By Daniel Ritz
American Express, who officially began Small Business Saturday on Nov. 27, 2010 in an effort to encourage spending at local brick and mortar businesses, lists 3,800,000 small businesses in California. That’s 99 percent of all companies recognized by the state.
This is also reflected in Dana Point, where Dana Point Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Bev Jorgensen estimates 98 percent of the Chamber’s 300 plus businesses qualify as a small business.
With changing trends in how consumers spend money, local businesses have had to evolve to stay competitive and financially successful. In Dana Point, local companies believe staying adaptable, being attentive to the needs of the community and staying true to their values through the waves of change will ensure they stay around for generations to come.
The fundamentals of innovation
Jake Schwaner, a managing partner at Hobie Surf Shop, has experienced more than his fair share of change in his 20 plus years with the outdoor retailer bearing the name of one of Dana Point’s most iconic craftsman and waterman.
With Hobie first opening its doors in 1954, Schwaner believes their successful longevity has to do with their purposeful scaling to be able to focus on the community, and concentrate on customer experience.
“Really, we just brought it back to community. We don’t want to pigeon-hole ourselves as any one thing. We’re about the lifestyle we all love,” Schwaner said. “Our values have always been the same: innovation, quality, community and service.”
Schwaner suspects the millennial generation, now having surpassed the baby boomers in population numbers, is more focused on experience.
“It’s (millennials) who we’re following, and we think they deserve that experience. I know, it’s kind of a trendy word right now, but we really focused on that,” Schwaner said. “Not everyone is an ‘Eeyore’ and wants to sit at home on their computer and click to shop.”
Through the rise of e-commerce giants such as Amazon, brick and mortar small businesses are still seeing the attention from holiday season shoppers. Last year, 64 million people visited brick and mortar retail locations on Small Business Saturday, the second busiest day of the year behind Black Friday. Nationwide, both days saw a five percent increase in sales from 2015.
“E-commerce isn’t going away,” Schwaner said, “but brick and mortar will always have its place.”
Schwaner said that large e-commerce and big-box retail chains are rarely inventive with their products, calling e-commerce and big box giants “utilities for consumption.”
“We try and do things like no-one has ever done them. Hobie was built around innovators. We try to keep our finger on the pulse and offer people what they want and what they need. We maintain that authenticity to the community because we aren’t just serving the community; we’re a part of it. You don’t see Jeff Bezos at the ball game; you don’t see people wearing ‘Amazon’ shirts. It’s faceless.”
“We’re out there in the community”
Community integration, and activity, is and always has been fundamental to Steve Boehne’s business model as well as his lifestyle.
Boehne, 70, who shaped his first surfboard in 1970 while attending California State University-Fullerton, is actively shaping boards and operating Infinity Surfboards on Del Prado Street in Dana Point for more than 30 years.
“We try to be honest, and we try to do what we do best,” said Boehne. “A lot of people ask how we do it, but to be honest, I don’t really know how big businesses do it. In our business, it’s really important that every single customer walks away happy. We care. I can’t help myself but to care because we know we’ll probably see them out in the water one day.”
In a surfboard production industry that has seen radical fluctuations due to overseas production and rising material costs, Boehne sourced his own experience and participation as a key to Infinity’s success.
“Sure, it’s been hard. It has been, and I’m sure it will be again. But we’re out there. We’re in the mix and we are right there when new things happen.”
Infinity, who ran the first advertisement for a stand-up paddleboard more than 15 years ago, was years ahead of the boom and is now on top of the stand-up paddleboard trend.
“We only have the one location; we keep it tight,” said Boehne. “We shape here, we ship here. That way we can be nimble. Sure we’re small, but we’re the quickest to change.”
This ability to transition and morph over the years has enabled Infinity and the Boehne family to stay relevant and maintain an international reputation as a leader in surfboard, stand-up paddle surf and stand-up paddle racing equipment.
In total, more than 137 million people went to stores over the four-day Black Friday weekend in 2016. Research from Forbes expects those numbers to increase this year. Small businesses in Dana Point hope those trends continue and that small business can remain the healthy majority, growing without necessarily expanding.
“Nothing is forever,” said Boehne. “As we grow, and the community grows, there will always be something new.”