Williams Trading article

(Note: This story appears in the June 2021 issue of Storerotica Magazine)

Wade Ulrich traded in his surfboard for the executive life as CEO of the successful Fairvilla chain.

Wade Ulrich got involved with Fairvilla entirely by chance in 1996. He was driving back to his condo with a friend, when the friend noticed a sign announcing a Fairvilla was coming to Cape Canaveral. Ulrich was looking for a job to work evenings and surf all day, so he applied and was hired. Twenty five years later, Ulrich is the CEO of the five-store chain and, presumably, no longer surfing all day.

SE’s Larry Kaplan caught up with the Spicoli-turned-executive to find out how the transition has gone from beach to the boardroom.

SE: Do you miss surfing all day?
ULRICH: No. I was in my late 20s, approaching 30. I had to decide what I was going to do. It went from having a job working at night to possibly having a career opportunity. So, I switched gears and said, time to focus on my career and do something with it. I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to have this career now for going on 25 years.

SE: Fairvilla was light-years ahead of the curve with modern stores. What other changes have you seen over the years that have had the most significant effect on how your stores operate?
ULRICH: As far as product is concerned, the internet has had the most profound impact on the industry. And for some of us, it was a negative impact. Yet in other ways, opportunities were growing out of that. You were forced to take a different look. The path the industry has taken is very positive. We were one of the first companies to examine our customer base and say, there’s probably more out there than just that male that wants to come in and get a DVD. We need to expand offerings to be more inclusive to everybody out there.

SE: What are the keys to being profitable in 2021, especially with online retailers competing for brick-and-mortar sales. What do you do to counteract showrooming?ULRICH: The profitability is a problem all the way around. It depends on which way you want to go with the central question. The main difference between what you’ll see online and in the store will be your experience. And it’s not any secret, they visit your store for the experience. Anything you can get in a brick-and-mortar store, not just in our industry, you can get online. So you must educate the customer walking through the front door on what they’re doing. They have to experience a substantial difference, to get something they won’t get online, and that’s an experience and education. Your marketing efforts and everything can be pristine; you can have the best-looking store, the best-looking website; but the reality is when that customer walks through your door, that well-trained employee that greets them is your company to them.
We’re heavily invested in employee development. We call it Fairvilla family. We have numerous employees that have been here 10, 15, even 20 years. We put a lot of effort into making sure they all have what they need to do the job and that they’re happy with working here. The biggest thing you can do to compete with online is to take care of your staff. If you have a well-educated, happy staff, your customer will experience that — that is your brand to that customer.

SE: If you could speak with distributors and manufacturers, what would you advise them to help themselves get more customers through your doors?
ULRICH: Spend advertising budget to capitalize on emerging social media. This past year, many of the products recognized on social media weren’t items we had access to. We see more access to imagery and partnerships with advertising campaigns, so we’re moving in the right direction. Also, continue to police Amazon to affect the massive price swings that occur.
You can see the results over time when they offer what’s called spiffs: employee incentives with products. I don’t know that it drives more customers, but it’s undoubtedly motivated employees to capitalize on the opportunities we do have through the door.