Seven years after finding success with poker chips, local business owner Stephan Aarstol is going all-in in a different arena. His new company, Tower Paddleboards, began selling paddleboards online earlier this month and recently opened a retail location in Pacific Beach.
“It really hasn’t taken off in San Diego,” Aarstol said of the paddleboard market. “They’re starting to pop up a little bit, but really it’s the ideal market, having 4,000 square feet of water park and the coast.”
Tower Paddleboards is currently open five days a week and by appointment at 4645 Cass St, Suite 104. The shop currently carries Coreban boards and Quickblade carbon fiber paddles and will carry the company’s own line within a couple months.
“I don’t know a ton about surfing or the paddleboard industry. That’s something that I’m going to have to educate myself on,” Aarstol said. “It’s not like there’s some grand scheme to go out there and put a novel twist on it.”
While admittedly not much of a surfer, Aarstol said he enjoys paddleboarding. He said he got the idea for Tower Paddleboarding while trying the activity out with a friend.
“Paddleboarding was a lot easier,” Aarstol said. “I caught five waves in the first hour and a half that I was out there, but then I got stung by a stingray.”
Even though he might be a newcomer to the sport that has seen a recent surge in popularity, Aarstol is familiar with search engine marketing — his area of expertise. That’s what makes him confident that his success in the high-end market of poker chips can carry over to the high-end market of paddleboards, where boards cost between $800 and $1,600 and paddles range from $200 to $400.
“I saw what kind of traffic there was out there and it turns out there’s really good search traffic,” Aarstol said. “It takes the guesswork out of ‘Will I be able to sell it?’”
At the height of the poker boom in 2004, Aarstol said his business, Sidepot Gaming Company, sold 450,000 chips in its first six months, when he estimates the demand for poker chips was 10 times what it is today. Despite a drop-off in popularity, Sidepot’s website still draws approximately 25,000 unique visitors per month via search engines such as Google.
“A lot of the competitors have gone away, but it was really competitive for a while,” Aarstol said.
Aarstol said Sidepot Gaming Company controls between 25 and 30 percent of the worldwide market in high-end poker chips. Sidepot sells its own lines of clay and ceramic poker chips that range from $500 to $1,500 per set. Customers include poker nuts, celebrities and companies.
“It’s not all just Internet marketing and trying to sell things at the lowest price,” Aarstol said. “There is solid business behind the scenes.”