By Dylan Beach
The SBIA Board invited all members to be a part of special general meeting on Thursday May 4th . The agenda for the meeting was called to change the SBIA board constitution increasing the number of brand and retailer representatives to a total of 4 each.
With unanimous vote, the board like welcome Neil Ritchie of Alto Sports as the newest retailer representative and Jo Branch, Australasian Business Manager of Quiksilver / Roxy / DC as the newest brand representative. The amount of knowledge and experience of the surf and boardsport industry that both Jo and Neil bring to the SBIA board is truely exciting. We caught up with both of them earlier in the week to have a chat about working with the SBIA board in the future.
How did you get into the surf industry?
Neil- It has been more of an evolution, a very slow one. I met John O’Neill from Skin Ski and Surf in the late 80’s and I loved what he did and the mix of product he had in his retail stores. After buying my first ski/snow store in 1993 I quickly moved towards surf clothing and slowly built the business with the resources I had.
Jo- While I was at University in WA I was lucky to meet Todd and Tanya Taylor from Crystals through surfing friends and family around Secret Harbour. They employed me casually and after I graduated from University I accepted a full time roll with them. 4 Years later my love for surfing (baby waves not beach breaks) found me on the Gold Coast and after a short stint at General Pants I missed true surf and took a role at Brothers Neilsen. It was the best thing to happen and I made some of my oldest friends in that role many of which still work in the industry now. A few years later Scott Peacock offered me a junior sales position with Roxy and that is the beginning of a 11 year history that progressed from state to regional to a national role and now to my current position as Roxy Australasian Business Manager.
Can you give us a little bit of background on yourself, and what you do on your day to day?
Neil- I was fortunate to travel the world for 15 years as a competitive water skier following the US Pro Tour and other professional competitions. I was sponsored by Ripcurl when I was 14 and later moved to Wavelength wetsuits to develop their waterski range and open retail doors in the US. I had great industry sponsors whom I worked with closely. I was a skier, a coach and a salesperson.
With the growth of the business I have been fortunate that I have been able to step back and allow peoplewith more skill than I have to run the company. I try to concentrate on new projects or ideas that will help the stores to grow. Marketing and Brand Management are the two areas I continue to work on and replying to far too many emails. Online has been a learning curve, I should have listened to the experts much earlier, I ensure the image and reason for the websites remain the same but have handed all the day to day operations over to a great team.
Jo- Loaded question! If I laid out my week of appointments, conference calls , meetings , meetings about meetings , sales releases, product reviews , purchasing meetings, marketing meetings etc etc you would be bored or overwhelmed. Every day is different and that’s definitely a big reason I have been here so long. That, and I am super passionate about my team and the brand. I am responsible for the wholesale division and that consists of a team of 9 account managers across New Zealand and Australia working with approx. 400 retailers. If you ask anyone I work with, or my friends, they would say my day consists of being on an plane which is pretty true. Living in QLD, our head office in Torquay and sales offices in every region mean I am all over the place. The part of my role/day that makes me most happy is when I am out in stores and on the road with retailers and the sales team, and working with the product and marketing team at the global meetings on future seasons. Not so much in an office behind a desk!
What can we expect with you on the board helping drive the SBIA’s vision in developing and supporting the Australian Surf and Board sport Industry?
Neil- Good question, I will certainly bring a different point of view to the table with my experience in the snow/surf and board sports industries. I have travelled extensively over the past 20 years doing retail tours in Munich, Tokyo and studying best practice closely. I attend a lot of seminars and love to learn. I am a great believer in staff training and empowering staff to make decisions at all levels. I will be bringing positivity to the table as I believe the surf and board sports industry has growth potential for those who are willing to change and improve what they are doing. We have bottlenecks in our company created by suppliers, they may look trivial but they are very time consuming. I want to tackle these issues as most retailers will be seeing the same problems, as a unified team the suppliers will be able to see that small changes can make a big difference to all retailers. If we can reduce the bottlenecks we can spend more time running the business and making money.
Jo- I feel I can add value and I hope to make positive contribution , bring a point of view not yet offered with the board discussions.I come with my own experience working in a wholesale business that includes tri-branded working relationships, working across multiple sales channels, working with global vs regional inputs and having experienced significant structural shifts over the years. Not dissimilar to many brands and business. I also can offer a fresh perspective on the women’s business specifically, which is a huge contributor to the overall success of the industry. I hope to proudly continue to represent a female voice.
There are plenty of challenges for the SBIA to keep things fresh and interesting and informative particularly when it comes to round table meetings and the newsletter and I would love to work with the other board members to engage the industry audience with things like finding compelling guest speakers , more opportunities to get together that are perhaps less formal and with less travel and hopefully recruit some extra female voices too!
What are you looking forward to the most joining the SBIA board as a retail and brand representative?
Neil- Learning from other great retailers, networking is critical and there are very talented people attending the Round table events and I am hoping they will share their knowledge as I will.
Jo-Firstly, Its and honour and I am really proud and humbled to represent our brands and cannot wait to work more closely alongside the other board members and all of the members of the SBIA community. I am looking forward to learning. Sounds cliché but the opportunity to share experience and develop better ideas and strategies that will benefit the industry is super appealing to me. There is such a wealth of knowledge and years of experience well beyond my own, that I will have the chance to work with on the current board and the association members.
Like the other board members, we all have roles and positions that take up way too much time already and I’m always feeling like my life work balance is swayed to work more than is probably seen as healthy. But this is an industry I am passionate about, I love my career and the brand I work for, and like all members I want to ensure its livelihood and future success. So I thought why not!
With the changes the SBIA Board consists now of:
President– Anthony ‘Macka’ Wilson, Saltwater Wine | Stormriders NSW
Vice President – Paul Burdekin, Billabong Group
Secretary Treasurer – Damian Campbell, Luxottica
Board Member – Mark Hudson, Dragon
Board Member – Jo Branch, Quiksliver / Roxy / DC
Board Member – Andy Ireland, Saltbush Surf
Board Member – Glenn Callegari, Hillzeez
Board Member– Neil Ritchie, Alto Sports
Independent Board Member – Russell Zimmerman, Australian Retailers Association
Executive Officer– Dylan Beach