Curating Hawaii’s surf lifestyle in a box

Curating Hawaii’s surf lifestyle in a box

By Anna Hrushka, Pacific Business News
Posted May 22, 2017

Kevin Tighe launched Surf Shop Box last August along with co-founder and professional surfer Mark Healey.

At a cost of $49 a month, the subscription service sends a monthly box of curated men’s surf apparel to its members in 45 states and 11 countries.

Surf Shop Box’s curated boxes include apparel from well-known surf brands like Billabong and Quiksilver, as well as products from lesser known businesses, like Drifter Surf Shop, a surf store in Bali, Indonesia.

“Surf Shop Box isn’t just for the core surfer,” Tighe told Pacific Business News. “It’s also for someone who is aspiring to live the lifestyle.”

Surf Shop Box is one of seven companies selected to participate in Honolulu-based accelerator Blue Startups’ ninth and current cohort.

Kevin Tighe launched Surf Shop Box last August along with co-founder and professional surfer Mark Healey. Image Credit: Tina Yuen PBN

What gave you the idea for Surf Shop Box?

I got turned on to the subscription model by a company called Loot Crate. It’s called the subscription box for geeks and gamers. In the early days, I was at their office and I saw how quickly they were growing. I saw that one of the reasons was they have a really passionate interest group. And surfing — people change their lives for surfing. Whether you surf or don’t, people are attached to the beach lifestyle and the vibes around it. I was intrigued by the model and looking to start something in the surf industry, so I was just looking for the right business. I saw that no one had really done the subscription model with surf. And timing was really good because surf is growing, but so is stand-up paddle boarding. So now you have a new group of customers in the middle of the country, people who paddle board in a lake or river.

How many people work for you?

One of our biggest assets is that we have a really strong team that has done it before, in both surf and in subscription commerce which is really nice. We’re small in the day-to-day. We have about three people on operations, and then we have a marketing team with nine people. Not all nine are full time, but we have nine people that work in customer acquisition, our whole email marketing ecosystem, retention. Really digging into the data. It’s a really unique business model where you can dive into those things, dive into the psychology and use that to improve your marketing, but also improve your product and how you can make the experience better for customers.

What are your top markets?

Top markets are Florida, California, Hawaii, New York and Texas. Some of the most passionate members are in the middle of the country, like Minnesota and Indiana. That’s what we wanted. We wanted to make a product for the core surfer that loves it, but also someone that loves the lifestyle and can share in it too.

How do you choose what goes in each box?

We’re starting to roll out themes in June. If you have a theme box, everyone will get the same item, but it might be different versions. For instance, we’re doing a sustainable box. Every product in the box is from a sustainable company. Everyone will get the same three items, but different versions, based upon your style preferences. We’re doing a North Shore-themed box in August, so we’re teaming up with a local surf photographer named Zak Noyle to do a limited-edition round of shirts. … When we don’t have themes, it’s based upon where our member is. If it’s the winter time, someone in New York is not going to get the same thing as a guy in Hawaii. It’s based on their geographic location and their age. Everything is curated.

What is retention like?

Our churn is really low. It’s right now been 7 percent. In subscription commerce, 10 to 15 percent is good. So we’re well below that. We’re really happy with that, especially since we’re still very early stages. … People in general, we expect to stay 12 to 28 months. Then I expect to see them take a little break and then come back. Maybe they’ll start doing a quarterly box.

Are you planning on launching a women’s box?

We are aiming to launch women’s later this summer. We got a lot of demand for it. It’s a whole separate set of inventory, so it’s not as simple as it seems. Part of the fundraising we’re doing right now is to launch women’s. Women account for over 53 percent of spending on surf apparel now. There’s less of them buying, but they’re buying more. It’s a market you can’t ignore and we want to launch it as soon as possible.

What has been the biggest challenge in starting the company?

Growing the business in a smart way. We want to be really smart about it. Obviously, it’s a very cash intensive business, you have to be very on top of how you are spending your money to acquire customers, what that reflects in inventory costs, and how long it takes to break even and start profiting on those customers.

What’s the most rewarding part of owning a business?

I’ve been able to really connect with people around the world. I’ve become friends with a lot of the guys who are members. One of them became one of our first investors. If I go to an area and I know there are members, I’ll shoot them an email and say, “Can I take you guys out for a drink?” And I’ll just pick their brain. It’s really cool when you can connect with people that you normally wouldn’t have and also see that they’re excited about what you’re doing.

What’s your marketing strategy?

It’s a very ad-driven model. We spend most of our ad budget on Facebook and Google.

How do you find new products?

That’s where Mark comes in, since he travels the world surfing. He’s been everywhere and he knows everyone and all the cool places. A lot of it comes from his experience, traveling around the world finding the coolest products.


Kevin Tighe
Founder and CEO,
Surf Shop Box

Email: email