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Volume 24 No. 157
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Quiksilver Founder McKnight Talks Brand Image, Growth Of Company

When Bob McKnight began working with Quiksilver in 1976, he was selling hand-made boardshorts out of the back of his car at beaches around the U.S. It was a very simple “hand to mouth beginning,” but one that he enjoyed, said McKnight during a keynote speech yesterday at the IMG World Congress of Sports hosted by SBJ/SBD in Dana Point, Calif. He was a surfer himself, selling a desirable product to other surfers. Today, Quiksilver is a $2B worldwide business with a diversified product portfolio for a range of action sports (surfing, snowboarding, skateboarding, kite surfing, sailboarding, etc.) geared toward men, women, boys and girls. For McKnight, the co-Founder, President, CEO & Chair of Quiksilver, and his team of employees, the primary challenge is reaching and continuing to understand its target market: kids. 

THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT: Social media has served as an advantage and a means to reach this “fickle” market directly, but it also comes with potential landmines. “Marketing today is much cheaper and it’s much more targeted,” said McKnight. “You can really pinpoint your audience, but it’s a lot more dangerous. It’s a real rifle shot right into the teen action sports girl or guy, but if it’s the wrong image, if it’s in the wrong font, the wrong humor, the wrong message, these kids are used to years and years of just hits in their minds, and they have a real easy filter that filters out anything that’s incorrect and is not spot on, so you have to be really, really careful.” A couple of years ago, Quiksilver introduced a campaign with miniature, three-dimensional, cardboard figurines of its sponsored athletes. While the ill-received effort didn’t result in any financial blowback for the company, it did cause “backlashed humor (within the industry) that gets networked behind the scenes,” McKnight said, and was the type of campaign that can “come back to haunt you” in an industry where a company’s “core” image matters.

McKnight said of Nike stepping into the action sports industry, “Well, we have an 800-pound gorilla in the room now. Nike’s a great company. I’ve always studied them, I know Phil (Knight), and I’ve sort of mentored how I run the company off of them, in terms of their focus and attention to detail.”

On knowing and understanding the youth market: “We have to follow them: visit high schools, go to rock concerts, read all the magazines, listen to the language … For me, I have my kids, so it’s any way you can to stay relevant, and it starts with the product being good and the marketing being correct.”