Carrol Mardian

Have you ever dreamed of starting your own clothing store? Carrol Mardian did just that five years ago when she and her husband opened Mermaids, a swimwear store, and World Core Surf, a hard goods and name brand surf apparel store. Both are both located in Kona, Hawaii. Before opening Mermaids and World Core Surf, Carrol and her husband owned two stores in California. With a true love for retail, Carrol has been in the clothing and surf industries for thirty years. Read on to find out how she discovered her passion as well as her best insider advice for starting your own business.

Pick a job that you want to run to every day.

How did you discover your current job?

I’ve always been interested in fashion, and my first job was a sales position at a small surf shop called Hobie Sports. From there I found my passion and wanted to learn all aspects of the retail industry -- not just the fashion component, but the buying, merchandising and day-to-day aspects of running a successful business.

What has been your path so far to get you where you are today?

I started as a salesperson, and within the first two weeks I received a ten cent raise (and I was so happy). My boss started bringing me along to the Action Sports Retailer shows where all of the seasonal buying in the surf industry takes place. She must have valued my opinion, because she started asking my thoughts on trends and what items would suit our store best. Within a year I was participating in all of the buying for women.

As I was learning more and more about the industry, Hobie Sports was looking to open a new store in Kona, Hawaii. My husband and I were recruited by the owners and were given the opportunity to open our own store and become part owners. We were involved with Hobie Sports for 15 years, eventually running 14 stores in both Hawaii and California. In 1992, we left Hobie and opened our own surf shop. It always had been a dream of ours to be the sole owners of a business and not part of a big corporation.

Was there any one situation that helped you along your way?

Having Dick and Shirley Metz (the owners of Hobie Sports) as our mentors helped us focus on all of the details of retail (from taping up boxes of hangers to coming to the store last minute to open the doors when an employee doesn’t show up).

What is your typical day like? Does it ever change?

I open the store and review the log book from the previous day’s activities and take care of any customer service issues that need to be handled (e.g. placing a special order or handling a return). From there the majority of my day is spent on the sales floor and managing inventory. I sell “separates” (you can mix and match top and bottom sizes and styles), so I always need to fill in inventory to keep our size selection complete. Once every three months I travel to Oahu or California to look at the new season’s collections and place orders for our two stores.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

Helping a customer find a swimsuit she feels confident and beautiful in is the best part of my job. Also, having people walk in my store and compliment on how helpful my staff is brings me joy.

What is the most challenging part?

Right now it’s very challenging with the economic situation. It’s hard not being able to buy all of the new styles because business is slow. I have to keep my inventory lean and ride through the tough times.

What is one lesson you’ve learned in your job that sticks with you?

It’s a cliché, but the customer’s happiness is the most important thing. It’s all about making sure they leave the store with a smile on their face.

What do you feel is the biggest challenge for women today, particularly females in your industry?

A woman isn’t going to make a lot of money in the surf industry unless she becomes an entrepreneur and opens her own business (and makes it successful).

Who are your role models?

My two best friends who are both in totally different industries than mine (real estate and corporate recruiting), but we pick one another’s brains and learn so much from each other.

Is there a quote or mantra that you live by?

Start each day with a smile and be positive. It sets the pace for the whole day.

What advice do you have for girls who want to be in your industry?

You have to do the grunge work. Start at the bottom, and work your way up (remember taping those hanger boxes?!). You have to learn every aspect of any business you go into -- not just the parts that are fun. Only then can you truly appreciate the industry that you choose.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I think young women have so much more confidence in business these days. Ladies, find your passion and stick with it. It’s so rewarding. Pick a job that you want to run to every day.