Kayaking, Partying & Profits
There’s a very thin line that ties together the two catalogs produced out of 132 Robin Hill Road in Santa Barbara, Calif. Founded in 1994 as Surf to Summit, a B-to-B catalog of kayakin g equipment, the company in 2001 spun off After 5, a consumer catalog of quirky — often wacky — products for wine and martini parties.
After 5 came to life after the company found that its customers were responding briskly to the cocktail party-related novelties that it first offered almost as an afterthought in Surf to Summit. But that’s where any similarities between the two catalogs end. Although the overall business reached profitability for the first time in 2005, the party catalog clearly has stolen the limelight and helped propel the company into the black.
Owner/president Eric States, who in a former life made a bundle in real estate, has invested a fair amount of that in this $5 million business to reach a money-making position. He’s weathered many storms. For instance, the first edition of After 5, which happened to be printed on Sept. 11, 2001, dropped later that fall just as letters were turning up in Washington and New York laced with anthrax.
“The book tanked. Everything went wrong. Bad timing. Bad lists. Bad book size [digest size],” States laments. “We probably only brought in about $1.50 per book. But I was just so damned determined to make this work. I felt like, if I could handle this, I could handle anything.”
With his own real estate capital available to keep the company afloat, States stuck it out, gradually building up the After 5 business. In addition to discovering how well his Surf to Summit customers — who primarily are affiliated with small sporting goods retailers and original equipment kayak manufacturing businesses — responded to the items that would make up the After 5 book, States also pushed forward with the newer catalog because it became a holiday season-dominated business. On the other hand, Surf to Summit’s peak months occur between March and August.