It’s 1970. A 19 year old Merewether teen by the name of Kent Ladkin has spent the last year studying economics at uni, while working as an office clerk. The lifestyle was all wrong. Kent decides to drop out. An alternate life beckons.
Kent hitch hikes to the sleepy south coast of NSW and spends the summer of 1970 camping and surfing Green Island and Aussie Pipe. Winter is coming, so Kent decides to move to Angourie, just outside of Yamba on the north coast of NSW.
Before long, a friend offers Kent a tree house in the bush situated right next to the towns iconic point break. For two years, Kent lives a peaceful existence. Surfing uncrowded waves, reading and doing yoga. The iconic Tree House will go onto be featured in the 70’s surf movie classic ‘Morning of the Earth’.
As great as times are, Kent knows it can’t last forever. His entrepreneurial spirit is just beneath the surface.
In the early 70’s, people still used big blocks of brittle paraffin wax from the petrol station to wax their boards. One day Kent recognises there must be a better way and starts experimenting with a new formula while in the tree house.
He discovers adding Bees wax along with a few other key ingredients makes for a far more effective product. It was much easier to apply and didn’t flake off and become slippery. One of the worlds first surf specific waxes was born. He would call it ‘Honey Surf Wax’.
Kent’s brother Brad calls to say he’s moved onto an old farm in Gerringong on the NSW south coast. Kent had been dreaming about finding a small town with good surf that wasn’t to far from Sydney for business.
Kent makes the move south and soon falls in love with Gerringong’s rolling green hills and beautiful coast line.
Everyone was tired of using the old paraffin wax. They knew they must be onto something. Production in the old dairy started heating up.
Kent and Brad had the idea to convert 2 buses into mobile home / warehouses, which would enable them to personally visit and supply every Surf Shop from Noosa to Bells Beach once a month. Stores appreciated the personal service and soon fell in love with the product. Honey surf wax took off.
“To save on litter, the only packaging we used was recycled boxes and newspapers. While the wax itself had nothing except for a a sticker. As it turned out, when people peeled it off, it was generally easier to slap it on something than find a bin, so we ended up with hundreds of thousands of stickers representing the brand on cars, signs, fridges you name it. It was amazing.” - Kent
The frequent road trips of the 70’s from Victoria to Noosa where anything but gruelling sales trips. These journeys represented adventure and freedom.
Soon Kent even starts doing regular bus trips to the rail head in Sydney, to ship out wax to reps in other states, NZ & the USA.
10 years on in 1982, the brothers will have sold 2.5 million bars of wax, dominating an estimated 90% of the surf wax market over the past 10 years. A long road still lies between them and this milestone...
A few have passed since the birth of honey surf wax in the early 70’s, wax sales are steadily growing and opportunities soon arise to expand the product range.
At the time there were no board covers on the market in Australia. “A friends Aunty owned a knitting-mill. She made Brad a cool board cover for his trip to Bali. Suddenly we were selling thousands of board covers every year alongside the wax.” - Kent
Then came surfboard leashes. Ian & John from Balin in Victoria invented the modern moulded leg rope with a swivel and asked Kent to distribute the new product in NSW & Queensland. Business moved onto an exciting new level.
Stoked with the success of their whole sale business, Kent decides to open the flagship ‘Honey Surf Shop’ in their home town of Gerringong.
He finds a decent property to rent in Gerringong and gets to work preparing for the opening.
One cool August morning, in 1976, Kent gets a call to say the factory along with 8 tons of wax had caught on fire. He rushes back to the farm.
In no time, the fire could be seen from over 50 km away. By the time the Fire Brigade arrives, there was nothing they could do. They literally sat back and had a cup of tea, waiting for it to burn out.
Within a matter of hours, the wax business had burnt to the ground and the freshly renovated, stocked surf shop had been blocked.
That very afternoon, while the fire is still burning. The local council phones to inform Kent they had changed their minds and withdrawn permission for the surf shop to open as it was not zoned retail.
It was one of those profound situations in life, where a positive mental attitude can turn a stumbling block, into a stepping stone to greater things.
