Family Values, Forward Thinking, and 40 Years of Success
Konasports was started in 1969 by Mike Sciarra making surfboards in the family garage. What started as a fond love of surfing, at the age of 12, has transformed into a bodacious retail business for almost 40 years.
“Kona expanded to include 10 speed bikes, footwear and surf wear. Surfboards are no longer made at the store, but surfboards are still an important part of the business,” explained Mike’s son Chris, who along with his brother joined the business.
From humble beginnings as a small surf shop, Kona has since grown into one of the largest and best merchandised specialty stores.
“We were a brick and mortar store, but we knew we needed to start using the Web,” said Chris. About five years ago, the family decided to expand the business by taking it online. They launched an ecommerce website, Konasports.com, giving more exposure and accessibility to their product line.
“Konasports has expanded rapidly thanks to our online business,” Chris explained. “Since we entered this new sales channel, Konasports is receiving the recognition it deserves. Within the past year we have partnered up with some big names in the industry. These partnerships have not only helped to grow our reputation, they’ve also allowed us to open up additional marketing avenues online.”
What are the brand values on which Konasports was founded and how are they still reflected in your day-to-day business activities?
Konasports was built on two main values – family ties and the surfing lifestyle. My father grew up on a surfboard and will still hit the waves to this day. Surfing is still a big part of what we do. I surf, my brother surfs and a large number of our employees surf. Our business practices reflect the surfing lifestyle by taking each day as it comes, planning and practicing for every big “break”, and perfecting our business to run smoothly and with style. Staying close to our roots has helped us grow our business to what it is today. We are proud of our family business and we make that known, everyone we interact with, partners, vendors, and customers become part of our extended our family.
How have you expanded your product line and/or market reach? What growth have you seen with each expansion?
Konasports has expanded rapidly thanks to our online business. You can say it has really put us on the map. It helped us grow the business, earn respect within the industry, and has enabled us to become the elite surf shop on the East coast. Since we entered this new sales channel, Konasports is receiving the recognition it deserves. Within the past year we have partnered up with some big names in the industry: Billabong®, Volcom®, and Hurley® to name a few. These partnerships have not only helped to grow our reputation they’ve also allowed us to open up additional marketing avenues online.
Are there products you choose not to carry or partnerships you did not pursue because they don’t support your brand?
Yes, we want to partner with vendors who will go out on a limb and help us, just like a family member would. We have partnered with some great vendors who have helped us tremendously in this growing process. Unfortunately, we have decided to eliminate some vendors who did not fit it with our family or work well with our brand values. In this industry it’s a two way street we need cooperation from the vendors as well as they need cooperation from us.
How have you been able to keep your brand relevant for 40 years? What has helped you to stay in tune with your niche market?
From the beginning until today, my father, Mike and longtime manager, Tony have always treated customers like they were family. My mother, who has worked along side my dad for 30 years has helped to stay focused on our key values and has always served as the backbone of the business. Customer service has always been a key component to our success. Without the time, energy, and dedication to our customers, we would not be here today.
We have been able to stay in tune with our market by living the surfing lifestyle and knowing what kids today want. It is all about buying stuff that is cool and that is hot. We find out about hot trends by every year attending industry trade shows and researching the newest and hottest products. We rely heavily on the reps from the vendors to help us buy the best stuff that kids want. This is why the relationships we have with our partners and vendor are so important to us.
What would you recommend as key tools, processes, or policies that help build a loyal customer base?
I would advise that it takes hard work to build and retain a loyal customer base. Our family has worked hard to build Konasports into the best it can be. We have serviced our customer base by listening to feedback from our customers. We’ve improved customer service, added new product lines, and began reaching out to customers through new channels. We have watched the trends and have grown our business in a way that strengthens our brand by embracing technology that makes it easy to do business with us and keep up with the latest news in the industry. As I mentioned before we’ve added ecommerce capabilities, but we’ve also branched out by maintaining a blog, engaging in social media networks, and distributing a newsletter. We’re even soliciting direct feedback through a poll on our Konasports Blog to see what features our customers would like to see improved on Konasports.com.
What is your marketing approach for Konasports? Do your campaigns use an overall brand message; do you focus on specific products, what’s your marketing strategy?
Our marketing strategy is to buy the latest and greatest products from the top brands in our industry and deliver on the needs of our customers. By focusing on top brands we position Konasports to be perceived as one of these top brands recognized by our customers and shoppers. We highlight these brands on our website, create promotions around specific merchandise, and feature some of the different brands we offer in our social media outlets. For example, Konasports is holding a contest in July via Twitter where participants have a chance to win a pair of Bearpaw™ Boots.
We continue to promote Konasports using a mix marketing avenues including affiliates, coupons, SEO optimization, press releases, radio ads, and newsletters. And of course we maintain a strong web presence through our robust online store in addition to our well known retail location.
Have you involved yourself in social media channels? If so, how has it affected your business and brand? Yes, we now work closely with social media channels like Twitter™, YouTube™, FaceBook™ and MySpace™. These avenues have helped us virally market Konasports and spread promotions that we are running very quickly. It has been a big part of our marketing strategy and demonstrates to our customers that we are a forward thinking company and will hang out in the places they hang out.
What aspects of running Konasports do you enjoy the most?
I love the challenges that each day brings. When you are an owner of a business you tend to look at things a lot differently. You always want to do better and the work is endless but that is what makes it so fun. My goal everyday is being the best we can be and if we do not put the effort forward we will not reach that feat. This is the message I proclaim to my employees everyday.
What tips would you share with others trying to build their brand and grow their business? Any specific advice for those businesses selling online?
I would say it takes hard work and a lot of passion to build a strong and recognizable brand. You need to be passionate about what you do and not be afraid to make mistakes. Learning from my mistakes has helped shape the business we have created today. If you do your homework and closely study your business you will be on your way to success. But along the way do not expect anything to come easy. My motto is “If you are passionate about your work and its lifestyle, the rest will fall in place”.
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