Riding Your Own Wave

The challenge facing the inventor of new surfboard: how best to generate a rising tide of interest in his novel concept

By Karen E. Klein

Q: I'm trying to introduce a new, soft surfboard designed for children learning to surf. It fills in the gap between a boogie board and a regular fiberglass surfboard, and the price is also in between. Should I try to market the product through specialized surf shops or mass marketers like WalMart and Toys 'R' Us? -- W.R., Honolulu


Unless you can demonstrate a huge market for this product, using solid numbers and substantial marketing surveys, you are unlikely to get placement initially at large chain retailers. Since the product has limited geographic appeal -- stores in oceanside communities might stock it, but it won't play in the Midwest -- selling to national chains and distributors is going to be tough.

In order to successfully introduce a new product like this one, you'll need to become an expert in grassroots sales and marketing, as well as being willing to do plenty of leg work.


  Your best bet, sales and distribution experts say, is to begin with potential users of the board and win their acceptance. Take product samples to surfing schools and see if instructors will use it with their students. If they like it, perhaps young surfers will adopt it. Make sure you get good photos the surfboard in action for press releases and new-product announcements.

Armed with evidence of its popularity, you could next sell to shops in surfing towns, says David Cichelli, of the Alexander Group, a sales-and-marketing consultancy in Scottsdale, Ariz. "Be willing to do demos and plenty of them, and be willing to offer demo boards for use," he advises. "See if anyone local wants the board for rental purposes in shops or hotels."

If the product gets traction at a local level, then you will have created some evidence to show mass merchants when you reach that distribution tier. Says Cichelli: "The better the pull you create, the better you can hold onto margins without giving up too much profit to the big retailers in the long run."

Have a question about running your business? Ask our small-business experts. Send us an e-mail at, or write to Smart Answers, BW Online, 46th Floor, 1221 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020. Please include your real name and phone number in case we need more information; only your initials and city will be printed. Because of the volume of mail, we won't be able to respond to all questions personally.

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE