NEW YORK (The Deal) -- The bankruptcy filing of Quiksilver on Sept. 9 is but the latest riptide to hit the surf-wear segment.
Industry observers say the popularity of surf-themed goods and related outdoor and action sports led to a tidal wave of brands and retailers to enter the space in recent years, ranging from attempts to revive brands such as Hang Ten to the likes of sports apparel behemoths Nike (NKE - Get Report) and Under Armour (UA - Get Report) introducing their own offerings.
That caused the market to be over-flooded with goods and is now leading to a shakeout, the observers say.
With Australia-based surf-clothing company Billabong International returning to profitability in recent months for the first time since 2011, there was hope that the segment was not in dire straits.
But Quiksilver's bankruptcy filing and the continued woes of Pacific Sunwear of California (PSUN) , which reported that comparable sales declined 6% for the quarter ended Aug. 1 in addition to drops in revenue and net income excluding non-cash gains, have shown that the industry as a whole still has huge challenges.
Plus, the faltering of recent newcomers and former investor darlings Zumiez (ZUMZ - Get Report) and Tilly's (TLYS - Get Report) , who made bets on surf-themed mall-based stores, demonstrate that it's not just the old guards swimming in troubled waters.
Both companies have been punished by investors, with Zumiez trading at a fraction of its 52-week high of $41.81, closing at $14.88 per share on Thursday, due to negative comparable-store sales numbers. Tilly's trading at half of its 52-week-high of $16.99 per share, closing at $7.65 per share on Thursday.
According to an industry source, the fact that brands such as Quiksilver are ubiquitous, sold in department stores and in mall-based stores, is a problem in maintaining its cool factor with the kids.
Zumiez and Tilly's sell third-party brands, not exclusive to themselves, which means they can't charge as much of a premium.
Add to the list of problems is that teens are spending more on upscale hamburgers and on electronic devices ranging from Apple's (AAPL - Get Report) iPhone to the company's Beats headphones, rather than on clothing, cuts into the ability of surf-themed brands and retailers to retain discretionary dollars.
The ones to survive will be those who have developed or can develop robust online retail platforms, such as Swell.com, said an industry observer, who added that retailers such as Zumiez need to do more to make their online Web sites more relevant, since that is where teens are shopping.
Reducing the number of stores and opening shops in locations teens are more likely to frequent is also key, as well as having more desirable and exclusive product offerings.
But more important may be a perception of surf wear, which was once identified with a rebel culture -- a brand providing authenticity and an experience, rather than just pushing product.Ron Jon Surf Shop, a source said, has its roots in selling surfing equipment alongside apparel and accessories. It operates the largest surf store in the world in Cocoa Beach, Fla., as well as in other surf-friendly places with proximity to the water.
Consumers liken shopping at a Ron Jon's as an experience in and of itself, recommending a visit there as if it were akin to a museum or a theme park.
Surf may be up, but it will take canny marketing to keep a retailer going through an endless summer.