By Andrew Nash
Based in New Buffalo, Michigan, Third Coast Surf Shop is the hub for Great Lakes surfers – and a pretty cool store for surfers anywhere. Ryan Gerard took the time to answer several questions pertaining to his store and Great Lakes surfing. Do you want to know what it’s like to own a surf shop that’s located hundreds of miles from the ocean? Read on…
Michigan might seem like a strange place for a surf shop – to the uninitiated. Can you tell me a little about the history of surf shops and the surfing industry in the Midwest?
Surfers have been riding waves here since the late 1940s, when the first serviceman brought a board back from Hawaii. Over the years, there have been various retail stores which have carried surfing equipment, but only to a small degree. The only ‘real’ surf shop that we know of which existed before ours was in Grand Haven, Michigan in either the late 1960s or early 1970s. Apparently, it went defunct after a year or two. Even today, other stores which carry some surfing gear might be called ‘boardsports’ or ‘outdoor’ stores as they usually cater to other things as well as surfing (and surfing gear is stocked at a small extent).
Was Third Coast one of the first surf shops in the Great Lakes? How long have you been in business?
As far as we know, Third Coast Surf Shop is one of a very small number of stores which have focused on surfing in the Great Lakes. We may be one of only a couple (see above). We have been in operation since May 2005.
Where do most of your customers come from? Are they lake surfers, or do you get a lot of orders from all over?
We have a couple distinct markets; surfers and tourists. Surfers order through us (phone and web) and buy directly in store through the entire year, whereas tourists really only shop here on weekends in the spring and fall and throughout the summer. We have customers throughout the Midwest and Canada, and through our online store, we ship across the country and overseas.
Is winter the best time of year for business, because the lakes are more active? Or, is summer the best time of year, because the tourists are in town?
Summer is our business’ high season as the town is full of tourists and second home owners shopping here and using our services (lessons, rentals, river tours, day camps).
Is it tough to stay in business?
I think it is tough for any small business owner, especially in the current economic climate. Fortunately, we have done the right things at the right time and our outlook for the future is better than ever.
If you could snap your fingers and magically move your surf shop anywhere in the world, would you?
Hmmm…tough one, but I would say no. This is our home, we love surfing in the Lakes and the people we meet, we have very little competition, and hold strong market share. You have to be a bit nutty to open a surf shop here, but we did and have captured a majority of the market. It would be tough to do that almost anywhere else.
What is your outlook on the future of Great Lakes surfing and Third Coast Surf Shop?
Surfing is special, surfing in the Great Lakes is unique, and Third Coast Surf Shop stands out. We are confident that we can continue to keep people stoked and live the surfing life in the Great Lakes.
Be sure to visit Third Coast Surf Shop on the web at: http://www.thirdcoastsurfshop.com/. Check out the online store, gallery, forum, blog, and more!