Business Profile: Wetsuit Wearhouse
How exactly does an online retailer specializing in wetsuits and wetsuit accessories end up headquartered in Williamsport, Maryland? That’s a question that Chris Moleskie, president and CEO of Wetsuit Wearhouse Inc., gets asked all the time.
“We're a shipping facility and sell most of our products online,” he says.
Wetsuit Wearhouse’s 21,000-square-foot headquarters on South Conococheague Street features storage space for all 25,000 pieces of merchandise that the company stocks year-round.
Moleskie founded Wetsuit Wearhouse back in 2002 as a one-stop shop for all kinds of wetsuits. The company’s vast selection includes specialized suits for surfing, wakeboarding, water skiing, kayaking, scuba diving, triathlons, and pool rehabilitation. “We have wetsuits for just about anything you can think of,” Moleskie says. “And we stock every product for every season year-round. So we'll have an Alaska-grade wetsuit in August, and we'll sell rash guards in January. It doesn't matter what the climate is here because we're shipping worldwide.”
A Hagerstown native, Moleskie says his love for the water is what inspired him to work in the watersports industry. After earning a degree in business from Salisbury University in 1998, he got a job as a product manager for a technology firm based in Washington, D.C., and was then transferred to San Diego, California, where he lived for the next few years.
Moleskie spent a lot of time wakeboarding while in California, and one day he had an epiphany. “I realized that this is what I want to do. This is what I’m destined to do,” he says. “I needed to work in the watersports industry.”
An avid fan of all watersports, including scuba diving, wakeboarding, wake surfing, paddling, and longboard surfing, Moleskie soon realized that there was a niche in the wetsuit industry that hadn’t yet been filled. “You would have to go to a surf shop to get a surfing suit, a dive shop to get a diving suit, and a bike shop to get a triathlon suit,” he says. “And I was like, we can do this better, and Wetsuit Wearhouse was born.”
When Moleskie first founded Wetsuit Wearhouse, he used his bedroom as an office and a friend’s shed for storage space. Eventually, his business grew, and he moved into a warehouse in El Cajon, California.
Then in mid-2005, Moleskie decided to move his business across the country to Hagerstown, citing California’s skyrocketing real estate prices and Wetsuit Wearhouse’s huge East Coast customer base as reasons. “It just made sense to move back here,” he says. “I knew I could afford a house and a warehouse here, and FedEx has a shipping hub here.”
“And I truly missed my family,” he added. “I’m a Hagerstown boy. I wanted to get out, but I also wanted to come back. My parents and grandparents are here, and my wife and I wanted to start a family. It was just a no-brainer for me.”
Upon his return to Hagerstown, Moleskie rented a warehouse in downtown Hagerstown, where Wetsuit Wearhouse “exploded” over the next few years, he says. “We were bursting at the seams…. That’s when we got to the point when I said, okay, we have to move.”
In 2012, Moleskie purchased the building where Wetsuit Wearhouse currently resides, and it’s been a perfect fit for him, his seven full-time staff members, and his one part-time employee. “I think it's really cool to be part of a small town like Williamsport,” he says. “And it’s just phenomenal that we scored a building right on the Potomac River.”
Aside from serving as a shipping and receiving facility and office space, the company’s headquarters also functions as a wetsuit testing facility. “We really do test suits on the river—usually wakeboarding, wake surfing, SUPing, or kayaking,” Moleskie says. “If we need to do a quick check for leaks, and test the stretch of a wetsuit, we just run down the street from the warehouse and use the public boat ramp at Riverbottom Park and jump in. So, river proximity saved us from installing a test pool.”
The facility also includes a retail area where customers can browse the company’s full inventory in person using a computer kiosk and try on select items in air-conditioned dressing rooms. While most of Wetsuit Wearhouse’s sales take place online, watersports enthusiasts from around the region—many from Washington, D.C.—visit the company’s retail shop.
“We get about a customer a day in here, which is way more than I ever expected for Washington County,” Moleskie says. “We have a couple sample items out here, so customers can say ‘I like the look of that’ or ‘I would like a pair of boots that look like this.’ Then we go to the kiosk and say, ‘Hey, these are the forty options you have,’ we get their size, and that’s it, we’re done.”
Visit www.wetsuitwearhouse.com to learn more about Wetsuit Wearhouse.
400 S. Conococheague St., Williamsport, Maryland
- Missy Sheehan is a freelance writer and copy editor living in Martinsburg, West Virginia. She writes and edits articles and marketing materials for publications and businesses. Learn more about her work at www.sheehanwriting.com .