill it up. Thankfully, the manufacturer had all the volumetric math required to know within a few boards how many would fit. Specifically, they suggested buying some of all sizes with more quantities allocated to the 6' - 8' varieties. I would have preferred more 9' surfboards, but they require LTL (freight) transportation from our warehouse to customers instead of UPS or FedEx. And while we've shipped many items using LTL, it is much more expensive and damage prone than shipping with UPS and FedEx.
Then we had to decide on colors and patterns. Like most manufacturers, they required Minimum Order Quantities (MOQ) of each color, so we were allowed four colors in this first container. Rather than get different color decks (tops), we decided to get different color bottoms. Like a skateboard that has graphics on the bottom and a griptaped top, I thought we could set our surfboards apart by putting attractive graphics on the bottom. So that's what we did. Ultimately we decided on two hibiscus patterns and two camo patterns. Both the tropical patterns and camo patterns have sold well for us on other items like shorts and tops, so we thought they would sell well on surfboards. Of note, we didn't create the patterns. We bought them.
Lastly, we had to decide on a fin system. The manufacturer offered post fins, two tab (FCS) fins, and Futures fins. I chose Futures fins because a friend gave me some good reasons to prefer them. After we made the decision, our manufacturer corrected themselves and said they could not do futures, so we went with our close second choice, FCS fins.
With the sizes, quantities, patterns, and fin systems decided, we waited for the manufacturer to make the surfboards and load them into a container. This took a few months.
Shipping and Imports
I heard on podcasts that a company called Flexport would make transportation and importation easy. I emailed them and similar to finding a manufacturer, they were quick to respond and very helpful. Where I don't know the first thing about importing goods, they know everything. When ready, our container packed with surfboards went from Ningbo China, on a container ship to Long Beach, CA, via train (rail) to Denver, and on a truck to our warehouse. I didn't arrange a single thing - Flexport took care of everything. Could I have saved some money coordinating every step myself? Maybe. But I doubt it would have been worth the hassle. I will use Flexport whenever possible.
A friend of mine (another warehouse owner) is storing lots of boxed popcorn tins for someone that imported a container only to determine that he didn't have the requisite volume in his own storage facility. That surprised me since it seems that any importer would know the volume of their shipment before it leaves the originating port. I know we did. So I spent several hours (days really) wargaming our own storage solution. In the end we knew we would have enough room to store a 40' container of surfboards. In our case, I hung additional racking from the empty space in the ceiling. That way when the container arrived, the team was able to unload, bin, and store 400+ surfboards in an afternoon.
Looking back, the process was smoother than I expected. What started in early 2023 with the desire to offer our own private label Surfboards.com surfboards was complete by August 2023 with surfboards in our warehouse and for sale on our website. Granted, August is not the best time of year to be selling surfboards but spring and summer 2024 will come and we are prepared.
Adam C. Swiecki
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