Andy Gossett of COR Surf: “Be authentic”

Be authentic. If you are trying to create a message that you don’t necessarily believe, then it’s going to show. People are smart, and they can tell when something is not authentic. You know why you started your business and that is what matters most. If you lose sight of the why, the customer won’t […]

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Be authentic. If you are trying to create a message that you don’t necessarily believe, then it’s going to show. People are smart, and they can tell when something is not authentic. You know why you started your business and that is what matters most. If you lose sight of the why, the customer won’t be engaged. It’s up to the owner to turn the why into a message, and hold onto that.

I have always been very passionate about the outdoors and caring about the environment. It was important from day one, that my wood products were coming from sustainably sourced trees. Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, I remember seeing the damage that logging and clear-cutting did to the forest. That is very important to me and isn’t something I’m going to waver on regardless of the cost to produce my product. This is where the brand started and that is still my message today. I have so many people that reach-out to thank me for creating wood products from sustainably sourced materials. It’s much easier to communicate your message and values when it comes natural to you.


As part of our series about how to create a trusted, believable, and beloved brand, I had the pleasure of interviewing Andy Gossett, founder and CEO of COR Surf. Andy started COR Surf back in 2003 when he was trying to find a nice storage rack to display his new surfboard. Overtime, COR Surf has become the largest supplier of surf and paddleboard racks in the world. Andy’s goal is to continue to make innovative outdoor gear in a sustainable manner. Before devoting his work fulltime to COR Surf, Andy served as Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Pacific International Lines, one of the top 10 Ocean Carriers in the world, where he grew the USA presence over a 14-year span.

Andy continues to develop, create and market new products for COR Surf at its headquarters in Huntington Beach, California. He has a passion for the great outdoors which he enjoys sharing with his wife and three children exploring nature, camping, hiking and various watersports activities. In 2016, Andy’s son was diagnosed with Autism and has since also devoted his time to spreading autism acceptance and awareness within the community. The Gossett Family are active members and advocates of the special needs community and support local non-profits such as A Walk on Water and The LBC Hero Squad, who provide support for children and families with disabilities. COR Surf is also a member of 1% for the Planet, giving 1% of their total annual revenue to environmental non-profits.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

When my corporate job transferred me to Huntington Beach back in 2002, I started surfing every morning before work. I had purchased a beautiful surfboard that was too nice to store in the garage. When I looked around all the surf shops, there was nothing available to display my surfboard. That is when I started making my own surfboard racks. I had so many people asking for them, I realized I might be onto something and COR Surf was born. Over the years I continued to work my corporate job, while having the surf company as a fun side project. It’s just that the ideas kept coming, and I continued to develop and design new products. Over time I grew out of my garage to a storage unit, then from of a storage unit to a small warehouse. Eventually the little side project of making surfboard racks grew into a fulltime job and I was finally able to leave my corporate gig. We now have over 40 products and are not just limited to surf. We have expanded to Surf, Paddle, Skate and Bike and also have a line for outdoor backpacks and bags. I realized I have a passion for developing new products that make life easier for people who spend time outdoors or near the water.

Can you share a story about the funniest marketing mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Not sure if this is really funny, or just a horrible decision. I was launching a new product back in the day of magazine print ads. I had very limited budget, but decided to buy a full page add in Surfer magazine and spend nearly my entire marketing budget on one ad. I thought that a full-page ad would instantly turn our new product and brand into an overnight success. After the ad ran, northing happened. We didn’t get any additional sales on our site and the silence was unbearable. We barely survived that period. After that, I never ran a print ad again. I decided, if I couldn’t immediately track the ROI, then I wouldn’t spend precious dollars. Learning that lesson early on really helped us survive through some difficult times.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

For many years, the surf and paddleboard industry was stagnant. Every company essentially made the same products: Board Bags, Leashes, Fins, and clothing. When we started COR Surf, we realized there were so many items surfers and paddleboarders could use to make their lives easier that weren’t being made. We set out to start a company that made life for people that spend their time in the water easier. Even today, we are still designing and developing unique products that solve a problem. The great thing is, many of our products aren’t just for surfers. Anyone that spends time outdoors or near that water can benefit from our products.

An example of this creativity is our surfing tool. Surfers use a variety of tools, like an allen wrench for the fins and a standard screwdriver for longboard fins along with several other tools unique to surfers. Coming from a background in snowboarding and skateboarding, I always had a multi-tool for these activities. If I was snowboarding in the backcountry and my bindings came loose, I always had a multi tool to fix the problem. I realized surfers didn’t have anything like this so I invented a multi tool specifically for surfers. We have developed a reputation for creating innovative products and developed a “COR” following because of our ability to think outside the box.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Yes we have several projects we are working on now. We currently make changing towel ponchos, which make changing out of your wetsuit easy, discrete and warm. We are working on making a these out of recycled plastic water bottles. Ocean plastic waste is a massive problem, and something that I see daily when I’m surfing. We would like to take these ocean plastics and recycle them into our towels. We are actually blown-away just how soft these towels are considering they are coming from plastic water bottles.

