Need ESSENTIALs: ROB COLBY
Interview by Glenn Sakamoto
Need Essentials is an innovative surf goods company. With over two decades of industry experience, founder Ryan Scanlon and good friend Rob Colby created a grassroots business that offers an exceptional premium limestone-based suit at an affordable price. We spoke with California-based Rob Colby to learn more.
When did Need get started?
Back in 2013, Ryan Scanlon left his job at Quiksilver in California and went back home to Australia. That’s when he began thinking about the type of business that he wanted to create. He came up with the concept of Need Essentials. Founded to provide surfers with premium products without the retail mark ups, branding and extra costs by selling exclusively online. Initially he wasn’t sure how it would resonate with surfers. Turns out – it was a success.
How did you get involved?
I told Ryan (whom I worked for many years with at Quiksilver), “Let me see if we can get this to work over here in the US.” We had a small test run here in the States in February of this year and the suits were so popular that they disappeared quickly. We got our first actual shipment in mid-April of this year and things have been going really well. In addition we also have a couple guys in the UK selling our suits. It’s cool because we’re all good friends.
Where does Need fit in with the established wetsuit companies?
Unlike the other wetsuit brands, we’re a small company and we want to build our brand with word-of-mouth recommendations instead of expensive “big-reach” marketing. It was an initiative that Ryan had set up to deliver the best product at the most efficient price. We don’t believe in spending money on things that don’t contribute to the performance of our product – things like advertising, packaging, and hangtags.
Tell us about the philosophy of “Only what you need.”
It comes from the things that we as surfers love. We knew we didn’t want the big branding with logos everywhere. This type of thinking is at odds with the way big brands came to be in the first place – whether it is Nike or whomever. One way to be different in a market flooded with product was to create a performance wetsuit that is all black – with no logos.
Who does the research and design of your products?
Ryan is a product designer and he’s got tons of experience with merchandising and design as well as sourcing and production. The overall idea is to make good technical products for the activities that we enjoy doing. Either we’ll create it ourselves or we’ll partner with the expertise that can. For example, we’ve co-developed 3 new jackets with a design team rooted in making great outdoor products in Boulder, Colorado.
Where are your wetsuits made?
It’s funny because everyone uses the same factory to build their wetsuits, particularly the higher end suits. They all come from Sheico. We have a long relationship with Sheico and working with them has been great. In our opinion, they are the best wetsuit manufacturer out there.
How come Need doesn’t offer a warranty?
We don’t include a formal warranty because we knew we’d have to have a repair facility and that would involve hiring people and buying machinery. We’re a small company and we’re not in a place financially to do that. If there is a something wrong with your suit, we’ll do our best to take care of it.
Is Need exploring any eco-friendly options for future wetsuits?
We’re currently working on a Yulex-type rubber and doing some tests. There’s a real balance between creating a solid performance-based product while still being mindful about the environment and being authentic. We’re trying to be smart about the way that we ship. Cardboard packaging drives me nuts. Obviously we need them for some products, but for wetsuits we really don’t.
What has been the reaction to Need?
Many of my friends, who are sales reps, are kinda looking at me cross-eyed. A number of my friends who are retailers, have been surprisingly supportive. Our company is the beneficiary of good timing because things are changing to the point that we can now have a solid business online, whereas five years ago we simply couldn’t. Today, customers are comfortable buying a wetsuit from their phone.
Are Need Wetsuits disposable items or are they built to last?
They are definitely built to last. We don’t skimp on materials so you get a lighter, more flexible, and warmer limestone-based wetsuit. Instead of using expensive, yet fragile Yamamoto rubber, we’ve decided to take a more balanced approach with our suits – a combination of durability, warmth, price and performance.
Does Need have a team?
We don’t really have a team. However we do have a young rider, Torren Martyn down in Australia, whom we sponsor and give wetsuits to. There are also a few notable surfers wearing our suits but I can’t mention any names (laughs).
Are customers happy with your hands-on approach and service?
My job is one-to-one. It’s a tiny grassroots business and I do everything from ordering, to answering calls, to doing the small things like Instagram and Facebook posts. It’s truly gratifying to have something that people are excited about. And I think our customers are stoked about supporting a small independent business versus a big corporation.
What’s next for Need Essentials?
We want to be the source for boardshorts, bags, boardbags, and any suits that a surfer might need for a surf trip. Second, we will always be a kind of mom and pop operation where we get to know our customers one-to-one. And finally, we’ve been thinking about getting a little place with a coffee bar, a keg of beer, where people could come by and buy a suit or jacket or whatever they need, and then hang out a bit. Could be fun!
To learn more about Need Essentials USA and their full line of wetsuits, click here.