This Ain’t the Mainland

T

I called Maui Hawaii yesterday in the hopes that I’d be able to talk to Louie Martin, founder of Tropix Surfboards and the Maui Built brand. After speaking with a couple of people at Tropix Central, I finally got him on the phone. I asked him if I could interview him for my blog and he told me he wasn’t interested. I had 15 questions and have been looking forward to speaking with him for a very long time. He said:

We love what we do here . . . Don’t want to do an interview. I’ve got a million things to do.

I told him that I was a huge fan and  I’d been buying his product for the last twenty years. The last time we were in town, we bought schwag for the entire family including my two very young children. (Haoles on Parade!)  He said that was great and I then offered to call him back when he had more time. He told me again he did not want to do an official interview. So we just talked.  I got one question in and the conversation, for the most part, is below.

Louie: I just want people to enjoy my products. We love the products. We do everything based on our local lifestyle. We evolve all those things (lifestyle) through our products. We sponsor a lot of local things like motocross, surfing events, etc.

Me: Why aren’t you doing business online?

Louie: I’ll put it this way. If I do that, I’m going to be another Quicksilver or Billabong. We won’t control anything when it comes to quality. Selling our stuff in department stores. There is no surfing at the mall. Those kids don’t know how to surf. That is not what we are about.

Louie fully understands that the products they create (the brand) is truly an extension of the lifestyle and that anything less is a lie.

Louie: We’re authentic. I want to create things that people will love. Wherever you go in the world you will see something that is one of a kind. We are about creating something that people love. I get calls everyday about ordering products over the phone. We don’t do product catalogs. We had a site up that was mauitropixsurf.com . . . or something like that. It was just one page telling our story and when you clicked anywhere on the page it took you to Aloha airlines. You have to come here to get our product. Maui is our product.

There is kind of a fan site at: http://mauibuiltshirts.blogspot.com and no orders are possible.

Louie: It’s an honor to have you and your family buy our product. It’s like a club and when you see people wearing our products . . . We have pride in what we do and how we have done it. We’ve been working hard for 30 years to create this thing. I have three lawyers to help us protect against infringement. Sometimes it feels like we’ve created a monster.

I told Louie that I had an ad on my site for Maui Built (the turtle graphic on the right) and that it’s linked to an eBay site with Maui Built product on it. I also told him that I’d change the link to point to this post. Louie is the real deal. He understands culture (the Hawaiian culture/surfer lifestyle) and the role his brand plays. He is honest, as his brand.

Additional Information on Maui Built/Tropix Surf Shops: (from the Tropix Surf shop flier)

A favorite with locals, Tropix is Maui’s HOMEGROWN surf company. In 1977, at the age of 15, Louie Martin began building Tropix Surfboards in his backyard in Kehei on Maui’s south shore. Twenty nine years later Tropix Surf Shops and Louie Martin continue to keep it real, bringing you authentic, original and exclusive surfboards, surfwear and surfgear.

The other questions I wanted to ask Louie:

  1. Why aren’t you doing business online?
  2. How do you feel about people selling your product on eBay?
  3. How do you come up with the designs?
  4. Who creates your designs?
  5. What are the inspirations for your designs?
  6. How much of the design work is inspired by Hawaiian culture?
  7. What do you think of the current situation of Hawaiian culture and the goal of succession?
  8. What do you think are the ingredients of a successful business?
  9. How much of your business is tourists?
  10. Do you do any marketing in the traditional sense?
  11. Is there a brand/company that you most admire and why?
  12. Where do you want to take your business in the future?
  13. What did you want to be when you were growing up?
  14. How would you compare the locals only mentality of Maui to Long Beach?
  15. What do you think is at the core of Maui/Hawaiian  culture?

7 comments

  • I really respect Louie for his strict no sell out rule. I love the fact that orders are not possible and that you have to go in to a store to buy his products. And that the most important thing to him is quality… This man and his business illustrate surf culture, and the general attitudes of those involved in it to a T. You can’t buy into surf culture you have to step up to it.

  • I just got back from Hawaii yesterday with two Maui Built shirts. I have to say, though I respect Martin’s desire to keep Tropix as a Maui original, this makes no sense whatsoever.

    A lot of tourists buy Maui Built. He knows this, which is why he put a store on Front Street. If a large portion of his business is tourists who export his product, he isn’t keeping it local. He’s just creating a demand and not supplying it. So really, he’s only hurting his business, himself and the customers who want his product. I didn’t buy that 50 dollar sweatshirt on Sunday. Now I wish I had, but guess what? I can’t. Sucks more for him than me.

  • i went to hawaii with my boyfriend and the t-shirt that we got at maui tropix,a maui built shirt is his favorite,i surfed the whole time while i was there and it was the first time he got to see me surf so it was the greatest and most memorable vacation yet,so everytime he wears that shirt it puts a smile on my face,too bad i cant buy another one unless i go to hawaii.,sadly money is tight so thanks alot for not selling them online!

  • Born and raised but now live on the mainland, I frequently make trips back to Maui and I would say locals are by far the biggest supporter of the product rather than the tourists. You can’t walk down the street without seeing local Maui Built pride labeled on everything. This is purely my opinion but I would say MauiBuilt/Tropix is 70% local support and 30% tourism support. Personally, I cringe when I see haoles sport Maui Built on the mainland…stay true and keep it local!

  • What we all need to do is go to Maui more often and then we can buy all the Mauibuilt stuff we want. I have an etnire wardrobe, include belt buckles and cufflinks . . . I am pretty sure that cufflinks are not ‘keeping it local”.

  • Get real, Dude.
    Every time I’ve been in the store, there were tourists everywhere (including me) and no “locals” to be seen. The mystique of not offering internet or mail-order sales is purely business. Bigger is not always more profitable. A population of 130,000 locals would never support 3 stores of surfwear (among the scores of competitors). The real money and business is the 2,500,000 tourists/year that visit Maui. This store must be selling at least 90% (99%+?) of it’s products to tourists. Nothing wrong with that, it’s a great store with cool products. But get your head out of the clouds thinking it’s 70% local & 30% tourists.
    IMHO
    p.s. Love the furry Pimp boardshorts

  • Louie Martin is from Los Angeles (until high school, that’s NOT “born and raised” and his multimillionaire partner from Florida “heir to the “publix” supermarket chain) having been fooling foolish locals and tourist alike for years now. Louie stole the Mauibuilt name from SpyderBuilt in Hermosa Beach when Louie was getting boards shaped there for “MAUI TROPIX” to be shipped back to Maui…All of their MAUIBUILT goods are MADE IN CALIFORNIA, except the t’s are printed on Maui…Anybody who buys the lie of MauiBuilt and them being “local” is a fool. PERIOD

I'm an Associate Teaching Professor of Digital Marketing at the Daniels College of Business, University of Denver. I also consult with startups and established brands. I'm currently focused on artificial intelligence, cognitive neuroscience and culture. I am married to an amazing woman and have two incredible children. I was raised in Colorado and spend my free time with family, biking, snowboarding and going to the Pacific Ocean to SCUBA dive and/or surf. I'm passionate about architecture, design, street art, photography and the art that tattooing has evolved into.

Connect