Imagine that you’re expecting your first child when you get laid off from your job. That’s exactly what happened to Dan and Robin Moreno. With no job and a new family on the way, they seemed to be in a precarious situation. While it was a horrifying experience, they took advantage of the situation and turned it into an opportunity to pursue a lifelong passion. Despite having no prior business experience, the couple decided to open a surf shop. They believed that their willingness to learn, their love to serve others, and their love for the Ocean would see them through.
As a young boy, Dan learned to surf in the San Miguel area of the Philippines. When he was in sixth grade, his class voted him “Most likely to own a surf shop.” Years later, Dan moved to California where he met his wife, Robin. It was 1985 when Dan was laid off while he and Robin were expecting their first child. They were horrified. While they figured out what to do next, Robin started teaching swimming lessons for income. One day, while driving home, a storefront that had been vacant for three years sparked a discussion about opening a surf shop. Dan sort of let the idea go, but the next day Robin went to inquire about the vacancy. Dan credits his wife for her persistence — a necessary quality for any entrepreneur. With a plan in place, Sonlight Surf Shop of Pacifica, California was born.
Dan and Robin had no business training prior to opening their new shop. “We learned everything on the fly,” remarked Dan . To supplement their on-the-job learning, he studied books on running small businesses, and Robin took business and bookkeeping classes at the local college.
When they started, they were concerned about going into business underfunded, but to also be conscious of overbuying. With money from family savings and income from swimming lessons, they were able to open the shop, buy some surfboards and shirts, and run the shop for a few months. Business operations were tough to manage, initially, for the two new parents. But tensions from the new business were eased by their love for serving people and as they grew more accustomed to it. Dan noted that many small businesses fail because they overbuy inventory and can’t sell it. Over time, they would learn how to manage their inventory.
One day, a co-worker of Dan’s from a part time job needed a surfboard repaired. Sonlight Surf Shop handled the job promptly, and with great results. Dan and Robin had their first customer. It was amazing, and they hoped many more would follow. From the very beginning, they understood the value of excellent customer service, and that belief still resonates today. With each customer, they’ve forged relationships of trust, ensuring the customer that their interests are of the utmost importance. It’s resulted in return customers and customer referrals, which is especially important in the surfing industry and has been key to building the foundation for their business.
Today, almost 30 years after they first started, Sonlight Surf Shop is constantly kept busy and continues to do very well. Dan shared his amazement at watching his business grow from a dream he and his wife had, to a viable business. They now service a broader area, even ones farther away from the coast. Dan and Robin’s hard work and friendly service has paid off. Even as other surf shops came and went, and even through the 2008 financial crisis, business for Sonlight Surf Shop has steadily grown. One of the most rewarding aspects of their business is the relationships Dan and Robin have made. “I love to see others stoked on surfing. It is a chance to see people as childlike, not childish,” exclaimed Dan. This fact is obvious to anyone who enters Sonlight Surf Shop, from the most seasoned surfer, to the newest beginner.
This article was originally written on June 4, 2014 and updated on August 26, 2016.