The Power Of Twin Chevrons, The Passion Of Two Key People & The Balance Of Opposites.
RVCA’s unique, art influenced, fashion-forward designs have been rewarded at the 2017 SBIA Surfing Industry Awards. Bypassing the ‘Breakthrough Brand of the Year’ honors, RVCA went straight to the top of the heap, winning the Men’s Brand Of The Year.
RVCA emerged from founder Pat Tenore’s garage in 2001, from an early team effort that included Conan Hayes. In 2006 the brand established a presence in Australia and was represented by former world tour surfer Nathan ‘Noodles’ Webster. Two years later, the brand won the 2008 SIMA (USA) Men’s Apparel Brand of the Year, and by July 2010 it had been acquired by Billabong for an undisclosed sum. RVCA now sits among Billabong’s ‘Big 3’ brands, being Billabong, RVCA & Element.
Last financial year, RVCA grew 40.5 %, and now boasts 4.6 million social media followers, comprising 1.4 million brand followers and 3.2 million athlete & advocate followers. They have landmark stores & galleries located in San Francisco, Santa Monica, Byron Bay & Collingwood, along with future plans for stores in Bali, Tokyo and New York.
According to ActionWatch data RVCA’s presence doubled in core stores in Men’s Apparel and is now represented in 73% of stores (compared to just 37% in July 2014). In June 2017, RVCA’s Per Store Average $ Sales was $2161 over the same period last year. This gives RVCA a market estimation of close to $20m across the ActionWatch Oz Panel and excludes company owned, chain and online sales.
Scott Payne’s the Brand Manager at RVCA. He’s previously held positions as Product Development Manager at Billabong, learning the ropes under the guidance of one of the great product line managers in Mike Savage. In addition, Scott worked for ‘youth against establishment’, holding down the Merchandising Manager position at Volcom. Scott’s desk is on the ground floor of the sprawling Billabong head office at Burleigh Heads: he’s comfortable on the ground floor in big business. He grew up on the shop floor of the family surf shop Kokomo Surf Skate and Snow and he has the perfect balance of opposites: youth and experience. But don’t be fooled by Scotty’s laidback style and disarming smile. If the walls have ears at Burleigh, Scotty has the skill set to run the whole building.
Congratulations on the SBIA MEN’S BRAND OF THE YEAR honours – you must be stoked. Are there any shout outs?
We are super stoked and privileged to receive the award. It’s been a busy few years and this highlights the connection we have with the action sports and lifestyle youth of today. Our creative content and brand messages are authentic and resonate with our target customers. A big shout out goes to the retailers who have supported RVCA since its inception into the Australian marketplace, plus to the more recent ones who have presented the brand in a premium and creative manner to allow a new customer connection with the brand. Lastly to our community of RVCA advocates, they are an integral part of the brand and provide so much direction and creativity for the brand.
When did you join RVCA?
I joined early 2014 after product leadership roles in both Billabong and Volcom since 2001. Before that, I learnt the ropes in buying and working on the retail floor of my parents’ surf shop in Sydney in the late 1990’s. My dad Chris had a mid life crisis and started a Brothers Neilsen franchise store in Broadway, Sydney in 1997. In 1999, he ended the franchise and changed it to Kokomo Surf Skate and Snow before selling it in 2001. It was a killer store and I learnt everything involved in running a family owned retail store including buying, inventory management, sales and customer service and most of all it was so damn fun. My brothers and I thought we were so cool at the time! Buying all these rad brands products and getting spoilt with promo by so many reps while both doing our HSC and studying business at UTS. Got to give a shout out to my dad for introducing us to such an amazing industry! Kokomo is where I met JC (former Volcom GM, John Clapham) from Volcom who got me a job as soon as dad sold the store. The store is now a General Pants store.
What are some of the key hires in the last twelve months that have helped the brand?
Over the last three years RVCA has had the luxury of hiring many talented staff from within the industry and the wider Billabong & GSM group. This small, tight, hardworking and passionate RVCA family has been a big part of the brand’s success. We’re nimble, authentic, think about the different types consumers, act closer to market and most importantly live and breathe the brand on a daily basis.
Founder Pat Tenore attributes RVCA’s success to product, marketing and distribution all working together. Is the same true here in Australia?
Absolutely. Our ability to tie in consumer-relevant product with a GTM (go-to-market) plan aligned with our channel distribution strategy has been key to RVCA’s recent success in Australia.
In 2016 the ActionWatch Oz same-store retail panel enjoyed a 49% year-over-year sales increase with RVCA men’s apparel – this was the highest sales increase of the top-20 brands in the category and provided RVCA with the largest market share gain. Can you pinpoint any one change, or strategy, since 2016 that could explain this result?
It comes back to our overall segmentation strategy and merchant lead processes. This ensures that our product assortment and merchandising is tailored to the end consumer via an integrated GTM plan. Each segmented product line and brand story is tailored to the retailer, whether they be a mall-based operator, a surf independent, womenswear boutique or a core skate store. Our Artist Network program has also been the key differentiator for the brand in a busy marketplace and provided the backbone to this growth. Steve Fontes (Design Manager) has played a key part working with our artists, advocates and design team on developing cohesive ANP product collections across all our successful channels in Australia.
