Merchant dream died in mainstream
Global surfwear brand Billabong was once a worthless idea on the kitchen table of Gordon and Rena Merchant's flat overlooking the surf hot spot of Burleigh Heads. And 40 years later it's technically back there after the company that owns the fashion label declared it had zero value.
For Mr Merchant it has been a particularly brutal wipeout. In 2007, the surfer and active environmentalist was on the cusp of becoming a billionaire with a personal fortune valued at more than $900 million, thanks mainly to his large shareholding in Billabong, which was valued by the sharemarket at $3.8 billion.
Certainly not short of a shekel, thanks to a large international property portfolio and other business interests, Mr Merchant's 15 per cent stake in Billabong is worth only $38 million today, with the company worth $250 million - and getting smaller by the day.
This might come as quite a shock to the legions of loyal surfers who sport Billabong's familiar black and white wave design on their jeans, singlets, wetsuits and caps, or to anyone who passing a specialist surfwear or department store will see the Billabong name plastered everywhere.
It's a name synonymous with surfing culture, sport and youth fashion. It sponsors surfing competitions across the world, and is known to Americans, Germans, French and Japanese as much as to Aussies riding a wave on a Sydney or Victorian beach.
But as far as the company and its accountants are concerned, Billabong as a brand is now worthless. A global consumer downturn from New York to Tokyo has robbed the Billabong label of its ability to generate cash, and for modern businesses, investors and the sometimes strange "bizarro" world of accounting, that's enough to utterly destroy an asset.
Buried deep in the accounts, page 103 to be exact, the company admitted that its Billabong brand had gone from a carrying value of $252.17 million in 2012, to zero in 2013. The Billabong brand also now has zero goodwill. Other brands within the company's fashion stable also suffered; Tigerlily, a swimwear label begun by Jodhi Meares, fashion designer, one-time bikini model and former wife of James Packer, has also seen its goodwill destroyed and its brand value decimated. Another skate brand, Element, is also now effectively worthless.
The birth, rise and fall of Billabong follows an arc well known to retail experts and well trodden by other fashion labels. The hip and modern brand of today can quickly become stale in the eyes of fickle youth who are dazzled and distracted by the next hot brand.
Baby boomers who had never gone surfing in their life walking around in Billabong gear probably didn't help either, only alienating the brand from real surfers and young people (who wants to wear the same clothing as their dad?) and transforming it into a mainstream commercial fashion label totally divorced from the original ideals of the founder Merchant.