Good Grip: Don’t let your wax business rub you the wrong way.

The combined weight of all ants on earth is greater than the combined weight of all humans. Yes, sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, but more importantly, it exemplifies that there’s strength in numbers — and that you can make money selling those little bars of wax (just sell a lot of it).

John Dahl, president of Wax Research, has been proving that since 1972, the year he launched Sticky Bumps. His factory in San Marcos, California pumps out roughly 20,000 bars of wax a day. Although Dahl also produces Sticky Bumps-branded traction pads and markets Bumps flip-flops, among other products, he says the paraffin-based bars generate the majority of his revenues — and profits. (In fact, he says those brand extensions aren’t necessary for a healthy bottom line — they came out of demand from his Japanese distributors.)


“How do you make money with surfboard wax? Dahl asks rhetorically. “You make a lot of it. You make it fast and efficient. You have good workers, you control your overhead, you play by the rules. It’s just a regular business. It runs on how good you are at it.

Wax makes up a fraction of a shop’s business, but Dahl says shops could make wax a profitable category if they’d just step up and charge more for it. “Retailers should be doing the math, recognizing the economy, and having the balls to say, ‘We’re a business, and we’re going to get a fair profit to open these doors. Why should we not make a profit on it?’

Some are already onto it. “We’ve raised our prices {on wax}, says Becker Surfboards’ Dave Hollander, who charges a buck a bar. “We said, ‘You know, we’re tired of giving it away.’ They pay two bucks in a liquor store for them. I don’t think we’ve lost any good will for it.

Dahl says part of what’s repressed wax prices at retail has been a battle between surf shops to sell their wax for less. He says that many shops are hesitant to charge more for wax for fear that they’ll be stigmatized as an expensive shop.

“It’s identifiable in that respect, says Hollander. “But my stores are in Malibu, Corona del Mar, and Hermosa Beach. I think these kids can probably afford it. A Starbucks {coffee} is two-fifty, what’s a dollar bar of wax?

Whalebone Owner Jim Vaughn also charges one dollar for a bar of wax, but margins for him on wax are minute. Whalebone’s located on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, so once shipping and handling to the East Coast are factored in (wax is dense!) a bar of wax costs Vaughn between 45 cents and 65 cents apiece. That’s not including the lost revenue from all the bars Whalebone gives away.

“Anyone who’s a regular customer, they’re used to grabbing a bar and going, ‘Oh, I’ll get you next time,’ recounts Vaughn, who goes through about a box of wax a day. “I thought about making it ridiculously priced just for tourists buying Sex Wax so I can make it off them. But then I get lots of guys who go, ‘Look, you’ve given me so many bars of wax, here’s five bucks. Have a beer, or something.’ I think it all averages out.

Rather than an income generator, Vaughn views his wax business at Whalebone as a loss leader. “7Eleven sells Sex Wax for a buck-eighty-nine or something, and you know if it’s a draw to come in and get a cheap bar of wax, check out the store, then it’s a cheap draw, says Vaughn. He figures a customer who comes in for wax may buy something else, too.

Surf City Owner Roy Turner is taking steps to ensure wax doesn’t sandbag profits. He’s now starting to sell prepaid wax cards, which customers can swipe in exchange for wax. “It’s a great way to guarantee money from something that usually loses money. Turner says it’s likely many wax cards won’t be fully redeemed.

Hollander says he’s considering starting a wax-card program at Becker. He guesses customers would probably handle wax cards like they do gift cards — 23 percent of the value on Becker’s gift cards is not being redeemed.

Many have grocers already caught on. Go into a Vons and you could buy giift cards for a number of stores, including Nordstrom, Chili’s Grill & Bar, or Bed Bath & Beyond. “That’s why every supermarket has everybody’s cards there, says Hollander. “It’s because they know you’re not going to use them all. — John Maynard

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