RVCA more than doubled its women’s apparel sales compared to 2015, which again was the highest percentage sales increase of the top-20 brands. Is your women’s business a focal point for the brand going forward?
Women’s is a big focus and our biggest opportunity globally. Locally here in Australia, our Women’s Designer Serena Francis has been influential in designing an assortment that is tailored to the end consumer while talking to the key brand ANP stories. Her ability to understand the different nuances of customers who shop via our different distribution channels has been a big part of the women’s growth in Australia.
How do you approach a category like Women’s loungewear? The women’s business has come on fast, growing over 30 percent YOY. What’s next for RVCA women’s?
The Sunday Collection was a category opportunity we saw in the market place globally and executed well with selected accounts, and our own DTC (direct-to-consumer) channels. For women’s there are key categories such as swim we need to be relevant in for key periods and we are looking to branch out VA Sports with women’s specific product given the success we’ve had with men’s VA Sport.
RVCA is ranked 6th on our ActionWatch Oz panel for Denim and ahead of brands such as Res, Mavi, Levi’s, Wrangler and Quiksilver. Is denim a specific focus and what can retailers expect?
A cohesive and consistent line of fits, washes and style names is what’s coming in Season 1, 2018. The consumer is loyal to bottoms brands and this is something we have worked on from a merchant point of view. Also pants are a strong growth category for RVCA and they are really resonating with our key skate retailers at the moment. RVCAs overall advocate alignment in this category is also very important in connecting with the right customer.
Pat Tenore is strong on distribution. Online plays an important part of the brand. How do you determine whether an online platform is the right ‘fit’ for RVCA?
It’s no different from B&M distribution. With channel segmentation, we need to make sure we are reaching different customers that tie back into key sub-cultures of the brand and maintain a full-priced premium service.
What synergies does Billabong bring to RVCA? Do you operate autonomously?
The Billabong group bring many synergies including logistics, HR, financial services and most of all the market and retail intelligence of SDS. We operate completely separate in terms of brand, product and marketing which is very important for brand integrity
Can you talk about some of the more successful B&M collaborations and build-outs?
Late last year we rolled our first branded fixture program into more than 50 independent doors across ANZ to great success. It allowed for us to have controllable floor space in key independent accounts, and also support these accounts with tailored go-to-market execution to tell relevant product and brand stories for each doorway.
Skate hardgood sales growth was poor in the U.S. in 2016 (sales down 11%). Skate hardgood sales growth in Australia has become negative in 2017 (down 6%). Is skate starting to work for you here?
This is another opportunity area for RVCA in Australia with strategic skate distribution, and some exciting collaborations in the pipeline with Toy Machine and also Andrew Reynolds. RVCA is in strong in skate in the USA at the moment, we will get some strong results here over the course of the next year. We recently had the RVCA Australia Skate Tour with global and regional skate advocates that were an epic success.
Which retailers are having a good time with RVCA? Any shout outs to them?
Over the course of RVCA being in Australia, we have had retailers who have supported us from day one and we’ve been able to work with to make sure the brand is working for them. Over the last three years there has been a big uptake of independent retailers bringing RVCA into their mix, and have done an amazing job of showcasing the brand and connecting the brand messages to the end customer.
RVCA are in ninth position in wetsuit jackets on our ActionWatch Oz panel and ahead of O’Neill, Peak and Dakine in this category. Are there plans to expand the wetsuit category?
No. There are so many brands who are doing great things in this space, and rather than compete in a highly competitive space we will be focusing on other opportunity areas for the brand such as Trunks, Women’s, Skate and RVCA Sport.
What opportunities exist for distribution into the MMA channel for your RVCA Sports Division?
This is a really interesting space for the brand, and no different to any other subculture, it will be about finding the right channels to distribute the product line that will allow for brand, product health and the right consumer connection. We’ve had some great success this year with RVCA Sport via our DTC channels; it’s now looking at how this worked and expanding on it.
What is currently on Pat Tenore’s ‘wall of inspiration’ at Costa Mesa?
Pat’s office is a creative vortex! Currently there will be different ephemera from previous brand collaborations and collections, as well as art from a huge variety of RVCA artists. It’s a pretty amazing space to look at. Plus grab a Purps (Tenore and Kelly Slater’s natural energy drink collaboration) from his fridge to revitalise yourself!
[ED NOTE] You get the impression the epic SBIA Men’s Brand Of The Year Trophy will sit pride of place when the company overhauls its offices and show rooms later this month. For now, I imagine, its an elaborate paper weight on an exciting pile of line drawings that are going to take the brand to the next level, under Scotty’s expert eye.
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DT is the Marketing Manager and started with RVCA in January 2015 after a successful 12-year stint at Ozmosis, as National Marketing Manager. According to Scott Payne, DT’s strong experience in engaging the customer through retail, events, social media and digital landscapes has been a solid asset to RVCA’s strategy over the last few years. Daniaal is polite, courteous and a connoisseur of good coffee. He is after all a Melbourne lad, through and through. DT’s equally capable of rapping with shop groms, team riders and the warehouse crew as he is talking with the CEO. If Scotty is the architect at RVCA, DT is the Chief Engineer and the pair form a unique and powerful balance of opposites.
