Interview with James and Amy Sannes of The SurfZone Company

Name of Company: The SurfZone Company
Name(s): James and Amy Sannes
1. Tell us a little about yourself:
The SurfZone Company is a family-owned business that’s been operating as an on-line business for the past three years. We relocated to the Outer Banks area of NC last year and have been working to expand our product line as well build a new (larger) facility that will include a small retail space. Our new place will open in the Spring and offer our patented SurfZone Balance Trainer and OBX Longboards, both of which are manufactured onsite, as well a select choice of quality SUPs.

2. What made you want to open this business?
We love the water and the coastal environment. We surf and longboard/skateboard and recently took up paddle-boarding. Our goal is to be a resource for anyone with an interest in getting a board out on the water (or the street), regardless of their prior experience. Also, environmental responsibility is an important issue and we hope to use our website and Facebook page as a resource for information on local environmental events and happenings.

3. Did you have prior experience or knowledge of the industry?
We launched our website (www.thesurfzone.net) after receiving a patent for a balance trainer we developed for surfers/longboarders/paddle-boarders. At first, this activity was strictly a sideline venture — a “learn as you go” sort of thing. Sales caught on in the second year after some favorable reviews and we decided it was time to develop and grow the business.

4. How many employees do you have besides yourself? And how do you select the people that join your staff?
Currently it is just us (and our daughter who does the graphic work). We plan to test the waters with next year’s tourist season and hire a small seasonal staff as necessary.

5. What do you like most about owning your own business?
The freedom to operate as you see best, not having to answer to anyone but yourself – and your customers. Our customers have been fantastic; we’ve met so many interesting people from all over the country, in Canada and Central America too. We’ve shipped trainers to soldiers in Iraq and have recently gotten our first few orders in Europe. Their feedback and support is what has kept us going.

6. What do you like the least about owning your own business?
There are so many things to accomplish in a start-up year like this one; it can be somewhat daunting at times. The worst thing is having to make the tough calls, like recently making the decision to halt on-line orders to focus on getting our building completed.

7. About how many hours do you work per day or week (on average)?
We try to take one day off a week to regroup (to go surfing) but that doesn’t always work out. We easily average 40-plus hours a week. This type of business is a life-style business and, because we enjoy what we’re doing, the line between work and recreation is often blurred.

8. Are there things that you would do or handle differently if given the chance?
When we decided to expand last year, we purchased a property zoned “General Business,” but did not fully research the zoning regulations in the area. “The folks at the county department were very helpful in walking us through the re-zoning process that was necessary to establish our business in its new location, but ultimately we had to make some hard compromises as well as delay the opening of our new facility by about nine months.

9. Do you have any advice that you would like to offer to potential entrepreneurs?
Start small, if at all possible, and test the waters. Do your research. Don’t be in a hurry to quit your day job. You are going to make mistakes; that’s how you learn.


1 comment

  1. Betsy Clementson

    I like the Sannes’ advice to start small and “don’t be in a hurry to quit your day job.” There is so much to learn and there will be mistakes and delays along the way. It sounds like the Sannes are dealing with these in the best way possible- learning from their mistakes and working to turn them around, as in the example of their zoning issue.

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