Shortly after being blocked to open the retail store, Kent was offered the chance to buy a much better positioned property on the main street of Gerringong, opposite the town hall. It was just an abandoned Grocery Store at the time, but he saw the potential and bought it.
The Honey Surf Shop opened it’s doors on the main street of Gerringong in 1976. Although he didn‘t know it at the time, Kent would one day expand this humble store into the largest Independent surf store in Australia, and rename it ‘Natural Necessity Surf Shop’.
On the wholesale side however, things where looking grim, the wax factory along with all their stock is temporally out of action due to the fire, there was an urgent need to keep the cash flow going on the monthly road trips visiting and servicing stores.
During the next road trip, Kent meets a Brazilian called Pablo who has just started importing clothing from Bali. Kents only ever known hardware products but has a good feeling and takes the risk, purchasing a solid amount to try and sell to his usual stores.
First stop is Byron Bay. By the time he’s finished visiting the last store in Byron he has completely sold out. Kent doubles back to Pablo and they soon have the bus packed to the rafters.
Word soon spreads of the success Kent is having selling clothing on his dedicated road trips. It wasn’t long before other clothing labels where approaching him to distribute their goods.
Kent decides to get some Honey Surf T-Shirts made up by a = screen printer called Dare Jennings. One day while in Dares office, Kent sees some “Phantom” print T-Shirts that dare has created and feels there is some potential, so he takes them on the road.
Instantly, 1000’s sell every week. To keep up supply, Dare starts manufacturing the actual T-Shirts, as well as doing the printing. Dare will go onto one day create the iconic brands Mambo and Deus Ex Machina.
An innovative new footwear brand, Masseur Sandals was the product that would steal the show however. Millions of these sandals would end up being sold but Kent had the honour of selling the very first pair. “I remember waiting in the factory while the very first pair was glued up”
While business was growing well, the Surf Industry was still just in its infancy and no one really anticipated the boom it would one day go through. When Kent receives an offer to launch Masseur Sandals in the US, he decides this could be the opportunity he has been waiting for.
Kent hands the honey surf business over to his brother Brad and moves to California. “I was 28 and it was the first time i’d been overseas. Before long i’d fallen in love with a Californian girl, got married and was settled in at Malibu.” - Kent
Despite a slow start, after three years of hard work Kent has succeeded in getting the Aussie sandal brand Masseur into 3,000 stores across the US. Unfortunately, Kent and his wife discover the manufacturer is selling to unauthorised distributors behind their back, they decide to leave the messy situation behind and start fresh.
“We moved to the beautiful Central Coast of California. The house on the hill we choose had a view out the window of 18 miles of coast and 21 surf breaks.” - Kent
After a few years of laid back lifestyle, teaching Yoga and consulting other Aussie Business’s, Kent took a job in radio as a way to enhance his marketing and communication skills. This experience would be critical in later years when growing Natural Necessity.
The 80’s fly past. The U.S has been a fairy tale of fun, hard work, growth and great surfing however Kent dreams of returning to his roots in Australia and one day having kids. Kent separates from his Californian wife, who decides she doesn’t want to make the move.
Meanwhile in Australia, Brad has sold the Honey Surf label and wax production to fellow surf brand Ocean & Earth. The surf shop in Gerringong is also being leased out however Kent still owns the property and it has a little house out the back he could return to while living off the rent and enjoying a simple life teaching yoga and surfing.
Kent returns home for the first time in nearly a decade. As it turns out the lease on the surf shop is due to end, the store is once again vacant. Kent decides to reopen the surf shop as “Natural Necessity Surf Shop”
Soon after re-opening, Kent decides to start his weekly yoga class back up. In the beginning they hold the classes in the little store itself, making room by pushing the clothing racks out of the way.
One morning, a young lady by the name of Vivienne Ryder walks into the store, interested in joining the yoga classes. 6 months later, Viv and Kent are married on Werri Beach Headland. 3 sons soon follow. Forrest, Ryder and Taj.
Natural Necessity Surf starts to slowly grow. The family’s humble unit out back soon becomes filled with stock. Life in the back of the store has been special, but it was time to start expanding the stores floor area. The family start looking for a home.
