The Breakdown

Explaining Southern California's economy

Businesses use the Vans 'US Open of Surfing' to elevate brands

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Retailers eager to attract more customers are riding the wave behind the Vans U.S. Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach.

The surfing and skating competition, which ends Sunday, will bring more than 760,000 people to the beach in Orange County. For many businesses, the event is an opportunity to market their products to a key demographic, 12-24 year-olds. 

"It's a great opportunity for a corporation that has products and services to promote and get their products in front of a captivated audience," said Jennifer Lau, event director for the Vans U.S. Open of Surfing.

The title sponsor is Vans. The retailer's name is everywhere - not just on the surfers in the water.

The name is plastered on banners and connected to activities on the beach, including one where kids can design their own shoes. 

Doug Palladini, vice president and general manager for Vans in the Americas,  said there were a couple hundred Vans employees on the beach and it was a "multiple seven-figure investment." But he said the price of being a title sponsor is worth it.

"For us, it's less about the money and more about what the kids leave the beach with," Palladini said. "If they leave the beach, feeling like Vans is someone that understands them and someone that gets them and someone that can be proud to put on their feet or on their back or on their head, then we win all day long."

Vans replaced Nike as the title sponsor for the 2013 event. The U.S. Open of Surfing comes at a time when the surfing apparel industry is treading water.

The industry was a big hit in the 90’s and early 2000’s. Retail stores increased but sales declined among people in the 12-24 demographic.

Jim Duffy, managing director with investment firm Stifel Nicolaus, said retailers are closing stores and some of the marginal brands are going away.

Surf wear companies that have posted recent net losses include Huntington Beach-based Quiksilver and Anaheim-based Pacific Sunwear of California. Both retailers are not sponsors of the U.S. Open of Surfing.

Duffy said clothes at fast-fashion brands, like Forever 21, have taken some sales away and some brands failed to look for new ways to grow their business.

"The industry became content to do the same things over and over again, and in doing that, has struggled to find growth," Duffy said.

He said Vans is different because it's creating innovative products, like shoes designed by artists and are at events, like the U.S. Open of Surfing, that let them interact with customers.

“We grew up wearing Vans and love wearing their shoes and stuff," said Tiffany Torres, 20, of La Habra, as she strolled along the rows of booths at the Huntington Beach event this week.

Torres also shops at stores like PacSun and Quiksilver, but if she needs something today, Torres said she's going to get it at the Vans store.

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