5 Questions for Reef President Jeff Moore

Riding the waves beyond surf styles, Reef is expanding its product categories and exploring new options for growth.

While the brand, founded in 1984 and owned by VF Corp. since 2005, still positions itself as a premium surf brand, the latest launches mean it is no longer limited to the beach.

“Reef’s core DNA is surf — that’s who we are as a brand — but we’re also reaching an outdoor and fashion consumer who shops at surf boutiques,” said President Jeff Moore, who joined the team in August 2010 after five years at Vans, another VF-owned label. “Our focus is a particular [customer] who is influenced by surf.”

Beyond its signature flip-flops, Reef will launch a men’s-only closed-toe line called Resrv and an offering of premium leather sandals for women this June. And this spring, the brand introduced the Bella Costa collection, featuring flats and espadrilles for women, as well as the Coastal Cruisers sneaker and slip-on styles for men.

“Reef’s core business in the past was dependent on one or two [sandals], and we now have multiple [options],” Moore said, noting that the brand’s sales are up 17 percent for the first quarter, compared with the same period last year. “We pursue our customer based on [analysis], and that’s beginning to resonate with a younger consumer.”

The expanded offerings are available at prime surf shops such as Jack’s Surfboards in Huntington Beach, Calif.; specialty retailers including REI and Journeys; as well as Nordstrom and Reef’s e-commerce site, which was unveiled last July.

And keeping with its surf focus, Reef continues to add new members to its men’s and women’s professional teams, including paddleboard champion Jamie Mitchell and surfer Kai Otton, who both came on board earlier this year. “We went through a list of athletes who best fit [our brand],” said Moore. “A lot of these surfers are leaders in the blogosphere and post webcasts [during competition].”

Here, Moore sounds off on creating a year-round business and the challenges encountered along the way.

Why was moving beyond the surf niche so important?
We want to make sure we’re making the most comfortable product the female and male consumer who travels can depend on to fit [all] their particular needs. We could have the mom who is going on vacation from Florida to California or the hardcore surfer leaving the Los Angeles airport to go to Bali for a month. We’re thinking of the individual who’s traveling, and we want to make sure the product that we build is put through that particular filter.

What challenges have you faced in expanding the brand’s focus?
Once we hit the economic [problems] in 2008, the surf industry was challenged to [entice shoppers to buy]. We needed to align with great partners and find those particular retailers. We’re just as committed [today] to the surf consumer, but we’re [also] asking, “How do we improve our business?”

What changes have you made to keep your offerings relevant each season?
We created a strategy 18 months ago to build a year-round business, so we’re transitioning into the closed-toe market and women’s boots for 2013. We felt the brand had a [broader] reach in [various] categories, and we’re [already] seeing the benefits.

How important is sustainability for Reef?
We have a [company] culture of sustainability, and we have product positioning that is mentioned [on some packaging]. We created a document called Reef Redemption, showing that we are committed to a sustainable environment. All our products are [made with] water-based glues, and we use no PVC.

How did the warm winter impact your business?
We received a lot of benefit from the weather. Fifty states were under snow last year at this time, so the consumer was ready for spring [shopping] much earlier this year than last year. In 2011, we saw double-digit sales growth — it was the healthiest year of our [business]. And I expect healthy double-digit growth year-over-year in 2012, too.

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