The name itself is a curiosity. How many times do you still l get asked how to pronounce RVCA?
How to pronounce RVCA is something I get weekly, or what is RVCA an acronym for. It’s always a good segway and talking piece though to explain The Balance Of Opposites and how diverse and creative RVCA is with authentic roots in Art, Surf, Skate and MMA.
Can you tell us about the power of the twin chevrons VA and how they symbolise ’the balance of opposites’?
The power of the chevrons is its ability to simply explain the diversity of RVCA. We are the only brand in the market that has legitimate history and authenticity in Art, Surf, Skate, and MMA. From day one at RVCA, the brand has sponsored & supported advocates in every one of those subcultures. But it works because the common denominator across the board is creativity, and every advocate that RVCA supports has this aspect.
It’s pretty amazing to have a brand that includes advocates who are the best at what they do in the world from artists like Barry McGee & Kelsey Brookes; a diverse surf team that includes Alex Knost, Christian Fletcher, Jay Davies and Makua Rothman (Big Wave World Champion); an equally diverse skate team with Andrew Reynolds, Greyson Fletcher, Curren Caples and Kevin ‘Spanky’ Long; and finally we loop in MMA where we have multiple Brazilian Jiu–Jitsu (BJJ) World Champions with Marcus Buchecha and the Mendes brothers, plus one of the UFC and BJJ all time greats in BJ Penn.
When you look at all those names, their respective backgrounds and the fact that they all sit under the banner of one brand – it’s a testament to Pat’s vision of creating a diverse community of advocates that bucked the trend of just operating in core action sports.
Can you tell us more about RVCA Platform? How do RVCA approach collaborations?
RVCA Platform was another avenue to really talk to our key pillar of RVCA, The Artist Network Program. Via Platform, each month we produce a limited amount of t-shirts that showcase the work of one artist, and also do so in limited numbers to have that level of exclusivity with the product.
Collaborations come about in many different ways, whether it is from Pat, our Creative team in Costa Mesa, or regionally with artists & advocates who work closely with the brand. Once again, it stems from the creative advocates involved with the brand who have a like-minded ethos.
You’ve opened two stores in Collingwood and Byron respectively. Why these locations and what do they bring to RVCA?
Byron Bay was our first RVCA retail concept space in Australia, and it made a lot of sense for us to showcase the brand in a town that has embedded in surf culture, but also supports the arts and is full of creatives.
It was key in opening at Byron that we had an aspect that would allow us to engage with the local community also, hence the Back Gallery space that we have which we have different exhibitions and incorporate local art group shows like ‘Now I See What You’re Looking At 2’ as well as working with the unofficial Mayor of Byron, Paul McNeil with his exhibition ‘Still Goofy’.
From a product point of view, it has been a great space for us to trial different product and categories to gain meaningful insights. Particularly on the women’s front where we have been able to showcase the product, and in turn have seen strong sell through especially through our directional fashion product, as well as some great numbers with our swim collection throughout the summer trade periods.
Byron being such a tourist destination, it has also been a great driver in brand awareness with customers walking in who might have seen the brand, but had no idea what it was but then leave understanding the creativity of the brand and what it represents.
The Collingwood Corner Gallery is not a retail space, rather a stand alone gallery that we use as a vehicle to talk to the Artist Network Program, and continue its vision of having a platform to support artists to showcase their creative endeavors.
We’ve had some amazing exhibitions in this space, from both established artists but also up and coming artists from Australia and abroad.
Last year one of our most successful shows was curated by a local ANP artist from Melbourne, Melissa Grisancich who created ‘Spring-Time’ an all women’s group show that featured nearly 20 female artists. It was such a success, we are annualising the event and looking to expand it to include different artists workshops and talks this September over the course of the month.
The Artist Network Program was founded on being a platform that gave back to artists and allowed a place for them to voice their creative growth – and the RVCA Corner Gallery has been a vital part of the brand being able to continue that here in Australia.
Can you talk about some of the more successful B&M collaborations and build outs? Future plans?
Another successful B&M collaboration was our alignment with Full Metal Jiu Jitsu a BJJ Academy in Burleigh Heads, where we have worked closely with the Founder, Juggs (who received his black belt from RVCA Advocates the Mendes Brother) on branding the academy and wholesaling our VA Sports product and creating collaboration product for a channel that makes sense for the product.
What are some of the current, existing RVCA Sport outlets?
Our RVCA Sport product distribution is extremely tight with our own DTC, and selected surf stores that we have controllable floor space to talk to the product and brand message. Currently our biggest driver for RVCA Sport is through our eCom channel where we can control the product assortment, messaging and price.
We’re incredibly mindful of what future distribution looks for RVCA Sports, as it has to reach a relatable audience, and also offer a full priced premium service. It’s not something we want to rush for a quick buck, as this range has so much equity from all the work Pat has put into it over the years and it’s vital we keep that as we move forward.