Quiksilver aims to cash in on pop-culture surf craze

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Quiksilver is catching a wave that could turn the 34-year-old sportswear marketer into the next big sports brand icon. Or it could simply wipe out.

Surfing-along with its land and snow incarnations, skateboarding and snowboarding-is riding a pop-culture crest, and along with it Quiksilver. The largest surfer brand, with sales of $705 million last year and a goal of $1 billion in 2004, its name fronts a growing number of retail stores, figures in TV programs on Fox Sports Net and MTV, and soon will be central to feature films and girls' books.

Angelo Ponzi, founder, Board-Trac, a Trabuco Canyon, Calif., market-research firm, believes if any brand can become the next hot sports property, it's Quiksilver. "They have that Nike essence," he said.

better positioning

Unlike other times the craze crashed, Quiksilver and other surfer brands such as Billabong are better positioned this time around. For one thing, many of the brands have added skateboarding and snowboarding to their mix, providing products for other seasons and for youth who don't live on the coasts. For another, they have significantly broadened the market by targeting females, who spend more on clothing.

Under Chairman Robert B. McKnight Jr., Quiksilver has consolidated properties and expanded labels. The company, which has a long-term tradition of backing events and athletes-about 250 professionals receive payments and another 300 amateurs receive apparel and small appearance fees-in March 2000 acquired Hawk Designs, owner of the Tony Hawk name for apparel and related accessories. It's also firmed up its global holdings, buying the rights to the name in Australia and other Asia Pacific markets. Late last year, Quiksilver purchased more than 20 Beach Street stores and opened a Times Square flagship for its Quiksilver Boardriders' Clubs chain.

Quiksilver also has designs on Madison + Vine. Through its Quiksilver Entertainment unit formed in 2001, Quiksilver has created programs such as Fox Sport Net's "54321," a daily action sports news show, and launched "Surf Girls" on Viacom's MTV, a reality-type program involving a surfing contest sponsored by Quiksilver's Roxy line.

"We all believed a cooler, more authentic show [would result] by partnering with Quiksilver," said Ferris Thompson, head of entertainment marketing, United Talent Agency, who helped package "Surf Girls."

empowerment via surfing

New projects in the works include two feature length films, one based on the book "The Tribes of Palos Verdes," a girls' empowerment-through-surfing story. The second movie involves a "big-budget major studio" starring one of Quiksilver's female surfers, company executives said.

To fuel the sport among a younger generation, Quiksilver signed with HarperCollins for the Luna Bay book series, which it hopes will become the next "Baby Sitters' Club." The Luna Bay series also is slated for a spinoff TV series and film.

Quiksilver is also involved in more traditional corporate-partnership deals, collaborating with brands such as Boost Mobile's Roxy cellphone, which rings with the "California Dreamin"' tune.

Quiksilver's in-house ad effort has centered on a national print campaign in surfing, snowboarding and skating magazines, men's magazines and some art-vibe titles such as Flaunt. The company is testing some TV developed in-house, and recently hired WPP Group's Ogilvy Public Relations. A national TV campaign isn't far off, said Randy Hild, senior VP-marketing. "We are getting to the size where we have the budget to do it," he said.

But Mr. Hild acknowledges the brand walks a thin line between holding on to an authentic grassroots surfing community (with its underground mentality) and going too mainstream and ending up an uncool sellout.

Quiksilver Entertainment President Danny Kwock knows that unconventional audience-he's a champion surfer who first worked at Quiksilver 25 years ago when a judge ordered him to pay back the company for stealing some board shorts from a Quiksilver warehouse. He said every public move the company makes is carefully evaluated against the criteria of "What is the core [surfer community] going to think of this? Is this going to take us down?"

Matt Jacobson, VP at Quiksilver Entertainment, and a former Fox Network executive, said entertainment deals are cut with the view of being a "benevolent market leader," with the Quiksilver division allowing talent on the "54321" show to wear any surf-brand clothing they choose. "We want to spread the love. We want to spread the lifestyle," said Mr. Kwock, whose office is located a straight 10-minute car ride from the ocean. "We want to make a difference for our industry."

Quiksilver may have the right "essence," but United Talent's Mr. Thompson said the company's goal is to create a swell for surfing rather than become the next sports uber-brand. "I don't think they're aspiring to be Nike."

"It would take a dramatic paradigm shift," to put Quiksilver in the same league as Nike, said David Morrison, president of trend forecasting firm Twentysomething. "Quiksilver has a long way to go to leverage a counterculture shift from the urban market."

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