Weaving around industry giants with slick booths, bikini models and other attractions at the Action Sports Retail Trade Expo in January, I found some smaller, up-and-coming companies with promise. These three businesses don't rule the retail market just yet, but they share the roots of many action-sports heavy hitters: small operations and big dreams.
- Day in the sun: After surfer Drew Littlemore got sunburned so badly that his face turned purple, he and brother Douglas, 41, sought a solution. Both had previously used regular sunblock, but found nothing marketed specifically to surfers. Drew, 38, says their Headhunter surfscreen is perfect for intense wave riders and prolonged sun exposure. Within three months of the company's 1996 launch, its original SPF 30 formula was in 150 surf shops. Now in 900 U.S. specialty stores--including sporting goods stores and mall boutiques--and with distribution in several countries popular among surfers, La Jolla, California-based Headhunter projects 2006 sales of nearly $1 million. Expanding beyond sunscreen, Headhunter is moving into men's personal care with cologne, deodorant and more, hoping for high-end department store interest.
- Ride in hand: In an era when trendy bag businesses are almost cliché, New York City-based Beck(y) blazed a new path in 2003, turning recycled skateboards into unique bags and accessories. Customers who purchase new boards often leave their old boards behind; supportive skate shops keep them for Beck Hickey, who pays only shipping costs and donates $3 for each board to charity. Then she creates one-of-a-kind "Sk8bags." "People like the textures and hand-painted colors, so there's appeal on the aesthetic alone. Once they discover it's a skateboard, there's another level of appreciation," says Hickey, 35, who just debuted an iPod case and gym bag. Beck(y) bags are carried by 30 U.S. action sports shops and boutiques, and 2006 sales are projected at less than $1 million. With distribution in Australia, Brazil and Europe, Hickey plans to expand to Canada and Japan. She's also developing a line of traditional fashion accessories, but her creative vibe will undoubtedly keep on rolling.
- Grown-up gear: Skater boys eventually grow up. They might still thrash, but Scot Shandalove knows they and their tastes have matured. Strand Manufacturing, his Hermosa Beach, California-based clothing company, melds the action-sports lifestyle with higher-fashion aesthetics. "It's a wittier, smarter type of brand," says Shandalove, 35. Strand uses detailed designs and appliques mixed with flocking and embellishments, making for visually appealing combinations. Sold in 60 high-end boutiques and skate shops, Strand is also distributed internationally and should approach the $500,000 mark in 2006 sales. A women's line debuting in spring 2007 will initially focus on tops. A men's collection is already available for guys just like Shandalove: "I still roll around on my skateboard daily, but I don't want to be wearing the same tee as the [teenager] down the street."