“As a young man, I dreamed of settling down in a place with water on three sides, good surf and a river mouth. When we discovered an old beach house on the headland of nearby Gerroa, I knew this was it.” - Kent
The family move into their new home on Forrest’s 1st birthday, November 1, 1994.
As the 90’s roll on, Kent puts into practise everything he has learnt over the past three decades in business and marketing. The vision was simple “Create Australia’s Ultimate Surf Shop.”
Despite being located in a small country town, the business’s sales grow by a stunning 20%, year after year during the 90’s.
Over the years, Kent works hard and isn’t afraid to spend a lot of his time as the day to day general manager and sales person. He utilises simple yet effective print, radio and television ads to stoke the building momentum of the business while committing to gutsy financial moves to expand when necessary.
As roads and highways vastly improve between Gerringong and Sydney, more and more people start making the 2 hour day trip down to Gerringong and the rest of the beautiful south coast on weekends and holidays. No doubt this helps fuel the growing momentum.
In Natural Necessity’s full first year (1990) annual sales where $200K. In 2000 they hit $2M. While another decade later in 2010 after undergoing major renovations, sales reached 5 million.
It’s 2008, the GFC is looming and massive change is happening inside the surf industry. Most notably the oversaturation of new surf shops, mainly due to the big brands deciding to invest and expand in retail. Also the huge growthof online sales, both overseas and inside Australia.
With many independent surf shops starting to struggle, the family looks to embrace the future and gets excited about the potential of an online store branch.
Viv and Kents son Forrest is now 17 and excited to do his best opening up the family business to the whole of Australia through an online branch.
“It’s definitely been an interesting ride” says Forrest, now 22. “After many ups and downs, it feels great to have a hard earned, significant online presence that we can be proud of.”
Since it’s birth in 2011. The Natural Necessity Online Store has served over 12,000 customers from every corner of Australia, racking up 5 million page views in the process.
“What I find most interesting about the online store platform is how much it actually benefits the physical store. People frequently come in-store quoting the online store or even with a print off from the website”
Apart from directing the online store, Forrest now personally creates the stores television commercials as well as designing a refined range of Natural Necessity products, such as Stand Up Paddle Boards and Surfboard Fins.
Today, Natural Necessity is the largest single doorway surf shop in Australia. Boasting an unbeatable range, beautiful location and state of the art online shopping platform.
To complete the lifestyle experience, Kent and Viv opened the in-house, Vegetarian Perfect Break Cafe.
“There’s so much at the store to immerse yourself in, people often come for hours at a time.”
The surfboard gallery now holds over 1,000 boards. From 5ft kids soft boards to 14ft stand up paddle boards. Customers often travel down from Sydney just to take advantage of the dedicated demo board range, specifically so they can try before they buy.
Part of the company mission statement is “To enhance the Australian coastal lifestyle, and bring happiness to people by supplying them with the right equipment, clothing and ethical food. So they look and feel great.”
In an astonishing effort, starting 45 years ago in a tree house at Angourie, Kent and his family have created a business that employs over 60 people and is the cornerstone of the local community. “Everyone is stoked to be working here. They know that they’re part of an ethical organisation that brings happiness to people.”
Now 65, Kent and the family had things put into perspective when Viv was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015. Fortunately the cancer was operable and Viv is on the mend. “I realise now that I’ve achieved my vision from all those years ago and should be thinking about spending all the time I can with my wife and taking adva tage of the healthy surfing body I’ve got, while I still can.”
Having grown up so intimately within the family business, many expect the Ladkin boys to one day, take over. However they’re all set on pursuing their own paths. Forrest 22, film making and product design. Ryder 19, drone piloting. And Taj just 17, dreams of one day of traveling the world as a vegan chef.
After countless years cultivating the right team. Kent has recently been able to step back from key roles and let the business run itself. Looking to the future, Kent and Viv are open to bringing in a partner or even selling the company if the right person or family presents themselves.
“My new vision is to have created a culture and lifestyle business that will last 100 years”