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Zhik 2018 Yacht 728x90

Zhik at Force 4 Deacons store in Bursledon

by Mark Jardine 1 Jun 12:00 BST
Tristan Hutt & Pip Johnstone at the Force 4 Deacons store in Bursledon © Mark Jardine

We spoke to Pip Johnstone, Director of Force 4 Chandleries, and Tristan Hutt of Zhik about the new area dedicated to Zhik product at the Force 4 Deacons store in Bursledon.

The Force 4 Deacons store has recently had a major revamp after a fire tore through the upper floor as Pip explains:

"In June 2016 on a Sunday night we had a catastrophic fire in my office, which led to the store having to close for 8 months. The entire top floor of the building was completely gutted. It left us with an opportunity to sort out our dinghy range, as our stand-alone dinghy centre just over the bridge wasn't getting the footfall, whereas this store has 25-30,000 people visit it every year. It really allowed us to show all the other things we do to those people."

So now, in 2018, the Force 4 Deacons store is a clean, well-organised retail space where customers can see all the latest dinghy gear. A brand Force 4 are working closely with is Zhik, with a section dedicated to their kit.

"It's the premium dinghy brand and what people ask for," said Pip. "At the same time online, which is where growth has been, doesn't allow you to try on the kit. Dinghy sailing kit is very tactile, so unlike buying an offshore jacket, which you can pick by size, you want to try it out and see the innovative facets. It's really important for us to have it, allow people to get into it, and see what they're buying."

Zhik's Tristan Hutt was wearing gear from the brand well before he worked for the company. We asked him what it was like to work for the brand he's grown up alongside.

"It's amazing. The Zhik brand has been on my radar since I was a teenager. It's always been a pinnacle, aspirational product for me and was what I wanted to wear when I was younger, seeing top athletes performing and doing amazingly well globally in the product made me feel like 'that is the gear for me'.

"The reality of it is, as I've grown up the brand has grown up. I've seen it expand into the mainstream and into new markets. When I had the opportunity to go over to Australia, sailing 18ft Skiffs in Sydney Harbour which was awesome, the opportunity presented itself to work for Zhik, a really interesting part of the industry, which was something I'd always wanted to do. I grabbed the chance with both hands and ran with it!"

We've had the opportunity on and to talk to Zhik designers, such as Drue Kerr, and it's fascinating seeing just how much innovation and development goes on behind the scenes. We asked Tristan if that presents a challenge to him, as well as the opportunities:

"It does. Any pinnacle brand has certain pillars which reinforce the structure of the organisation, and innovation is definitely one of those for Zhik. It's a technical brand which requires a level of technical knowledge when you work for them, which you wouldn't necessarily need with a mainstream fashion brand. I've used the gear for a long time and I sail a lot which allows me to have a deep understanding of the product, and also spending six months at the head office in Sydney was incredibly useful, understanding the DNA of the brand and how it's put together."

One of the main new lines in 2018 for Zhik is the split of the Superwarm into the X and V ranges. We asked Pip what advantages this provided for the retailer:

"It allows us to sell a top-level, premium product at a couple of price points which weren't there before. It gives customers a new way in to the brand. Once you're in the gear you stick with it. My first bit of Zhik gear was footwear and toe-straps in an RS400, and I wouldn't change it for the world as the difference in the grip, where the two things just locked together, made a massive difference to our sailing. As and when I need kit, this is the area that I look at, then I talk to my wife about budgets!"

The Force 4 Deacons store has knowledgeable staff who can guide you to the right product for your experience and type of sailing as Pip explains:

"It's all about tailoring to the type of sailing you're doing and the level you're at. We ask people questions about what they're doing when they want advice, talking about fit and body shape, asking if they've thought about their options, such as those looking for dry suits as to whether they've thought about a wetsuit and what their preconceptions were. It makes the conversation much more interesting and can really open the customer's eyes as to what is available. You can now buy products which work year-round and tweak the rest of your kit around it, which is an idea that people can really engage with and Tristan gives our staff lots of training to help with that."

Like many people in the marine industry, Pip is a keen sailor himself, so we asked him what he'd got planned for the year:

"My wife and I had a baby 18 months ago, and my wife is the helm so we're just getting back in to racing again at Locks Sailing Club. Nothing really competitive, but local sailing in Langstone Harbour, getting our feet back in the water with some great club racing. Our aim is to just enjoy it, have fun and hoping not to capsize!"

Tristan always seems to have some sailing project up his sleeve, and right now has an interesting project which is nearing completion:

"I sail with a designer for Allen Brothers and we've both been involved in skiffs for the last ten years. We said at some point we had to take the plunge and get an International 14, and when we had the opportunity to buy one locally we couldn't turn it down.

"We've spent a lot of time working out what to do with it and amazingly Phoenix Marine came on board and are helping us out with a complete refit on the boat, which is unbelievable as their attention to detail is insane, so the boat is going to be really special. We're looking forward to revealing that very soon, but we'll be staying tight-lipped about it until then!"

It's great to see two passionate sailors representing their brands with a similar passion!

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