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05 November 2016

Yak Wax

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How to turn your passion into a business

By Johnny Wallbridge, British National Surf Champion and owner of Guernsey-based surf and skate store Yakwax

I’ve been surfing around Guernsey since the age of 14 and the sport has been a passion of mine ever since. So, when the opportunity arose to own and operate my own surf and skate store on the island, I just couldn’t pass it up. Of course, in the beginning, I had a lot to learn and faced a range of challenges. But, 14 years down the line, Yakwax is still going from strength to strength and I know that I’m incredibly fortunate to have been able to turn my passion into a business. So, if you’re thinking about doing the same, here are my top tips that will help you get off on the right foot.

Find a space in the market and fill it

Whatever your passion might be, there’ll be multiple ways to make money from it. However, if you want to put your time and effort into creating a valuable and sustainable business, then you need to identify a gap in the market and work out how to fill it. Yakwax, for example, was born out of a growing frustration that there wasn’t a single supplier on the island who could provide the Guernsey surf and skate community with the specialised equipment and brands locals were crying out for. Before we went ahead and set up our company in 2002, the only products available were outdated and didn’t fit the needs of the market. We knew that there was a demand out there and designing our business around that has been the key to our lasting success.

Learn about the business side of things

Making money from your passion can be a lot of fun, but there are some very important aspects of running a business that you’ll need to learn about. In the early days of Yakwax, most of the challenges we faced were to do with logistics and our finances, as none of us had any real experience of setting up or running a business. We found it most difficult to get to grips with the likes of stock control and accounting, but we had to learn fast in order to survive. You also have to consider how you’re going to market your business. For us, getting the word out through traditional channels like local newspapers and radio stations was way out of our budget to begin with, so we weren’t left with many options. This was when being part of a small island community became particularly helpful, as word gets around quite quickly if anything new is going on. A lot of our early customers heard about our store through word of mouth. If I could go back and change the way we did things in the beginning, I’d have learned more about the accounting side of the business before taking the plunge. There were so many new things to deal with — like various types of legislation and tax rulings — that I’d never even considered, and it would’ve been helpful to have had at least a basic understanding before we got started. So, I’d recommend doing a lot of research before you start out to avoid facing some of the same problems we did.

Use your contacts

When we started out, we really benefited from being surfers ourselves. We were already familiar with some great brands, as we were part of their target market, which really helped us to build a network of reliable suppliers quite quickly. Plus, as we were dedicated surfers and skaters, we already had a great deal of product knowledge. This allowed us to have in-depth discussions with suppliers about their products and, in my opinion, went a long way to convincing them that they could trust us with their gear, despite the fact that we were pretty new to the retail industry. If you take classes, have joined a group, or are part of an online community that focuses on your passion, you’ll already have a great pool of contacts and advisors that will be able to help you in one way or another. So, ask for advice, or even join forces with them if you like. Your group of contacts will always be an invaluable resource that you’ll be glad to have both in the beginning and down the line.

Surround yourself with people who share your vision

Similarly, you want to employ or work alongside those who share your passion and vision whenever possible, so choose them carefully. I met all of the Yakwax guys through surfing or skating, so I know they’re just as invested in the business as I am. It also means that they understand our customers’ needs, as well as our products. Starting a business is no easy feat, so you want to be supported by others who truly believe in your idea. With a knowledgeable, enthusiastic and encouraging team behind you, you’re far more likely to succeed. Turning your passion into a business can be a lot of fun, but it requires you to put in a huge amount of hard work, too. As long as you do your research, surround yourself with the best possible people and put the necessary effort in, it could be the best thing you ever do. 

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