Welcome to Episode 01 of the first Light Surf Club Spotlight Sessions. I'm here with Jon Faure, owner and founder of The Board Source located in North County, San Diego – which we're sitting in his shop right now. Many of you probably have been to their shop in Carlsbad and checked out the vast selection of new and used boards or have seen them online. The Board Source inadvertently started a little over eight years ago out of Jon's garage and now has grown into one of the largest surfboard retailers in all of Southern California. I'm here to sit down with Jon and hear a little bit more about his story and dig into his story on how he started The Board Source.
Q. So you were born and raised in North County, San Diego. Tell us a little bit about those early days here.
Jon - I grew up in Leucadia and I grew up being outside. I skateboarded, rode bicycles, and BMX raced motocross professionally. Early teens started surfing and just always loved an active life. Getting out outside and playing. I always like playing. It's like I still do. Ride bikes with my son, surf with my son and my daughter - being outside. I love it.
Q. What do you think led you to get into action sports and surfing specifically
Jon - Oh, I don't know. I've always been kind of an adrenaline junkie. And as a kid, you know, I liked competing in different things. Surfing. I've kind of settled into surfing. You know, I have a lot of background in BMX bikes and motocross and things like that, but I found myself getting injured so much where I can surf every day and my body holds up, I can keep going.
Q. You didn't initially go to work in the surf industry. Tell us a little bit about your path into the surf industry.
Jon - I mean, I surfed a lot when I was younger, and then when I started a family I didn’t Surf as much, and kind of a lot of years went by of not surfing. And then I ended up in a situation. I won't go into the details, but financially, some things happened. Where I ended up having to move into my parent’s house. That's how financially broke I was. It was back in Leucadia where I grew up and I wanted to start surfing more. So being broke, I didn't go out and buy expensive surfboards, and so I'd go on Craigslist, buy a board, and surf it. I was really surprised after not surfing very much for a lot of years, it was like everything came back really quickly. I was thankful that I could still surf.
So I quickly became addicted to surfing again. And so I was experimenting with different boards, trying new things, and since I couldn't afford boards, I would find a deal on Craigslist. Try it. If I liked it, I'd surf it for a while. If I didn't like it, I would just resell it on Craigslist. At the time I was trying a lot of different boards. I'd buy something and I found out when I resold it, I made a couple, and then I started kind of seeing deals where I go, I can buy that board and resell it. So I started buying boards on Craigslist specifically to resell to help fund my surfing. And actually, even before that, I used to go to garage sales. I would go hunt all the garage sales and find out which ones had surfboards and buy garage sale boards really cheap, fix them up, and resell them. And this was all in my parent’s garage. I knew how to do ding repair and clean boards and all that kind of stuff. So I would buy these boards, and resell them. Next thing I know, it's like I'm actually kind of making some money doing this. And people were stoked because it was like people hate selling their boards.
So I started advertising (this was solely on Craigslist) that I buy boards and people can trade in boards for other boards. All these people that hated dealing with selling their boards would come to me and sell me their boards. Of course, they understood I needed to make a profit. And they appreciated it. And so slowly over time, whatever little bit of money I made on the boards, I would reinvest to buy more boards. And so I think that's one of the things that kind of blows my mind about this business, and where it is now is like, it's not like I had any money to start it.
And the other thing is, as the business grew and developed, I kind of realized, "Oh, I can actually do this as a business." I didn't intend to start this. I didn't have this great idea. I'm going to start the board source. It's like, No, I just flip and boards in my garage. And in the meantime, I got to try a ton of cool boards. I met a lot of cool people. A lot of my knowledge of surfboards and stuff was just from conversations I had with people, and everybody knew something about surfboards that I didn't know about different shapers or surf history and stuff. I spent every day in my parent’s garage talking to cool people - people that seemed to really appreciate what I was doing. So I thought, let me keep going here.
Q. Let's dive in a little bit more on the early, early days. What, sort of boards were you looking for in those days?
Jon - Boards I wanted to ride, boards I knew would be easy to resell, or things that were popular. Over time I kind of realized what sells and what doesn't sell. At the time, I was riding a lot of shortboards, so I was buying boards that I wanted to surf or buying boards I knew the most about because if I knew about them, they were easier to sell to other people.
But there was also different boards I knew would be easy to resell, like different entry level boards, fun boards, and longboards. Then over time I got more in tune with the super high-end boards, and what boards are in demand. So if I had an opportunity to buy one of those boards that I knew was in demand, I would definitely jump on it because over time, I just kind of was able to figure that out. The more boards you sell and the more people you talk to, the more you realize what people really like and want to have.
