Ride that Wave with Store Your Board’s Josh Gordon
One of the biggest drawbacks to getting involved with certain sports is the hassle of storing the equipment. Think about surfing, for example – where the heck are you going to keep that giant board? Especially if you happen to live in an apartment or small space.
Virginia-based online retailer Store Your Board was founded in 2009 by Josh Gordon, a skier/boarder/stand-up paddleboarder frustrated by the lack of home storage options. Over the past 7 years, Store Your Board has enjoyed escalating year-over-year growth and is uniquely poised to capture a previously ignored corner of the outdoor sports world. Josh has managed to turn his hobby and passion into a pretty successful small business story – hear more about his journey below!
Tell us about your business in as much detail as you can. What is it that you do and who are your customers?
At its core, Store Your Board is a specialty business. From surf to slopes, SYB offers a broad range of exterior and interior storage solutions and accessories for outdoor sports enthusiasts. We’re an online retailer specializing in equipment storage racks for the outdoor community. We focus on building and sourcing the best storage solutions for your board, bike, skis, kayak, etc. The funny thing—and really this
came as a bit of a surprise even to me—is that this “niche” market is pretty big. Our numbers are proving that. The pool of potential customers is huge; our challenge—this is what gets me going in the morning—is figuring out how to reach and educate as many of those future customers as we possibly can.
Who are our customers? I’ll direct you to myself, circa 7 years ago. In 2009, I was employed as an engineer from Monday to Friday. The weekends were always jammed with wakeboarding in the summer and ski trips in the winter. I’d throw in some paddling, biking, and hiking for good measure. Before long, my townhouse was nearly overrun with the tools of the trades. So, I started scouring the internet for storage options and quickly grew frustrated. The big players—REI, Cabela’s, EMS—had a rack or two available, but certainly nothing comprehensive. Storage was clearly an afterthought. So, being an engineer, I built my own—the Scorpion Wall Rack—and a business was born.
Thousands of products and tens of thousands of customers later, we offer a broad range of storage solutions for nearly every outdoor adventure sport. I built a company to solve a problem for the former me. In doing so, I’m thrilled that SYB has helped thousands of others find exactly what they’re looking for. We offer incredibly simple, yet effective garage storage systems that will keep your boards and gear secure and out of the way for under $20. Then we have more expensive options that will turn that same board into a beautiful piece of wall art in your living room. We’re adding products every day to ensure that every single boarder, skier, paddler, and cyclist can find something that works for them.
What made you choose this path? Is it a family legacy or are you a pioneer? Did you go to school for it or are you learning as you go?
Entrepreneurial blood is in me, though I’m not exactly sure where it comes from. It’s part of my personality. I love the risk/reward that comes with rolling the dice on myself and I’m introspective enough to admit that my potential is not maximized in an environment where I’m beholden to larger, disconnected interests.
There’s no specific school or background that could have prepared me to run SYB. Instead, I like to think that every challenge helped prepare me to face the next. I majored in engineering at Lafayette College in Pennsylvania and I loved it. It taught me the process and skills of effective problem solving. I also never would have had the confidence to build my first wakeboard rack without that background. Similarly, before SYB I wouldn’t have been able to tell you how to negotiate exclusive rights to a product or leverage sales against shipping costs. There are thousands of little details that I had to learn over a finite period of time. But, I used my previous experience to take baby steps. Over 1, 2 …7 years those baby steps collectively produce huge leaps. I think that’s the essence of entrepreneurship and that is what I love. Always improving, always building.
They say that to be successful you have to be passionate, so share what drives you every day. Why do you love what you do?
When I built my first rack, created the website, and launched the website, I was incredibly excited about inserting myself and my business into an industry I love. Boarding, paddling, skiing; SYB seemed like an incredible way to transfer some part of my weekend to the workplace.
Seven years later, being a part of the outdoor adventure sports industry still excites me, but I’m equally driven by the business we’ve grown. Purchasing the rights to a new product, designing a new rack, or adding a new member to our fulfillment team now amp me up as much as getting out on the water. It may sound silly, but a great customer review will make my day.
Has it been smooth sailing or have you overcome adversity to get where you are?
I don’t think you can grow a business out of its infancy without overcoming adversity. Every single day we face multiple challenges—and occasionally they’re big ones. That said, we’ve had more success than failure and I believe we have a really strong team in place that will allow us to clear future hurdles.
Our biggest challenge is the allocation of resources. The sheer number of growth opportunities can be overwhelming—choosing the right direction is really crucial for a company of SYB’s size.
What do you do with your time off? Are you familiar with that concept?
I live a pretty atypical schedule. Running SYB is definitely not a 9-5 job, but I wouldn’t want it any other way. If the question is one of hours, I’ll tell you that I definitely work more now than I did at my previous corporate job. But, in many ways, SYB is not just a job, it’s a hobby and it’s my passion. For me, that means inspiration will occasionally strike at 7 o’clock Saturday night. Other times, I might feel drained after a long morning of meetings—in which case, I often choose to recharge with a midday hike or a few hours on my boat. As we grow, I’m discovering more flexibility to take an afternoon, a day, or a week off. Of course, the more I step away, the more I’m thinking about SYB. At this point, the issue really isn’t that I can’t step away, it’s that I don’t want to.
