Know Your Staff: The South Coast Buying Department

By Robb Bailey

Buying surf clothing and accessories for a living may sound like a dream job for most surfers. The job seems simple on the surface: preview big-name surf apparel lines like Hurley and Billabong months before the general public sees them, choose what will be sold in the stores, and use the shop’s cash to make it happen. Sounds like a cake walk right? Think again. Factor in yearly budgets, floor space consideration, and shipping logistics, and the job quickly turns into a calculated fine art.

The South Coast buying department boasts 32 years of collective retail experience to get it done right. With four booming shop locations plus a closeout store to consider, South Coast buyer Heather Lamb runs a tight ship. Her day consists of scheduling appointments with reps, viewing upcoming seasons’ clothing lines and submitting purchase orders to the vendors with her choices. In an industry where it’s common to have an open door policy, South Coast’s buying department requires reps to show their line at a scheduled time.

Similar sized retail operations may employ as many as five buyers to fill the role of Heather’s single position. Her day is busy and time management is essential. “On a typical day, I will have a rep come in with their rolling rack and show me the upcoming line around six months before they’re ready to ship (our order).” Pre-booking orders ensures the vendor makes enough of the designs Heather selects, so when the order ships from overseas, the quantity she specified is already set aside for South Coast Surf Shops to sell in their stores. That doesn’t mean the South Coast veteran just gets to shop all day long. Some days are dedicated to doing whatever it takes to make the business succeed.

Leading the department means doing everything from cleaning out the receiving warehouse to sale tagging, to sending returns back to the vendor. You can even find Heather working the floor and helping customers during the holiday season, which is where she got her start 19 years ago. She can’t do it all herself, so she oversees a team of assistants to help the buying department succeed.

Kimmy Lamb (Heather’s sister) came to South Coast two years ago in a position handling transfers between South Coast stores. She now spends her time acting as the Credits & Returns Manager. Another addition to the South Coast family, Ashley Bilsten, came when a Purchase Order position opened up about a year ago. Both girls’ positions are essential in the buying process. “After Heather writes what she wants to buy from each line, I enter it all into the computer. Then we submit the purchase orders to the rep,” Ashley commented on her role. In addition to their support roles to Heather, Kimmy and Ashley split the Assistant Buyer responsibilities. As a team the two oversee purchasing of all sunglasses and accessories.

All three girls seem to have an acute sense of what sells in the shops. “Sometimes we order depending on demographic,” Kimmy Lamb remarked on product placement. “Like in our Wahines store–our all-girls store–there’s more of a tourist crowd, and we can put more fashion forward stuff in there; it does well.”

Likewise, Heather and company are putting more organic products in their Ocean Beach locations. Companies like Sector 9, Simple, and Eco-Lips are creating eco-friendly products that South Coast is carrying to cater to their earth-concious customer base there. When asked about emerging trends in the surf apparel industry, Heather noted that five years ago the major lines pretty much consisted of men’s boardshorts, some tees, and that was pretty much it. Now everyone is moving fashion forward, and every men’s line has added women’s clothing because more women are identifying with the surfing lifesyle. The vendors are paying attention to that.

With companies like Nixon (who sells a $1400 ruby-faced watch), and Volcom (who now sells men’s dress suits aimed at prom-goers) leading the movement, more of the same is coming. Heather sees this fashion trend growing in the future because surfing has become more mainstream. “People want to dress like surfers. Five years ago you could tell who the surfers were by the way they dressed, but now it’s a lifestyle thing for more people. People want the look. Even more guys are starting to pay attention (to fashion).”

It’s not always about work with these three though, and they enjoy the social aspect of their jobs just as much. With guest invites to various surf industry events, such as the Billabong XXL Awards, the girls get perks. Good perks. Ashley added, “We get the treatment from the reps sometimes. They want you to get excited about their product. They love us because South Coast always shows up!” And show up they do. To show their appreciation, Reef invited the South Coast employees to a cruise around the bay with Rob Machado and other Reef team riders. South Coast showed in good numbers.

Heather summed up her love for the work that she’s been doing for nearly 20 years, “The best part about my job is making friends with the reps and the people I work with. It’s just so much fun. After awhile it becomes like one big family.”