TAMPA — Since opening without fanfare weeks ago, the FlowRider has drawn a constant parade of thrill seekers eager to watch or pay $20 for a half-hour of wakeboard chills and spills.
Adrenalina — the third extreme sports store of its kind — formally opens today at International Plaza with demos by FlowRider pros who do tricks on a 4-inch-deep sheet of water, with 35,000 gallons shooting under their boards at 30 miles per hour.
"I waited months for this store to open," said Daniel Lopez, a Jefferson High junior. "Everybody at school is talking about it."
The story behind the brassy Miami startup isn't as well known locally.
Even without any profits and little cash, it recently launched a $329-million hostile bid for Pacific Sunwear Inc., a chain of 1,100 surfer apparel stores with annual revenue of $1.5-billion.
Pac-Sun rejected the bid overnight and dispatched tiny Adrenalina, which has yet to show where it can get all that cash, like a swarm of nettlesome gnats.
Analysts see the bid as a publicity stunt destined to prop up a penny stock run by irreverent entrepreneurs with a history of wheeling and dealing. But the news put a spotlight on a new type of retail entertainment that some big mall landlords think can draw hardboiled 12- to 30-year-old action sports fans back to the mall.
After Tampa, Adrenalina has 2009 openings scheduled with big malls owned by IP owner Taubman Centers Inc. and Simon Property Group in Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Denver, Rochester, N.Y., and the huge Meadowlands Xanadu project in New Jersey.
"We have a concept that works," said Jeffrey Geller, 34, chief operating officer of Adrenalina Inc., which generated $2.2-million in sales from its Orlando store, the only one open a full year. "Once we prove ourselves in a few more malls, we see our growth as exponential."
At 12,000 square feet, the Tampa store is the biggest so far. About 15 percent revenue comes from the FlowRider. It doubles as an attraction that in Orlando drew 1-million curious potential shoppers right to the center of the store its first year.
"We need to convert more of them into customers," said Geller, who became a Subway sandwich area developer in Peru after graduating from Tulane at 20.
About 70 percent of the sales come from action sports apparel and footwear, as well as punk rocker brands Ed Hardy and Affliction. The rest of sales come from a deep selection of equipment designed for motocross, BMX, skateboarding, surfing and kiteboarding. The chain also added a juice bar for the crowd magnetically gathered around the FlowRider.
It's a pricey way to get people in the door. About $1-million of the $1.7-million cost of the store is the FlowRider, initially made for water parks and cruise ships.
The brains and much of the cash behind the venture is Ilia Lekach, a 58-year-old Golden Beach entrepreneur who resigned under pressure in 2006 as chief executive officer of Parlux, a publicly traded company that gave the world Perry Ellis, Paris Hilton and Guess fragrances. He also ran Perfumania, a chain of 200 stores.
A surfer himself, Lekach was drawn to extreme sports by his 26-year-old son, Zalman. A pilot, skydiver and onetime pro surfer, Zalman had been co-host of the company's Adrenalina TV show, an extreme sports travel show. Production resumes this winter to add to the 200-episode library that aired on Spanish and English language cable and satellite channels since 2001. The company also gets ink publishing action sports magazines Extremo Surf and Death & Taxes.
"The show, which sort of started out being produced in a garage in California, introduced Ilia to a whole new subculture," said Geller, who followed Lekach from Perfumania. "Once we saw a FlowRider (in a Cancun water park), he knew it was the key to this huge extreme sports retailing opportunity for fans and participants."
After walking through all that extreme sports gear on Friday, 85-year-old New Port Richey retiree Richard Wood said:
"Never seen anything like it, especially inside a mall."
Mark Albright can be reached at [email protected] or 727-893-8252.