We are also working on a new travel line of backpacks. When I was working my corporate job, I was constantly in and out of airports. I couldn’t find a decent backpack that I could use for work and also for surf tips or vacations. That’s why I designed the Island Hopper. I believe it will make life so much easier for anyone that has a 3–4 day trip and don’t want to lug a suitcase around.

Ok let’s now jump to the core part of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define the difference between brand marketing (branding) and product marketing (advertising)? Can you explain?

While we create solid products, watersports is a lifestyle. It doesn’t matter if you are paddleboarding in Michigan, wakesurfing in Kansas or surfing in San Diego, people that spend their time outdoors want to know more about the brand they are buying from. Brand marketing is telling the story about your company and what you stand for.

I like to think of product marketing as a directly targeting the consumer with the solution to their problem. They may not know our brand yet, but if they see our product can help them, then they may purchase. Then, we can start to tell our story and create a lifelong relationship with the consumer.

We run plenty of product ads that are designed to educate the customer on the product, but brand marketing is completely different. It’s about your values, the athletes you work with, what type of materials you use, the quality of your product etc. It’s about conveying a story so people know why you exist.

Can you explain to our readers why it is important to invest resources and energy into building a brand, in addition to the general marketing and advertising efforts?

First off, I believe all your advertising should have brand building in mind. Every time your product or ad is in front of a customer, you are sending a message. If the image isn’t high-quality or doesn’t load fast, or the colors are not consistent, that ultimately reflects on your brand.

Brand building takes time and consistency, and while it may take longer to see the value, ultimately that what will set you apart from the competition. Anyone can run Facebook or IG ads for a product, but telling the story about why your brand exists and what your message is, that is what can truly set you apart from the pack. It’s the opportunity to build a community around your message and bring in lifelong customers.

Can you share 5 strategies that a company should be doing to build a trusted and believable brand? Please tell us a story or example for each. In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job building a believable and beloved brand. What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?

  1. Be authentic. If you are trying to create a message that you don’t necessarily believe, then it’s going to show. People are smart, and they can tell when something is not authentic. You know why you started your business and that is what matters most. If you lose sight of the why, the customer won’t be engaged. It’s up to the owner to turn the why into a message, and hold onto that.

I have always been very passionate about the outdoors and caring about the environment. It was important from day one, that my wood products were coming from sustainably sourced trees. Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, I remember seeing the damage that logging and clear-cutting did to the forest. That is very important to me and isn’t something I’m going to waver on regardless of the cost to produce my product. This is where the brand started and that is still my message today. I have so many people that reach-out to thank me for creating wood products from sustainably sourced materials. It’s much easier to communicate your message and values when it comes natural to you.

2. Always be thinking about creative ways to set your brand apart from the rest. I learned an important story from branding icon Santiago Aguerre, founder of Reef sandals. He told a story of when he was trying to get surfing added as an official Olympic sport. He knew it would be tough to garner the attention of the Olympic committee, as he was competing against hundreds of other sports to get into the Olympics. He would go to these events with hundreds of people and had no idea how he would ever get noticed by the top decision makers. While he was travelling around the world, lobbying the Olympic committee, he decided to dress up in a nice suite with a very bright bowtie. By the 4th or 5th meeting, the head of the Olympic committee approached him and said in broken English: “you are the bowtie surfer right?”

He knew that he needed to brand himself, even if it meant wearing a cheesy bowtie, and it worked! This year will be the first year surfing will be in the Olympics! Now who knows how much the bowtie contributed, but the fact is, everyone got to know him as the “bowtie surfer”. He branded himself and figured out a way to set himself apart from the crowd. With that, he was able to build relationships and accomplish his objective. We have to be able to see branding everywhere and find new places to continually build.

3. Use problems or complaints as an opportunity for your brand. There are always going to be customer service issues. We are all human and mistakes are going to be made. It’s how we deal with those mistakes that truly define a brand. There are many brands that are known for their exceptional customer service or return policy. In fact, negative reviews can destroy a brand. Look at a customer service issue as an opportunity.

If you look at a lot of the 5 star reviews on our website, you’ll see that many started with a customer service issue. For example, maybe they didn’t get their package or, the item broke in the mail. We use this as an opportunity to develop a conversation with the customer. It’s an opportunity to learn more about the customer and why they purchased in the first place. This is a chance to turn an upset customer into a lifelong brand ambassador. Some of our most loyal and vocal customers are people that initially came to us with a problem.

4. Choose your vendors wisely. Everyone you decide to work with is ultimately a reflection on your brand. It’s important the companies you decide to work and partner with share similar values. We make sure that everyone from our trucking companies, 3PL’s, ocean carriers, etc. are going to be providing premium service. We all understand there will always be hiccups in the supply chain or customer service complaints. But if you are trying to get the cheapest rates while promising your customers exceptional delivery service, this will backfire.