I think that I’m like the majority of our customers when I’m away from the business. I’m big into wakeboarding, stand-up paddling, and skiing. If I can combine travel with those pursuits, all the better. The perfect day? One on the slopes with a few good friends, followed by a night of good food and drinks.
This is the age of the social network. How important is social media to your business and how do you make it work?
In the traditional social arenas—Facebook, Twitter, Instagram—we definitely have room for improvement. Scrolling through my personal feeds and email blasts, I’m feeling constantly bombarded by meticulously packaged and edited snapshots. If we’re going to ask for 5 or 10 seconds of a customer’s time, I want that time to be valuable. How can we be inspiring or helpfully informative? That’s what we’re now figuring out.
Our strongest social media efforts are all driven through our website. We’ve actually been very successful at engaging customers through the site, something I take great pride in. For example, our head developer, Mike, led an effort to integrate a completely custom review/FAQ system directly into our existing site. It’s now incredibly easy for customers to post reviews, ask questions, and share photos directly on our product pages. We recently won a major innovation award from our host platform, Big Commerce, for this effort. More importantly, our customers have really appreciated the addition. Their engagement has helped drive our growth to new levels. Think about it—30 customer reviews coupled with constantly updated FAQs from our customer service team are going to help future customers far more than a typical social post.
We have focused the past year on growing our YouTube channel. At this point, our videos are mainly product descriptions and we have received many compliments from customers about how helpful they have been. Helping the customer is a big goal for us in all aspects of our business, including “social”.
How are you involved in your community? What does supporting local mean to you?
Every day, we’re pushing to be better. It’s a core value that sounds so obvious, but identifying and implementing “better” can sometimes be a real challenge. I have dozens—maybe hundreds—of little improvements that when implemented will drive us forward another inch or another mile. How can we optimize warehouse space, better control cash flow, better describe and display product?
Along those lines, a huge consideration is how can we be a better community member? How can we be stewards of a sustainable company that is larger than any individual? In our immediate locality—Charlottesville, Virginia—we want to be an employer that each employee can be proud to work for. How can we increase workplace flexibility, raise pay, and create an engaged, driven, and fun workplace? These are questions we’re constantly asking, then answering. I think the really important element in this formula is to never stop asking the questions. It feels great to give a deserved raise, but we can’t look at that raise as the end game. The next, immediate question should be: how can we further educate and challenge that employee in a way that will lead them to greater future skills, knowledge, and compensation?
Another consideration of “local” is simply those individuals and companies SYB immediately touches. We source product from dozens of individuals, many of whom build one product, often out of their garage or basement. For a large number of these individuals, SYB is by far their largest customer. It feels great to pay fairly and bring business to individual craftsmen and women, whether they’re here in Virginia or operating from Michigan or California. It’s a local-in-spirit, separated-by-distance mentality that is increasingly driving the e-commerce of today and the future. It’s pretty cool to directly support American jobs and manufacturing in such an evolved way.
Lastly, outreach in the Charlottesville community is something I pursue personally. The University of Virginia is only a few miles from our office and warehouse. In the past, I’ve been involved with different business forums and I’m very interested in carving out more opportunities to engage university students and other business-minded people. I am a mentor for the iLab, which is the start-up incubator that the University of Virginia’s business school, Darden, runs. In the next year or two, I can envision a program or two that will bring SYB into classrooms and students into our offices. That’s a mutually beneficial partnership that I’d like to develop.
What does the future look like for you and your business?
This is a tipping point year for us. SYB is now large enough to become the go-to site for all adventure sports equipment storage solutions and we have the scalability to satisfy these markets. In the last year, we’ve really seen a weekend warrior progression from “I’ll just throw this board in the corner” to “I know there’s a better place to put this.” That’s great for us.
We’ve outgrown our first warehouse, so a move this spring will be a big highlight. We’ve also outgrown some of the methodologies that a small shop can get by on. As a result, our team will definitely grow this year—possibly even doubling in size. We’ll have increased capacity to improve all areas of the business; our online store, customer service, fulfillment, marketing, and product design.
So, yes, a lot is happening this year. There will be many changes and a lot of growth, but we’ll still fall back on that improvement mentality. What can we do better today, this week, this month?
Do you have any advice for aspiring business owners just starting out?
Look for a “problem” or “area of friction” in an area you are passionate about. For me, that is board sports and the outdoors, but it could be anything from cooking to race car driving. As an enthusiast, you should be able to spot these areas for improvement. Once you come up with an idea, commit to solving it and drive hard to execute on your idea. Many people have ideas but very few successfully execute on them. Be the one who does!