Interview by Sophie Cottrell
Few people have the courage to step out into the unknown with something that they passionately believe in. In all actuality, 95% of us have ideas that we never put into action for various reasons. Mark Ranucci is not one of those people, in fact, he is a big supporter of those who are stepping out in their passion. He started Surf Collective, an online hub for Australian independent surf brands who are local companies creating incredible products. This platform is making waves (quite literally) in the industry and we took the time to hear from Mark about the heart and story behind this online store.
Mark, we are so excited to hear your story. Tell us about yourself and your journey. Where did you grow up and what got you to where you are today.
Thanks Sophie for taking the time for a chat.
My pre-teen age years was a life in Melbourne with a couple of years in Holland, and then at 12 we moved to Sydney. Was so happy about getting in some sunshine! Even though we lived on the North Shore, Mum used to take us to the beach every weekend and then as soon as I was old enough to leave home I moved down to the Northern Beaches where I have been ever since. First in Manly for many years and now up in Bilgola.
Never really knowing what I wanted to do when growing up I had never really had a career that was enjoyable. That had to change at some point, most probably as my wife was sick of me whinging about work, so I needed to start something that I was very passionate about, and that’s what got me to where I am now.
Having an idea and then actually executing are two very different things. What made you actually put it into action? Is there anything that you would change about the way you started?
I have always been anti-big brand. Probably having a Dad that would always have a go at me about providing free advertising for the big brands by wearing their badged clothing. It all made sense and I quickly avoided the big brands like the plague! So after our annual holiday in Byron Bay 2 years ago it occurred to me that most surf shops just had all the same stuff, but when you go to places like the Byron Markets there were lots of great small brands giving it a go. That was my Ahah moment! Why not put them all in one place, tell their story and promote them. This would also make it easy for conscious consumers that were interested in supporting small independent businesses by giving them one place to shop, with lots of choice.
I really just fell in love with the whole idea of being able to help these small businesses and was completely compelled to start Surf Collective. I was probably pretty naïve when I started the business. I just grabbed my brother and we started visiting some small businesses to see what they thought of our idea and if they would join up. The reception we received was very positive, so we launched our site with 12 small brands. We now have over 60 small brands and a great range from surf hardware, clothing, jewelry, surf art etc.
I’m really not sure I would change anything about how I started. Some might say I should have taken my time a bit more, but I don’t regret just jumping in head first. I think sometimes that’s the best thing to do.
What is your vision for the store and where do you see it in a few years?
Most of the small brands we have are just people doing what they love on a part-time basis. I really hope that we can give them enough of a leg up so that they can all be doing it full time. That would be really satisfying.
We also hope that by providing a platform for people to sell their products that we give some people the impetus to give it a go!
We have also started a High School Business program with our Local Barrenjoey High School where we sat down with the School Principal to see if we could try and bring a subject to life for the students. So this year, the Year 10 Business studies course has been adapted so that their learning about marketing, business plans, branding etc. all revolves around a surf product that they have to come up with. We have put together a panel from our brands to help the kids and put some prize money up for a winner so that they can actually make the product and then sell it on our site. Hopefully this will really help the kids in their learning, but may also give someone something to go on with after leaving school….who knows, but it’s certainly going to be exciting. This will be an ongoing program and we will look at doing it in other schools.
Sorry, got a bit side-tracked there…..I guess our main goal in the next few years is to try and crack the northern hemisphere market. Mainly Europe, USA and Japan. This is the only way our small brands will be able to have a year round business. Luckily for us, Australian Surf Culture is so well regarded that we hope we will be able to leverage off this to create the demand we need. Logistically it’s going to be interesting but we will certainly give it our best go!
What would you say your biggest challenges and rewards are in what you do?
Our biggest challenge is really just letting more and more people know about what we are doing. We think people are really becoming more and more conscious about who and what they support. You can see this by how well Farmers Markets are going these days. We just need to be able to tell as many people that we can that there is an alternative when buying surf wear and that they can also support the artisan or small business owner there.
The rewards are the most sincere thanks we get from our small brands, and new brands joining up. It’s great to let them know that they are now part of a movement of small brands and that they are not alone, and it’s just wonderful seeing how appreciative these guys are. It really makes it all worth it, but at the same time gives me a bit of pressure to make sure I do the best job I possibly can.
Choosing a name can be one the hardest parts of a start-up. Where did the name come from?
I guess a name really needs to quickly give a sense of what something is, so for me it really came very quickly. We were looking at putting together a collective of small surf brands, so Surf Collective sounded good…..and luckily when I looked up the company name register it was available and so was the URL…so I grabbed it right away.
What does success look like to you?
Having meaning in what I am doing really feels like success to me. After many years of not enjoying what I was doing and seeing others that really were into what they did day in day out it really made me realize that I could never be happy with my work. So finding something that has meaning and that I am passionate about is fulfilling and to me really is success.
What is it about being a part of the Sydney community that is provoking and exciting?
I am fortunate enough to live at the northern end of the Northern Beaches of Sydney. It’s pretty hopeless if you need to commute to the City, so it’s a real choice to want to live here. With that it tends to attract a lot of creative people, people with their own business that they can do from home or a local office and people that in the whole are very down to earth and not caught up with keeping up with the Jones’s. I think this is a really healthy atmosphere to have your own business as there is always someone to bounce ideas off who understand the whole “small business” mentality. So yes, it really is an exciting part of Sydney to be living in and I’m also hopeful that it will all rub off on our kids and that they might think outside the square when they are thinking about what to do after leaving school.
What are some local favourites that are must visits for anyone visiting?
Well number one of course is The Sneaky Grind Café in Avalon Beach. We have done a collaboration with James and his team there to turn his café into a Surf Shop Café. The locals love it as it has a great vibe with all the surf gear there and they also happen to make the best and most consistent coffee in Avalon!
After breakfast, it’s hard to go past a long lunch at The Newport. Justin Hemmes has done it again and converted the old Newport Arms into a wonderful outdoor pub with great food, a fantastic kids play area and of course it all captures great views of Pittwater.
Then off to dinner at Clareville Kiosk where you will be wondering if you are in Sydney at all. A lovely old house on the shores of Pittwater with some seriously nice food and service. You can’t go wrong.
Where are your top 5 places you want to travel and why?
Since starting Surf Collective I have become very interested to learn more about surf scenes overseas and see how we might be able to enter those markets. The ones that have the most interest for me are Portugal, Spain, France, California & Japan, as well as Cornwall in England. So these places are certainly on the hit list for the next couple of years…..sorry, that’s more than 5!
For the dreamer - For the adventurer