Being nice isn’t difficult for me, I would like to say it comes naturally, respecting my fellow man and all that. It’s about decency and relating to people that makes the world go around. What can I say, my dear old mum taught me something that people in Billabong shops don’t know about. Manners.
Before I go making friends around the world with my sweepingly scathing view of the muppets who might inhabit the shops of the Bong, I might first point out that I have friends that work for Billabong in some facet or another. I don't mean you. Neither do I mean the 10% of the aforementioned that do have common courtesy and manners like the rest of the decent people on mother earth. No. I am talking to and about the majority, the other 90% who think they can get away with being ars**oles. Guess what, you work in a shop. Nothing wrong with that, but it does not mean you are a celebrity, there are basic tasks that you should know how to perform to work in that job role, and it is a skilled role if you can do it.
I am going to throw it out there now to all surf shop owners and employees that have got it right. There are tons of you that do what I could not, that have the skills to know when someone needs help, how much to give them, be friendly but not too friendly and generally know what you are talking about. It is a job that's not for everyone, and I think one that does not pay enough. It is not the most glamorous, can be very difficult and takes time and life skills to get right. I salute you. The surf shop is a place that a community of surfers can come and discuss waves, sessions (and also buy stuff), it's a hub of the surfing scene and an important one and often underrated.
That said, back to the bumholes who seem to be employed by a company that has recently been taken down a peg or two by merging with one of their biggest rivals. I am of course chuntering on about Billabong being bought out by Quiksilver, which to me makes no sense. To me, Billabong and Quiksilver are like Andy Irons and Kelly Slater. Opposites. I grew up with that rivalry and it doesn't seem right that now they lay happily side by side in the same king size bed like bloated hippos.
Staying on target, how have they come to this, what has brought the traditional surfing companies like Quik and Bong to their knees. Is it Hurley (Nike) taking a massive market share? Is it the over priced and poorer quality of their products? Or is it, just is it the fact that they employ w*nk**s to be the face of their brand (in the shops)?
If I am honest I think that is none of these things. The way I see it, people like to relate to a brand or number of brands, if they actually surf, they like to search for a brand or brands that define them to others. It's like saying, "Hey, I actually surf" without saying that. Quiksilver and Billabong enjoyed a time when they had limited rivals and could afford to just BE those brands, but things have changed. Their lumbering operation is unable to react quickly to market trends and then they tried to enter the fashion fray and compete with high street brands. They got too big for their boots and subsequently lost a lot of their key demographic. Since then it has been a game of catch up, but people have moved on, indeed the world has moved onto smaller, more surfing niche brands which have become more popular with the hardcore. The moment Quiksilver and Billabong started appearing in clearing houses like TKMAXX or TJMAXX (in the USA) I knew their fate was sealed.
Again I must swing back to the point of all this and the main reason I started tapping these keys. Something that has not helped is the general attitude in the brand shops. As I have alluded to earlier, it is a difficult job to get 'working in a surf shop' right, but what Billabong seem to have done is pick people not for their skills but on local reputation, looks and general 'bellendness'.
I have just come back from a month's surf trip around Europe, and as a self confessed surf shop connoisseur, I made a point of going into a lot of surf shops and talking to a lot of people, I am quite chatty but do occasionally buy something. Some may consider that annoying, but for me it's just part of what a surf shop should be.
I can conclude that, with one exception, all the Billabong shops I visited I was met with very uninterested but very well manicured people, most of whom professed to know very little about the surfboards or hardware in their shops. In some cases it seemed that one guy, maybe the manager had an idea and the rest of the people were more interested in talking to their friends on the phone. In one instance a girl stopped her conversation with me so she could answer her call that seemed to be from a friend. I might sound picky but work is work, right?
In stark contrast to this experience, when I had the occasion to visit a shaper/shop or a self owned surf shop, the experience was one of a personal greeting and (I like to think) genuine interest in me and what I wanted to know about the products. I would name names and places but this article is not about that, but more about how Billabong ended up in the state they find themselves. Being bought or merged with Quiksliver who were once one of their main opponents. I don't profess to keep my finger on the industry trends but instead am just trying to tell you how I (a customer) rates the experience and makes sense of the recent corporate shenanigans.
From someone who buys and has bought surf wear for well over two decades, I have witnessed prices from the main brands going up while quality has certainly being decreasing. The fact is that surfers, these days have a choice of what they buy, there are lots of cool new brands out there taking a different approach, and are keeping quality high while maybe also having highish prices. I don't mind paying more if what I get is more, but no one likes to feel cheated. If you feel like you are getting a Primark quality t-shirt with a company logo across the front and still charged a premium price then that's a big reason not to buy.
Maybe I should look on this in a positive way, maybe the guys in charge of the newly media dubbed 'Quik-Bong' have learnt their lessons and will start making premium and different clothing again. We will see. Thanks for listening to the rant and, again if I know you and you work in for Billabong then I don't mean you unless you are a Nitwit. Dickie out.