Q. What led you to move beyond Craigslist and create a website?
Jon - Two things happen. Number one, Craigslist started kind of started to moderate. Like I would get posts deleted all the time. Not sure what was going on but some people might have complained because I was selling a lot of boards on Craigslist. Some people might not have liked that. So I started having problems with being able to post all my inventory. I was fitting upwards of 100 boards or so in my garage. Maybe more. I'm not sure. I got real creative on how to fit all these boards in the garage. As I’m sure many of you have seen. I still run into people these days who say, “I bought boards from you back then.” I had all these creative ways to stuff all these boards into the garage.
But so two things happened. I started having trouble with my postings and not being able to advertise because without being able to advertise, I couldn't keep going. So that's when I launched the website and the way I came up with the name The Board Source, I was over visiting my daughter in Hawaii and I was in a bathroom somewhere, and there was this little sticker on the wall that said “The Board Dude”. And I go, Huh, Board Dude. I don't want that. Someone else already took that. But I came up with the name The Board Source. And that's when I launched a website, so that way I can control being able to advertise everything.
Q. How much time passed before you started a website?
Jon - It's kind of a blur because like I said, it wasn’t like I had a day where I said, I want to start this business. It's like all of a sudden I realized I had a business and I needed to keep it going and had all of this momentum where it was getting to the point. I was selling around 100 boards a month out of the garage. And then the neighbors started complaining because I'm having people constantly coming to my parents' house to buy boards. I'm not sure who complained, but someone did. So the city of Encinitas cracked down saying, you're not supposed to run a retail business out of your garage.
Okay. I guess I didn't know that. I’m just flipping boards here. So at that point, I realized that this is what I’m going to do. I never wanted to go, like, the traditional surf shop way with a retail location with a lot of foot traffic. At the time I sold all my boards by appointment. I didn't want people to just drop by the house. So then I started to think, I need a space. So I go find a warehouse. It was hard in the beginning. Warehouse space is huge and expensive, and I was trying to find a small warehouse. So I managed to find a small warehouse in the same building I’m in today, and it was 900 square feet. I moved all my boards into here, and set it up with racks and stuff. So I started selling boards out of a warehouse. I still did it by appointment. I didn't have regular hours, and it was primarily used boards at the time.
Q. At this point, were you fully invested in getting The Board Source going or were you still looking at other jobs?
Jon - No, it was very profitable. So I was like, I'm going to keep this going. But one of the funny things was people asked me what I did, and I said II flip surfboards. But then one day it kind of dawned on me. It was a couple of years in and I don't know how many boards we were moving out of here, and I realized, “Ooh, I own a surf shop now.” It kind of dawned on me. It's like it's not just flipping boards. I actually have a business. I thought, okay, let's keep this going.
Q. How did you go about marketing?
Jon - It wasn't necessarily the marketing. I kind of looked at things like in order for people to come buy a board, they needed information about that board. So when I started on Craigslist, I'd try to be very complete and detailed on that board because I didn't want people calling and asking a bunch of questions or emails or texting a bunch of questions. I wanted most of the questions already answered there. So my goal was to get people to just call saying, “Hey, I want to come buy that board”, and not have to have a whole bunch of back and forth. And I carried that over to the website. One of the things that I think is kind of unique that not very many companies do, is basically every board we have in our inventory is on the website. And we update it constantly. So keeping information accurate was part of it and making it easy for the person to know if it's the board they want.
But also something I implemented very, very early was because I had sold real estate for 20 years, I knew customer service, I knew sales, I knew how to pretend to be professional. So customer service became the highlight of my business where the board buying experience for people was very pleasurable. People enjoyed it. If someone came to buy a board and I didn't think it was the right board for them, I would talk them out of it and try to talk them into what I thought would be the right board.
So the customer service and making sure people’s buying experience was really positive and they bought the right board - it all became word of mouth. I actually did zero advertising. I didn't even do Instagram at first because we were growing so fast. I couldn't handle the growth. It was like if they started advertising then I'm going to be completely overwhelmed. So it wasn't really the marketing. It was more of the board buying experience for people and people enjoyed it. People would just get excited and say, “Let's go, let's go see what Jon has.”
When I first started, I had an email address, I Buy Surf at Gmail. So that was the original name, I Buy Surf. But then when I got a website, I told myself, I’ve got to come up with a better name.
