It didn’t take Tory Strange long to figure out his place in life was not that of a gas station owner.
Looking back at 30 years as proprietor of The Surf Station, Strange laughs about the odd way his business began as half gas, half surf board shop.
At least half the business was his specialty.
“The good news is the surf business got better,” Strange said.
The store is celebrating 30 years in business over the Labor Day Weekend. Strange said the reasons for success are having a great location on State Road A1A in front of the entrance to Anastasia State Park, top-notch customer service and hiring and retaining quality employees.
Getting out of the gas business certainly helped, too.
The Surf Station began with Strange renting out the bays of a service station from a friend who was a doctor in Jacksonville.
The friend agreed to buy the station with the understanding that Strange would open his surf shop — focused more on windsurfing to start — on the property.
It worked out well for Strange, who could grow the business without huge overhead costs while drawing customers headed for the beach.
When the owner decided to sell the property, Strange was encouraged by another friend to buy the place himself rather than be at the mercy of a new owner who might not be interested in having a surf shop next door to a gas station.
With help from his friend and bank financing, the surfer took over ownership of the station, but that was mostly to keep the surf shop going.
“Here’s some kid with no money who ended up buying one the best corners in St. Augustine,” Strange said.
The business continued to thrive, but not because of Strange’s expertise in the area of fuel sales.
He said he would raise prices when he needed to get more revenue, which would drive customers away. Then he’d have to raise prices higher. That didn’t improve sales.
“People will leave you for a penny,” Strange said about the gas business. “We went from selling 50,000 gallons of fuel a month to 10,000.”
So he didn’t understand the gas business. But Strange knew about surfing and how to make customers happy with surfing equipment.
In 1994, Strange got rid of the gas pumps and started to focus on what he did best.
Now, he can look back at serving the surfing community for three decades.
“You work every day and focus on the customers,” Strange said. “I never looked ahead to 30 years when I started.”
There’s no reason to think the shop won’t continue to celebrate anniversaries.
The Surf Station has built a loyal customer base by treating people right and getting the best gear for them.
“The staff here is nice and friendly and we know our merchandise,” Strange said. “My philosophy is keep your workers happy, and they’ll be happy to the customers.”
Strange has also done a good job catering to many different needs. The shop sells skateboarding equipment as well as apparel and even used gear.
To offer specialized service, there is also The Girl Next Store, a shop that sells surfing equipment and apparel for girls and women. It has an all-female staff and is connected to The Surf Station.
Building a new customer base, the Surf Station also offers surf camps for the next generation of wave riders.
“One of the things that’s helping the sport is the surf camps,” Strange said. “They stay full. Once they get hooked on sport, they love it.”
That’s what happened for Strange, who enjoys the sport now as much as he ever did. Before speaking Thursday, he had already been in the water.
“If you really love surfing, you’re hooked and it’s a lifelong sport,” Strange said. “You’re getting in shape and staying in shape while you’re having fun.
“I plan on surfing as long as I live.”