Fueled up for success

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Is it really possible to start a business in your garage with a relatively small amount of money and a great idea, and then turn it into a worldwide success?

It certainly was possible for Shane Levi Gould, a Hilton Head man who started with $1,200 and ultimately turned his business into a global company.

His story starts back in 1992, when he would surf regularly off North Forest Beach and skateboard all over Coligny Plaza. By the time he was 20, he was a professional snowboarder who had spent 10 years on the World Snowboard Tour.

At that time, there weren’t a lot of choices for clothing and accessories in the various sports he enjoyed, including surfing, skateboarding and snowboarding. He also saw a way to take advantage of traveling on the snowboard tour.

“Being on the world tour, I saw there was a way to advertise a product, and I had always loved clothing, so it just seemed natural to start making and wearing my own label on the road,” said Gould.

So, on April 16, 1992, he started his business in the back of his father’s garage with $1,200. He called it FUEL because “fuel up” was an expression used before going skateboarding or surfing. “We just started with having a shop print T-shirts and another company make us some hats. I still work with the same T-shirt, hat and sticker company that I started with in 1992,” he said.

Gould drove around the country selling the FUEL clothing from the trunk of his Honda Accord. And it took off.

Today, FUEL has four divisions: wholesale, licensing, retail and private label, with a licensing office in Osaka, Japan. Gould licensed the name FUEL to FUEL-TV, a cable television station that broadcasts action sports. Additionally, major action sports athletes and motorsports teams now look to FUEL for sponsorship around the globe.

FUEL focuses on items for wake, skateboarding, snowboarding, surfing, motocross and BMX. “Our business thrives in coastal areas, particularly California in North America, as well as in Europe, Australia and Japan,” said Gould.

So why did this international company stay on Hilton Head Island?

“I was born and raised here, and I like coming home to the peace and quiet,” Gould said. “Most people on Hilton Head associate us with the retail store, but wholesale is our core business. Since the inception of FUEL we’ve sold to more than a dozen countries in over 1,000 stores around the world.”

But Gould isn’t resting on his laurels. Competing with industry giants like competitors Billabong and Hurley isn’t easy. He puts in 12 to 14 hour days, working in the converted closet that is his office at the FUEL retail location.

“We call ourselves ‘The Biggest Little Company in America,’ because our name recognition is the same as competitors that are 10 times our size. We’re the company that gives it our all,” he said. “Everyone working in our company either surfs, skateboards or does motocross. We put our love of sports into this brand.

“FUEL is my expression for the passion that makes you want take something to the next level,” he said. “Whether it’s a skateboard or surfing trick, or whatever fuels your fire. That’s what keeps me doing this every day.

“I hope one day we can sit back and say, ‘That was a fun ride — that was worth it!’ ”

For more information about FUEL, visit www.fuelclothinging.com. The retail store is at 31 New Orleans Road.