In this latest edition of SUP Company Spotlight, we caught up with Caribe SUP founder, Luis Perez. A company that is entirely focused on producing high-quality inflatable SUPs, Caribe’s popular inflatable paddle boards are well-known for their bold, colorful designs…
How were you initially introduced to the sport of stand up paddleboarding?
Back during my college days in Florida one of my friends was given a paddleboard as a Christmas gift, a very expensive gift at the time. I clearly remember several of us taking turns to try it out right by the waterfront of my college. We all saw it as a cool, chill, way of getting on the water without the need of a boat, wind or waves, but at that time most of us couldn’t afford one.
What ignited the spark in you to get involved in the industry?
Growing up in Venezuela, I spent most of my life near the water in the Caribbean Sea practicing several watersports. Then back in 2000 I picked St Pete, FL as my new home, primarily because of being surrounded by water. My passion for watersports was taken to a new level, until I graduated from college and was relocated for work to Monterrey, Mexico. I was lucky enough to travel the world for work, and saw how the global market started to fall in love with this new SUP sport. Several years later I decided to move back to FL and gather a few friends with similar interests to create Caribe SUP.
How important have good employees been to your success?
Extremely important! Nothing more humbling that running a business with a team that shares the workload, that commits for success on a daily basis and that sees each other as equal. The old idea of “The Boss” in the big office running the business from distance doesn’t apply to us.
If you had a chance to start your company over again, what would you do differently?
Tough one. I wouldn’t want to get rid of all the missteps just because they got us to be what we are today. One of the things we wish we could change was the way we approached the inflatable paddleboard market at the time, specifically the wholesale market. Our main goal has been selling the most rigid, highest quality inflatable paddleboard in the market since day one, hoping to educate our customers and differentiate ourselves from cheap, low quality/ high volume manufacturers. We spent too many hours trying to secure resellers all over the country, assuming most stores would be interested in selling the highest quality inflatable paddleboard available at a competitive price. We later found out that a lot of resellers care more about profit margins than high quality products.
What have been some of your failures, and what have you learned from them?
Our initial obsession trying to cover as many distribution channels as possible, all at once, while competing with high volume brands. Somewhere along the road we decided to go back to our boutique roots, focusing on selling our high quality inflatable paddleboards in exclusive retail stores where quality is a priority, while at the same time educating potential customers online.
How many hours a day do you work on average, and what does your typical day look like?
The beauty of entrepreneurship, at least for us, is not having a set working structure. Our dream was to be able to run this business whenever, from wherever, without having to stick to an 8-5 working schedule. Some weeks we can work 13-16 hours a day, crunching numbers, designing and creating new marketing campaigns, followed by 5 days camping along the coastline in the Exumas or a week long catamaran voyage around the BVI. Wherever we go, you can be sure that at least 2 inflatable paddleboards are coming along.
What motivates you, and who has been your greatest inspiration?
Freedom to travel, to explore, to see what else is out there. I’ve been always inspired by those who actively chase their dreams, by those who are willing to risk what’s comfortable and safe in the pursuit of happiness.
How do you define success?
I think success equals to happiness. My previous job had everything found under the definition of a “perfect job” but I was not happy. The high and lows and the level of uncertainty while owning a business is definitely not for the faint of heart, but is much more rewarding.
What do you enjoy most about being involved in the SUP industry?
Being able to spend a lot of time with nature, on the water, all over the world.
Where do you see the paddleboarding industry in 10 years? 20 years?
I believe the SUP industry will continue growing and evolving, with significant improvements in terms of materials available for the production of both rigid and inflatable paddleboards. I also believe the inflatable options will become more popular once the public realize its convenience and rigidness.