Servicing customers from Spain to Japan and the USA, Lee Stacey uses Qantas Points to grow his Gold Coast-based surf brand abroad.
As a surfer, board maker and owner of surf lifestyle brand Stacey MFG, Lee Stacey has travelled the world seeking great swell – and waves of business inspiration.
“You learn from all the people you meet when you travel,” he says. “Every small surf community is so different, with their own idiosyncrasies, but so the same in many ways. It’s crazy to see how global surfing is, yet how community-based and unique it is in each of those regions.”
Keeping it local has been the key to success for Stacey since he founded his business on the Gold Coast a decade ago. Now producing 40 to 50 boards a week out of his factory in Currumbin, Stacey MFG reaches all corners of the globe, selling across Australia – with big markets on the Gold Coast, Sydney’s Northern Beaches, Newcastle, South Australia and Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula – as well as Japan, the United States, Chile, Brazil, Spain and other European countries.
Despite the broad customer base, Stacey retains a singular vision. “We pride ourselves on being a local brand in every region we’re selling in,” he says. “Where I grew up, the guy who builds the boards has always got time to talk to the local customers, the local shops, all the key local surfers, so that was the gap I saw here.
“Apart from the local shapers, it didn’t feel like there were a lot of people doing that on a national or international level. The big guys were mass-producing surfboards and my goal was never to be making hundreds of surfboards a week; it was only ever to be about the size we’re at now so we can stay connected to the regions we sell in.”
Stacey spent his teen years in the small coastal town of Victor Harbour in South Australia, where he learnt the art of board shaping. “To get cheap boards, I had to clean the local factory where the boards were made. I just fell in love with the culture of it all – the board-building lifestyle and the freedom that it seemed to give you. I’m 42 now, so I’ve been doing it over half my life.”
This passion for surf culture eventually lured Stacey to the glittering shores of the Gold Coast, a place he calls “the mecca of surfboard manufacturing”. After stints with some of Australia’s largest board makers, including the world-renowned JS Industries, Stacey decided to follow his dream and go out on his own. In 2009, Stacey Surfboards was born: a one-man operation making an average of 10 to 12 boards a week in “a little shaping bay next to where I got my boards cut”.
Since then, the business has more than tripled in size. Now known as Stacey MFG, the company employs four full-time staff across sales and marketing, as well as contractors assisting in the production under the guidance of Stacey, who remains head shaper. A further three staff joined the business after it branched out into apparel in 2016, creating a range of core essentials (like board shorts), as well as seasonal pieces.
Servicing customers all over the world has required a lot of travel; trips Stacey has been able to make with the help of Qantas Points earned with his American Express Qantas Business Rewards Card. The business earns about 200,000 points per year, which have typically been used for staff travel, accommodation through Qantas Hotels, Qantas Wine and the Qantas Rewards Store.
“I’d go to Spain twice a year, to America and Japan once a year. And when we get back to travelling, I’ll be going to Chile at least one a year as well,” he says. “The points-earning capacity is what attracted us to the American Express Qantas Business Rewards Card. With the offers that American Express and Qantas provide and the partners they have on board, it really was the only option.”
Stacey’s business partner, Jamie Karlson, has encouraged him to collect points at every opportunity, using their American Express card to pay domestic and international suppliers and apparel manufacturers, as well as for office supplies and utilities. “We use it for anything we possibly can,” he says. “The majority of our partners accept Amex so it allows us to make prompt payments with no hassle. The American Express FX International Payments system also allows us to pay for large purchase orders from our suppliers in Thailand, China and Bangladesh while earning Qantas Points. This has helped us grow internationally.”
Stacey has plans for new markets overseas but says his heart will always remain on the Gold Coast. He loves the “friendly rivalry” in the tight-knit surfboard industry.
“I know exactly what we stand for and who we are as a brand. I’m not trying to be like the others so I’m happy to share information and stuff. It’s friendly competition,” he says. “Life’s a bit too short and the past six to eight months have taught us not to worry about silly little things like that.”
Indeed, Stacey MFG will never be the biggest fish in the ocean but that’s the way he likes it. “We want to keep expanding internationally while making sure that we never forget about our backyard. We want to take small, correct steps for the brand and ensure it doesn’t get to the point where we lose sight of why we love doing what we do.”
Lee Stacey’s top business tips
Learn from your mistakes, don’t dwell on them: “Over time, you learn, you make a lot of mistakes, you grow. I guess the reason you run a business is to come to work every day and try to do better than the previous day.”
Back yourself: “There are times where you have to stand up for what you believe in and do what is right for your business, which isn’t always agreeing with everyone else. It doesn’t mean you don’t respect what they do or you don’t respect how they do it.”
Grow at the right pace for you: “Unless you’ve got huge capital, you can’t just jump into anything quickly. Plus, it takes a lot of time to involve yourself within an area, to connect with the right people and get your brand entrenched before you even start trying to sell a product.”
Finding the right partners helps, he says. “Our American Express account managers have always gone the extra mile for us. They’ve been dedicated to helping us grow and have gone above and beyond what we’d ordinarily expect from a card provider.”
Keep it local: Relying on suppliers can be tricky, especially during a pandemic, so it helps to be self-sufficient wherever possible. Sourcing local also helps, he says. While other businesses struggled with international supply chain issues when COVID hit, Stacey and his team didn’t have that problem. “A lot of the materials we use to make our polyurethane surfboards are all sourced in Australia so we’ve been able to rely on that supply chain.”