Occasionally our chatty nature takes us off on undercover missions. One such mission has been helping a new publication by the name of Manufacture. In an effort to draw attention to their excellent insight, we’ve been allowed exclusive permission to share this excellent interview with you.
Cold water surfing brand Finisterre is a specialist in its field. Glenn Kitson went to see them, had a surfing lesson (in February) and once he’d stopped shivering he had a chat with Ernie Capbert, Marketing Director for Finisterre.
For the full version of this, head over to the Manufacture website.
GLENN KITSON: If you’ll pardon the obvious pun, Finisterre is a small fish in a big pond. Can you bring us up to speed with what the brand stands for?
ERNIE CAPBERT: When we began the brand there was complacency within the action sports industry, our particular market being surf specific. We didn’t feel there were any companies designing good technical products that would allow surfers to access cold-water surf spots, it was all geared to a different environment because a lot of the action sports companies were investing in product for the equatorial regions. We realised that there was a gap in the market.
GK: Prior to you spotting this gap, what was the norm for cold-water surfing?
EC: There would be people at the WQS (World Qualifying Series) wearing cotton t-shirts sitting waiting for their heats in all sorts of conditions. It didn’t seem right, so we wanted to design something much more technical for them. We also thought there must be a customer out there who desires subtly branded surf products that are also technically advanced and will allow access to cold-water spots. Geographically speaking there are more cold-water surf spots than there are warm water surf spots so we knew demand for the right product existed, even if the marketplace didn’t know it yet.
GK: So how did you set out to meet that demand? Traditionally,smaller brands tend to get knocked about a bit in a competitive marketplace.
EC: When we started we had very little budget but there was a great desire to challenge the big companies by creating good product, inspiring people and inspiring environments. We got burnt in our first year with manufacturing product abroad; this is still a problem today. We had to pull back and reduce our supply chain and produce in Europe.
After initial setbacks, we made some changes and within a year, this concept of producing for cold-water surf began to catch on with surfers that were looking for quality product.
GK: How did you tell people about yourself though? Presumably at the start all efforts went into the product rather than marketing?
EC: There wasn’t much advertising, there was no marketing as such, and all we could do was talk about the fact that there was this gap in the market. We pursued this quite subtly, talking about it to the right people, getting the right coverage. We were featured in Monocle magazine and started to gather attention. It grew from there.
Now we are at a point where we’ve gone in a few different directions but at the heart of Finisterre is making good technical product that opens up these cold-water surfing spots.
GK: What attracts you personally to cold-water surfing?
EC: Look, it’s much easier to surf in board shorts or go to a warm area and surf but the moment you start getting cold, harsh elements and remote locations it becomes much more about solitude and as a surfer, you crave solitude. For example if it’s a warm area and there are loads of airports, lots of air planes flying in to Oz or Bali the crowds are huge, people queuing up to score waves.
When it’s just you and a couple of mates out there with nobody around and you’re caning right handers (waves) it’s awesome. You start to pull in crowds, and then comes the animosity, a bit of tension, then a bit of ‘localism’ it quickly takes the fun out of the sport.
So for me, the biggest thing is the solitude. It’s about travelling further, getting into extreme situations that aren’t very comfortable. Maybe if you were to smack your head on a reef or something, you may be half an hour to forty-five minutes away from anywhere. Or it could be snowing but you get in and find the perfect peak. You’ve got to work a little harder for it but as a result the gains are far greater.
GK: As such a niche brand what sort of difficulties do you come up against?
EC: In terms of branding it can be difficult, as we aren’t latching onto an already established market. Surfing in general is of course established and if we wanted to make this easy we would just make board shorts or ‘Aloha’ graphic t-shirts. If we wanted to be straightforward about it all our marketing would involve scantily clad women and we would become the stereotypical ‘surf brand’.
It’s not where we personally are coming from though. We are trying to communicate our story, romanticising the travel and the remoteness. For us it’s about attempting to surf a peak that nobody has surfed before. But yes, in terms of branding this can be difficult as we are trying to pioneer a new category.
It’s like the MP3 player, the technology for them had been around since 1983 by some German dude and then all of a sudden Apple came along and said ‘lets call it an iPod?’ Lots of people had MP3 players but it was only until the iPod came along that they really became defined. We think it’s the same with cold-water surfing.
Everybody knows about surfing but defining and communicating the message of cold-water surfing can be difficult. But then, if we do it right and we do it properly we will be known as the first to the market with this. That motivates us.
GK: How has the recession affected Finisterre? It can’t be the best time to try and establish a new concept.
EC: We are a very small company and when you are doing one thing and trying to do it well it can be difficult. The recession has brought difficulties. As I said, some guys tried to invest in us and bring in some equity. Things didn’t work out, which in the end turned out to be a good thing. They wanted to pull us into a lot of different directions.
I’m a sucker for branding and I’m a sucker for specialising and doing one thing and doing it very well. It’s about getting that focused message out there and we were doing that four years ago before the recession struck and these guys came on board (let’s call them ‘the bad guys’). They were no good for us; they wanted Finisterre to be everything to everyone, a running brand, a yoga brand and whatever was the ‘next big thing’. They’d tell us “You’re not a specialist, you’re making product you’ve never made before and there’s an economic downturn.” It didn’t leave us in a very good position. So we’ve had the struggles and we’ve seen how bad decisions can make things even more difficult.
GK: So, lessons learnt, how do you see Finisterre growing?
EC: I would love to see Finisterre being known as the de facto cold water surf company. I want to bring it right back around and concentrate on the UK and then build from there but there’s a lot of work to be done. I’d like to see us romanticising the life of the cold-water surfer and carry on making product that makes those cold-water spots accessible and then roll it out globally. I’d like Finisterre to be seen as a specialist niche brand with a global
For the full works and plenty of other proper insightful stuff, head to Manufacture.