Surf and action sports shops are the lifeblood of our sport.
Inside their doors, you can find clothes and accessories that enhance your surf and outdoors experience.
Most of all, you can find an eclectic community that lives and breathes it all.
One aspect of the transaction process within these stores that is often overlooked is what happens after a customer makes a purchase.
Clothes and gear are paid for, and then swept into a bag and handed to the excited customer — after all, waves and the great outdoors awaits.
Without that bag, the customer would have to carry their purchases, and many issues can arise. An item can be dropped, lost, or damaged.
In truth, it’s more than just a bag. It’s a commitment from the retailer to help you get your items home and in use safely.
Retail packaging is a global industry with a significant challenge: how to create bags that not only help you get your goods home safely, but also how to create an eco-friendly bag, given that will likely wind up in the trash.
This is where Earthpack comes in.
Earthpack's impressive 30,000 square foot HQ in Irvine. Photo courtesy Earthpack
Since 1989, they have created customized, eco-friendly retail packaging for companies such as Jack's Surfboards, Billabong, Vans, Stance, Zumiez and many more.
All the while, they've put the environment first.
Earthpack's mission is to provide retail packaging in an eco-friendly way. Photo courtesy Earthpack
Earthpack’s origin story is that of the American entrepreneurial spirit; learning of an opportunity in the marketplace and being the solution — while doing good along the way.
Above all, Earthpack’s story serves as a tale of inspiration for the next generation of entrepreneurs in the surf and outdoors industry.
Earthpack, founded by California native Dave Bock, began in May of 1989. But like any good business, the idea for an eco-friendly retail packaging company began much earlier.
Dave Bock's humble beginnings. Photo courtesy Earthpack
“My dad loved going to the races — the Barstow races, the Baja 500, the Baja 1000 — but it cost a lot to go,” Dave told me during a break in his busy schedule.
“At the races, my dad noticed that in pre-registration, cars had to have numbers on them for identification. Contestants would use hand paint or low-quality stickers to do the job.”
That’s when Dave’s father saw an opportunity. So, when Dave was 16, his father set up a side company selling vinyl stickers to race car drivers.
“He set up a booth at the races and sold these stickers, that way he had a legitimate way to write off expenses,” Dave said.
Seeing this entrepreneurial spirit with his own eyes, Dave wondered how he could translate it to something he was passionate about: surfing. Dave was always in the water as much as he could be, catching wave after wave in Southern California lineups and even competing in local contests.
“I liked going to the races with my dad, but I wasn’t into racing as much as I was surfing,” Dave said. “When I saw him doing this, I thought that instead of doing it for race car drivers, we could do it for the surf industry.”
The timing couldn’t have been more perfect. In the 1980s, to say bumper stickers were popular is an understatement. Bumper stickers seemed to be on every car, and sold at seemingly all stores, including those within the surf industry.
While in high school, Dave made vinyl stickers for a few local surf shops, including Laguna Surf and Sport.
The margins may have been small — Dave would sell stickers anywhere between 50 cents to a dollar, and refill sticker packs as often as he could — but the entrepreneurial education he received was highly valuable.
It was by selling stickers that he stumbled upon a business idea that would soon grow into an industry-leading company.
“When I was going door to door selling stickers, I talked with many of the store owners who in conversation mentioned they were struggling to get bags that customers could use to take home due to a shortage of raw materials,” Dave said.
A few years later, while in college, Dave took a business class that required students to create a fictitious business plan. The business idea had to include three factors: a hobby, being positive for the community, and include a charitable cause.
“Since I loved surfing, I obviously wanted to do something for the surf industry, and thought about selling shopping bags to the surf industry made out of trash,” Dave said. “As far as the charitable aspect of the business plan, I would donate a portion to the Surfrider Foundation.”
Dave submitted the busines
s plan for a grade, and after working a few odd sales jobs — where he learned the importance of “starting early and staying later” — he decided to give his fictitious business plan a go.
What came next is the definition of humble beginnings.
On what Dave calls “Day 1”, he knocked on 20 different doors where he handed out previously made business cards where he had crossed off the verbiage and wrote his new address and new phone number. He showed old bags he had from his college class as samples.
For the 3 orders he received on that first day, he deposited checks for a fictitious business name — a name he didn’t even have registered at the time.
The next day, more door-knocking. More orders placed. Like surfing a good California swell, it was rinse and repeat.
As far as an office, Dave utilized a 10 by 10 area in the back of his Dad’s warehouse. It wasn’t free, either — his dad charged him $200 a month. And, if he used any additional space, he’d incur another fee.
But that’s not all.
Anytime his dad’s secretary answered a call for Dave, he was charged $20.
Dave looks back at these challenges not with frustration, but instead, fondly. “It taught me the value of a dollar,” he said.
Since inception in 1989, Earthpack has grown, powered by Dave’s passion and willingness to grind.
“It’s not 8am-5pm; it’s 24/7,” Dave says. “As an entrepreneur, you have to put it all on the line.”
Putting it all on the line for Dave means driving from Huntington Beach to San Diego in the middle of the night to set up his trade show booth, then sleeping in his car the night before the trade show because he couldn’t afford a hotel bill at the time.
“If you want to start a company that becomes successful, you have to be willing to go for it.”
Dave continues: "For our sales team members that surf, when they ask me if I should go after an account, I tell them 'you can take off on the shoulder and do 3 turns to the beach — but you won’t get barreled. If you want to get barreled, you'll have to take off at the peak. If you want to get that big account, paddle out and go for it!'"
Today, Earthpack has a 30,000 square feet office in Irvine and a talented team of 20. They are the one-stop shop for all things retail packaging.
Looking for more information on eco-friendly retail packing? Visit Earthpack's beautiful Irvine HQ. Photo courtesy Earthpack
What Dave is most proud of is the loyalty of our employees and customers. Impressively, Earthpack has had returning customers for the last 30 years.
What's his secret sauce?
“Show up, deliver, communicate and bring a good product. If you do those things, people stay with you.”
“The biggest compliment we receive at Earthpack is that a client wants to do another order. There are so many choices for retail packaging out there today, and it's great to hear that at the end of the day, clients trust us."
To learn more about Earthpack's eco-friendly retail packaging, visit their website.