5. The ambassadors and sponsors you chose to work with. In the surfing industry, there are quite a cast of characters. Surfing is a global sport and we have a wide array of athletes that we can work with. However, we are extremely careful who we decide to bring on our team. We really take a deep dive into the athletes character, to make sure it aligns with our companies values. We also chose athletes who share our same passion of caring for the environment and being actively involved in their community. Knowing our values are aligned from the start allows us the ability to have a consistent message with very few surprises.

That’s one reason why we decided to work with Paige Alms. Paige Alms is a 3 time big wave world champion from Maui. She was our first sponsored athlete. At the time, womens big wave surfing didn’t have any major contests and was an underground sport. We could have hired a major surfer from the World Tour, but there was something about Paige that just seems to fit with our brand. From the very start it was apparent Paige shared the same values as COR. She was passionate about environmental initiatives and actively involved in her community. Plus, she’s just a genuinely good person and an amazing all-round surfer. Having someone like Paige on our team immediately reflects onto our brand. Keep your eye out for Paige next year surfing for Canada in the Olympics!

In regards to brands that I look up to, one company that stands out to me above the rest is Patagonia. When you buy something from Patagonia, there is no question as to what your are buying. I don’t believe there is any question what Patagonia believes and stands for. They are probably the most vocal and loudest voice when it comes to speaking-out about the environment. They make sure to support non-profits that share their vision. They also back up their belief in how they make their products. They are a company that don’t compromise when it comes to always improving how they source their materials. In addition to a stellar product, they are active in the community and always pushing the limits as to what a global company from an environmental activist standpoint. We are a proud member of 1% For the Planet which is a non-profit that was started by the founder of Patagonia.

In advertising, one generally measures success by the number of sales. How does one measure the success of a brand building campaign? Is it similar, is it different?

It is definitely different, but there are still ways we can track this. We are starting to focus more on our customer lifetime value and actively tracking our engagement. We are fortunate to live in a time when there are so many metrics at our disposal. We monitor every aspect possible to see how a brand campaign is performing, from our e-mail engagement, views on Youtube, IG Stories, repeat purchases etc. It’s been amazing to see how this can build over time. Now we get so many people reaching-out and tagging us in shots. It’s been so exciting to see all those years of hard work paying off!

What role does social media play in your branding efforts?

We were a bit late to the game when it came to Social Media. We are now finding out stride and our success has been a mix of organic traffic that comes from influencers, to customers tagging us, to paid traffic. We have a team of professional and amateur athletes that provide us with fun creative content that we are now sharing on a consistent basis. We were fortunate to get on Pinterest very early on. We get a significant amount of organic traffic coming from Pinterest because of our consistency on this platform. Consistency is the key to any successful strategy.

What advice would you give to other marketers or business leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?

It’s such a cliché, but balance is key. I’ve learned this the hard way through a series of stress-related health issues over the last few years. Now I know, that self-care is key.

I know for a fact, if I’m not finding time to surf or exercise, I’m going to be less productive and honestly a bit moody. I have learned to find time to turn off my business mind and go for a surf or paddle. Just getting out in the water has an immediate impact on my mood, and I’m much more productive after a good surf. For those, people that aren’t as outdoorsy, I would suggest finding something that can pull their mind away for a bit. As entrepreneurs, I think that our minds are always running. It’s a blessing and a curse, and the ideas are constantly flowing. It’s important to learn how to turn that off for a bit.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Right now, something we are going to start pushing is the reduction of single use plastics. It seems the majority of what we buy comes in plastic. Since I’m in the ocean a lot, it’s frustrating to see all the plastic floating in the water. My wife and I had our honeymoon in Bali several years, back, and it was really depressing to see such beautiful beaches completely covered in plastic bottles. While the plastic problem is bad in the US, it’s even worse in developing countries where they don’t an effective means of disposal and recycling.

Ultimately we just need to change how we purchase. There are options out there, and if we really want to change, it’s going to have to be from a consumer standpoint. It’s basic supply and demand fundamentals. If we can start purchasing products that don’t come in single use plastic containers, companies will find a better way to package them.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

The one that has been most relevant in my life these last few years is that: “you are the average of the 5 people you surround yourself with the most.” In my younger days, I wasn’t aware of this and definitely had some rough times and ran into trouble because of who I surrounded myself with.

If you are around toxic people, some of that is eventually going to rub-off on you. But it works the other way, and if you surround yourself with positive, motivated people, it’s going to have the reverse affect. I try to make sure the friends, family and co-workers that I surround myself with, have these qualities. The most difficult part of this is family, because we never want to cut ourselves from our family. But there are ways to limit the interactions. Sometimes we forget that our own self-care is the priority.

We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

As I mentioned earlier in this article, I definitely am a fan of Patagonia and Yvonne Chouinard. I read his book Let My People go Surfing” when COR Surf was just starting. He’s definitely someone I look up to as he has grown Patagonia to a major global brand without compromising his values.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Readers can find me on Instagram @cor_surf, Facebook and Pinterest.

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

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