After several months of speculation, rumors, and high-powered meetings, Billabong Australia has decided to fund its own licensee in the United States to handle the sales, marketing, and all other business associated with selling the brand domestically.

The void was opened when Bob Hurley, the U.S. licenser of Billabong for the last fifteen years, announced he would be parting ways with the brand and pursuing his own namesake apparel business.

“There’s no change basically in the program as far as Billabong as a brand,” says International Marketing Manager Dougall Walker. “We’re expecting a smooth transition. We interviewed a lot of people. A lot of major companies that already had infrastructures in place wanted to do it. And a lot of people were throwing a lot of money at us.”

After much thought, Billabong decided to handle things itself. “At the end of the day we decided the best thing would be for us to do it ourselves, put a team in place,” Walker says. “It will be a licensed operation, a separate company but owned by the international division.

“We’ll implement the company, we’ll finance it, we’ll oversee it, but it’ll be run by the team of people we put together here in the United States, not by the Australian operation.”

The established account base will remain exactly the same. Currently, Hurley is handling shipping for the snow apparel and the new licensee will take over for Spring ’99. As for the snow-apparel program in the future, expect to see the addition of a women’s line. “We have a very strong program worldwide in snowboarding, and have a lot of influence in Europe, Japan, and Canada,” Walker adds. “So the U.S. is a very important part of the snowboard business as well.”

And the snowboard team? “We have a good international team for Billabong and we wouldn’t look to change that too much either,” Walker says. “But we’re always on the lookout for hot new talent.”

The biggest thing for Billabong right now is getting the word out. Staffing and duties are still being finalized, and the week after the ASR show the entire international operation was planning to meet in the U.S. to discuss general business as well as design.

“I think the most difficult thing for the retailers at this point in time is the lack of information that’s been available,” Walker continues. “There’s nothing like the fear of the unknown. We’ve had a lot of major accounts coming up to us at this show and congratulating us on the way we’re progressing. They’re very comfortable with the way things are going now. We’ve got some very good people in place and we’ll continue to do that.”

-Robyn Hakes