Q. At what point did you feel like you needed extra help to run the business?
Jon - There was a time the business was growing so fast and I was a one-man show. I had hired a kid to clean boards for me. But that was it. I did everything and I was probably working 70 hours a week between photographing boards and appointments. I took appointments any time. it's like all day, I didn't have hours. I saw what was making it successful was the board buying experience for people and the professionalism and things like that. So I thought, “Where am I going to find somebody that can do it the same way I want it done?” And then I met a guy named Kevin Kosha and he was the first guy I hired. Kevin is a surf industry guy, been around a long time. The other issue I had was that I've never been a business owner so it's like, I have this business that's growing so fast, but I didn't know how to manage it. So when Kevin came in, that was the first real big change because he’s a total pro, knows surfboards, knows how to scale a business and he's the one that really helped me take this - whatever it was - and turn it into a real business. At that time I had something like two, three, 400 boards in our space and Kevin asked, “Do you have any spreadsheets or anything like this? How much did you pay for this board? How are you going to keep track of all this?” And I responded, “Well, I just have that in my head.” It's like, I just remember I paid $300 for that board. So he started implementing tracking and everything. I remember the first time he showed up, I had worked ten plus hours that day and was exhausted. I had three more appointments in the evening. So I asked Kevin if he’d take those appointments for me. So he texts me afterwards. We usually try to schedule them like half an hour apart, and he texted me saying, “All three people bought boards. That was easy.” It was different because with it being appointment only (we have regular hours now) if people showed up they usually bought a board. It was a very high close rate. Whatever formula I came up with for this, it seemed to be working and people appreciated it.
Q. Everyone that comes here knows that your prices are hard to beat. How do you keep your prices so low?
Jon - It comes to our used boards. We have about 50/50 used boards to new boards now. So when it comes to our used boards, I know if I price them too high, I'm just going to be stuck with them. So when people come in to sell us boards, we have to buy them at a price that I know I can resell them. I don't want to be sitting on inventory for too long. We do have a lot of new boards in here now. A lot of times I'll buy those in bulk deals so I can get a better discount. Some companies have boards that have blemishes, so sometimes I'll buy up to like 50 of those at a time. So that helps me keep prices down. And, plus I'm in a warehouse, so I don't have quite the overhead like regular retail locations have.
It's kind of surprising sometimes when I'll scroll on other websites. I’m like, “Wow, that board sells new for that much?”. Sometimes I even have brands approach me and want to sell their boards here, but if I put these in here at this price, it's going to be hard for people to want to buy them when there are so many other boards for a lot less money. Keeping prices down and making it affordable is definitely a key part of this business. Another key is being able to buy used. You can have a $1,500 surfboard that's been surfed two or three times and I can get it for a thousand bucks, nine or 800 bucks. And when it comes to our used boards, we always focused on high-quality used. Not beaters.
Q. Are you still going to garage sales or buying boards off Craigslist?
Jon - No more garage sales. I used to buy all the boards off Craigslist. I would contact people and go buy them, but people know now I buy boards. Though it gets a little difficult at times because it's so easy for people to come in here, sell me some board, and leave with cash. So we, we actually have to turn away a lot of boards because it's either too hard to sell or we just can't fit them. Right now, with our inventory between the showroom and our processing area, we probably have 750 boards and that is max. All of our racks are full here and all of our racks are full in our processing area.
The first warehouse space I moved into next door, we still use that for shooting all the photos, cleaning boards, and doing board repairs. So if someone brings us a board that has a ding, we're always going to make sure it's repaired and watertight before we resell it. It went from a one-man show to I got quite an awesome team now.
Q. How many people do you have on your team?
Jon - Six, and they all have different responsibilities. I still have a couple of young guys that come and clean boards and then I have four main people. I have JP St. Pierre from Surfy Surfy. He's a local legend. The dude's a surfing encyclopedia. If I ever have a question about anything, he knows the answer. And I love having that guy here. He had a very successful surf shop in Leucadia and the SurfySurfy brand is very successful. And so being able to get him in here was huge for me. He does all my Instagram and marketing. He also handles our accessory department. Additionally, I have Tyler, Neal on the team, He’s very experienced in retail sales and a very good surfer and another surfboard nerd. After Kevin, who's moved on to do other things, JP came first, then I brought in Tyler. After that, I brought in Mike and Ashleigh Yob, husband and wife duo. Mike does ding repair and quality control. Ashley does the website and, and our shipping department. But all of them still do sales.
I was at a point a long time ago where I didn't think I'd ever find anybody that would do it the way I wanted it done, but now I have this crew of people that do it better than me. Honestly, they crush it. It's like I try not to get in their way because they are all enjoying what they do and this business. I have this team of people that have helped me take this business to the next level.
Q. So you're not working 70 hours a week anymore?
Jon - No, I don't. I'm still very involved, but yeah, it's now how it used to be, that's for sure. You know, I can go on a surf trip with my girlfriend, and I don't receive one phone call from anybody with questions because they all know how to run this business better than I do, and I appreciate them so much. They've really been able to take this business to a level I never thought possible.
Q. If you could tell yourself eight or nine years ago that you'd be in this position you're in now, like, would you believe it?
