Ryan Scanlon has set a cat amongst the pigeons by launching needESSENTIALS, a brand that delivers high-end premium products, but cuts the price tag by ditching the fluffy extras.
Great for consumers but not all in the industry are appreciative of his moves. Wavelength caught up with Australian born businessman to find out a little bit more.
First, tell us about the thinking behind need essentials?
The idea of needESSENTIALS started to form almost two decades ago, I could never understand why you couldn’t buy surfing equipment without having to be plastered with some brands advertising all over the product.
I’m a simplest in my own life. I live in a tiny home, drive a 20 year old van and have one surfboard in my quiver. I live that way not because I’m tight with money or I don’t value material things.
I just prefer fewer things in my life, the things that I have, I value because they are made to last. I try to avoid advertising, so I don’t watch television or the news.
We don’t do expensive office spaces and retail stores. People are just paying for the product
In my experience advertising is mostly just convincing you to purchase things you don’t need. I choose to avoid advertising because it tells you, you’re inadequate unless you buy what’s being sold and I value lifestyle over material possessions.
So needESSENTIALS is a response to that – it’s well-made products that you need to be a surfer, without branding, without advertising. We just focus on best product and best service. It’s that simple.
In what areas have you saved on costs to provide the products at the price you do?
We invest everything into premium materials and components, we only use the best manufacturing so the cost of making our products is quite high.
However, we sell them to the public at a great price because we don’t do all the other bits that add excessive cost, like advertising, wholesale mark ups and have expensive office spaces and retail stores. So people are just paying for the product.
You used to work for Quiksilver, as an executive in LA, why did you decide to leave? And how did that job inform your business model for NeedEssentials?
I worked most of my career as a designer for surf companies. The surf industry is full of some really interesting people and it was fun to work in. It just wasn’t for me.
By 2012 most of the industry was publicly owned and their main motivation was to return profits to shareholders
I would always work hard to save money and then take a break from it and travel for a while. I went to some amazing places to find uncrowded waves and space from the rat race, however I would always end up back in the design studio at some point.
I eventually left in 2012 as the surf industry had changed a lot since I started working in it. In the beginning the companies were family owned and had good values but by 2012 most of the industry was publicly owned and their main motivation was to return profits to shareholders.
I felt they had seriously started to neglect surfers genuine needs. The following year I started needESSENTIALS as I loved designing great products, I just needed to do it under my own terms.
Has it been a struggle getting word out about the product whilst not shelling out on traditional marketing methods?
It obviously makes it harder but we are not trying to take over the world either. I’m trying to grow it small and at realistic and sustainable pace.
We make sure people that buy our products really like them. That they work really well and they don’t cost more than they need to. If we can do that well our customers will stay with us and help us by recommending needESSENTIALS to their friends.
We do have social media, email and can reach people digitally we just don’t make any item that is not a good product that fits a surfer need. So we don’t produce any advertising material like stickers, billboard shorts, print advertising, in-store advertising and hang tags.
Does sponsoring surfers offer a negative return on investment? Or do you simply think the money could be better spent?
Sponsoring surfers is great! As we have grown we have been able to help support a few surfers and they help support us in return.
Torren Martyn, Laurie Towner and Drew McPherson have been amazing in helping to give product feedback and helping to make our products the best they can be. In return we have tried to get them in the water and traveling more.
It’s important for a company to spread its profits back into the community in some way and as we grow we are trying to give other people opportunities as well.
All the fun has gone, now it’s just competition, training and advertising
Many of the sponsorship dollars in the surf industry are now focused on a few elite individuals. A few people are getting multiple millions of dollars and other great surfers don’t get a thing.
The family feel of many surf brands has disappeared. All the fun has gone, now it’s just competition, training and advertising that’s left. I am more of the belief that comparison and competition are the killers of all fun, we would rather work with people that inspire people to enjoy the ocean, their friends and live simply.
You now live on a boat, and travel, how do you juggle this with running your business?
needESSENTIALS was started on a 38 foot sail boat that was my home for the past eight years. Living on a sailboat is a great lesson in life, you don’t have a garage to accumulate things, you have to be careful how much water you use, all your power comes from solar and your travel comes from the wind.
It’s a great lesson in sustainability. But it’s also a great lifestyle that is very removed from how modern advertising tells you, you have to spend your days to be happy.
Traveling on a sailboat makes you slow down and appreciate the journey, nature and it introduces you to many people that you would never meet traveling via an airport.
The whole business was a one-man band operated from that sail boat in the beginning, but now we we have a small but dedicated bunch of great people working on the project that are sort of spread out into some pretty unique areas.
I have found my land legs again and am currently building a tiny home in the northern rivers of NSW I also spend a lot of time with near Bells Beach where the business operates its warehouse.
What feedback have you had from the rest of the industry and from consumers?
We listen intently to all our customers feedback and they are our primary focus when helping develop other products, we want to make sure they are stoked. We want to earn their respect one customer at a time.
What are your future hopes for need essentials?
Just to be really good at what we do! Do a few things but do them really well.
The last five years have seen dramatic reduction in the amount of sponsored surfers, do you think other surf companies are likely to follow your lead and strip back the costs associated with marketing?
In the surf industry, more sponsorship dollars are going to an elite group, I’d like to see a return to being more community focused. needESSENTIALS was started as a one-man band, as we have become more established we have been able to offer full time jobs to people and the opportunity to help support surfers that share our values of living simply.
We don’t put stickers on peoples’ boards, make them wear caps plastered with advertising. We just work with them to make our products better.
Surfers are very well educated, they can make their own decisions and they know when they are being given the hard sell. I don’t like it when someone gives me the hard sell so I’m not going to do it to someone else.
Professional surfing is being packaged in the same homogenised way as car racing, the podiums, the big cheques the excessive advertising. I don’t get it! surfing to me is this really pure connection with the ocean and a community of like-minded people, I struggle to understand why people need to manufacture it into a mass marketed sport.
Most surf companies these days are owned by bankers not surfers, there are some really un pure motivations behind what’s going on in the surf market.
I would love to see a return to brands lead by surfers, not bankers. People that know how to make great products because they are the real deal. The industry needs to go underground again. Its up to us surfer to wrestle it back.
And finally, what advice would you give to others looking to start a company, aimed at the surf market, in today’s tricky retail climate?
Don’t produce landfill, be unique, be responsible, don’t be greedy.
To find out more head over to needessentials.uk