Jon - I wouldn't believe it. I still love to surf every day, so that was always a priority for me. \It was funny when I used to do the appointments, before we had regular open hours, I would always schedule my appointments around surfing. I’d say, “I'm sorry I can't meet you then, I'll be surfing.” It's kind of the luxury of the business.
Q. Speaking of surfing, I know you're an avid First Light surfer.
Jon - Yeah, I love surfing early. I surf with my two kids, Ashley and Austin, and my girlfriend Kira. We meet up first thing in the morning, usually in the dark, and a lot of times you're always there. And so, yeah, I love surfing early because it sets up my day. Sometimes if I wait, like, say I can surf later, sometimes I'll get busy and I won't go surfing or it’ll get blown out or something. So if I get up every morning and surf early, I get it done. I feel good. I get my exercise, and then if I have time later on in the afternoon, I’ll surf twice.
Q. What sets The Board Source apart from other surf retailers?
Jon - I would say the inventory. We have a very large amount of inventory, and all of our focus is on surfboards. I don't know how we compare to other surf shops, but I know we have a pretty, pretty big volume of surfboards to choose from. The customer service also sets us apart. I'm not saying customers don't get that at other surf shops, but it's always been a priority for us. Everybody that comes here seems to really appreciate it. I kind of feed off that.
I sold real estate for 20 years. It was stressful. I don't recommend it, but I enjoyed it at the time because that's what I was doing. But buying a house is stressful. When people come in to buy a surfboard, they're stoked when they leave with that new surfboard. I always felt kind of disappointed if I didn't have the right board for them. If they showed up to buy a board and I didn't have the right board for them, I felt like I totally bummed them out. It's like I ruined their day. I don’t anyone to say, “I wanted to buy a board and Jon didn't have it.” It's fun to buy a surfboard. I still get excited about a new surfboard, you know. So being able to share that with people and see people's experience as they came in and left with the new board, it was energizing. It was fun, it was exciting. It was stress free. It's not like I'm a dentist. People don't want to go to the dentist, you know. You need to, but it's not like when you go to buy a board. They're stoked when they leave. I’ll even see them out in the water surfing. Then customers come back over and over again. People come in and say, “Oh, my friend told me about this place. I didn't even know it was here.” We're kind of hidden in a warehouse. Still, not everybody knows we're here. It's all been word of mouth, really.
Q. What’s the future of The Board Source look like? Do you have some goals in mind for the next 5- 10 years?
Jon - It's grown so fast, so it’s mainly just refining what we're doing. It annoys me if I bought a board a year ago and it's still here. It’s like, I don't want to buy that board again you know? So refining our inventory. I want our inventory to be all boards that move fairly quickly and are the boards people want. I got to keep up with whatever certain trends are going on. Recognize what's popular right now. The other thing we're really trying to build is our online presence and our ability to ship boards - East Coast, Hawaii, and Northern California. We're figuring it out. Prices for shipping are still a little high, but I think we're starting to make some breakthroughs on that because we want to make it affordable.
Another goal is building our accessory department. We just did surfboards for a long time, but now I like to have every possible fin out there, tractions, leashes. We're also talking about doing a board bag rental program. When people need travel bags it’s like 400 bucks to buy a travel bag to go on a surf trip. So that’s why we're talking about possibly doing a board bag rental set up for our customers just to make it affordable and easy. Yeah, so I don't know, it's growing at a pretty rapid pace. I enjoy it a lot more, especially with the crew I have. It was getting pretty exhausting for a while there but, I feel this sense of relief because I feel like I just got this crew of people that run this place so well. I couldn't be more stoked. My team is good. They all know more than I do.
Q. So this is the third building that you've moved into. Do you see yourself growing into an even bigger warehouse space?
Jon - I don't know. People ask if we want to start a second location. I really don't know. And we still are constantly struggling with having too many boards and not enough space. So we'll see what happens. Not sure. I just love our location here. Finding a bigger space and moving - moving is no fun.
Q. As a successful business owner, do you have any advice or tips for someone who might be looking into starting a business of their own?
Jon - It’s hard to think of myself that way because I feel like I've just surrounded myself with really awesome people that have helped me get to where I'm at. I started with an idea and it was doing something I loved so obviously enjoying your work is a big plus. You got to work and it’s nice if you can enjoy it. I get a tremendous sense of fulfillment from this because I see how many people are getting stoked by the board they bought. So doing something you love, something you're passionate about, and something there's a market for. I can't say I had this master plan, but it has worked. I kind of love where it's going.
Visit The Board Source online here: www.theboardsource.com
Special Thanks to Jon Faure and Austin Faure.
*This blog was edited from the original audio to be better suited for this format.