“I care deeply about the products I sell, whereas other stores may just look at these things like cans of soup on a shelf.”

Shop: BLVD
Location: Vancouver, B.C.
Owner: Kevin Kelly
Size: 1,500 sq. ft.
Years in business: 5
Years as owner: 5
Years skating: 28

Tell us about the challenges of being a skate-specific store?
There are a lot of customers that may not understand. For a long time, our buying habits have been watered down. At one time there was a barber, a butcher and a candlestick maker, and people went to them for those reasons. But somewhere along the way retail went away from specifics. This way of buying is coming back within the cities, and I feel that I can be particular with what I sell, because it plays into the “specialty store” kinda vibe.
     But to get back to the negative side, it’s that some people don’t understand why I don’t have longboards or scooters or women’s flip-flops. They think I’m a dummy, and in some ways I kind of am. Sure, I could easily make money off those things, but it’s not why I’m doing this and it’s not for me.

How do you and your store contribute to the local skate scene and help it grow?
Being raised in the generation that I’m from, you are always doing something for skateboarding. You’ve always got a shop team and you’re putting on events. Shops like mine should be the front line for skateboarding. I want more people doing it; I want more kids getting into it; I want more people having fun with it. A lot of stores see themselves as a brand these days, and they want to promote that brand through events, etcetera. I’m a shop, and I want to be a conduit for all the cool skate brands I carry.

       We teach skateboard lessons, and our main focus is teaching kids what it’s about, which is having fun and doing what you want to do. There is no set trick, there is no right or wrong. I hope these kids grow up learning and understanding what skateboarding really is, and they can connect with my store.

“Brands are always preaching how they love core shops, but their bread and butter are the big mall stores. There has been some backlash towards us core guys for selling brands like Nike and Converse, and it’s been coming from the skate industry. But the irony of all this is that these same brands that poo poo on skateshops for carrying corporate brands also sell to the sports store in the mall. What’s the difference?”


How do you differentiate yourself from the mall or big-box stores that may offer similar products?
As I said before, I care deeply about the products I sell, whereas other stores may just look at these things like cans of soup on a shelf. I’ve been into bigger stores, and you can just tell by the way they merchandize that they don’t get it, they don’t care and they just want to make money.

Has your customer changed over the years?
People used to be a lot less specific about the products they skated, wore or represented. I find now my customers are a lot more specific. They know exactly what they want and they are very brand loyal. My shop reflects their tastes as well. There might be 20 wheel brands out there, but I only sell two. I like it this way, and I’ve never had someone complain because I did not have a specific brand in stock.
     There is too much product out there right now, and it does not reflect the popularity of skateboarding. People don’t want to admit it, but skateboarding participation is down. Brands don’t need to put out a new graphic every month. I cater more to the kids coming into skateboarding and the mature skater that loves it and will do it for their lives. I connect better with these groups. I don’t cater too much to the teens. They are the least loyal and will buy shit from Winners as long as it’s cheap.

 “There is too much product out there right now, and it does not reflect the popularity of skateboarding. People don’t want to admit it, but skateboarding participation is down. Brands don’t need to put out a new graphic every month.”


What is the biggest issue that affects sales?
The politically correct answer would be “weather.” If we have a shitty spring, it really hurts sales, especially when I’m encouraged by brands to pre-book product. I cannot react as quickly if the weather is terrible. In-stock for a lot of distributors is scarce, so you kind of have to pre-book. If anything is left over, they often blow it out to Winners or they sell it at their sample sales that seem to come up five times a year.

How can the vendors and distributors help your business?
[Laughs] Yeah! For one thing, I should pay a lower price for products than a larger action sports store. There should be a discount or some type of break for me because I’m dedicated to skateboarding and I am 100 per cent skateboarding. These other stores aren’t. They want boards on the wall because it helps them sell other stuff. It brings people in the door so they can sell them shoes or a kayak. At the end of the day, they don’t give two shits about skateboarding. If hacky sacks were the hot shit, they’d sell them too… and they probably do.
     Brands are always preaching how they love core shops, but their bread and butter are the big mall stores. There has been some backlash towards us core guys for selling brands like Nike and Converse, and it’s been coming from the skate industry. But the irony of all this is that these same brands that poo poo on skateshops for carrying corporate brands also sell to the sports store in the mall. What’s the difference?

What are your thoughts on some non-endemic brands finding a solid place within skateboarding?
Simple answer is that I figure if Nike is good enough for Lance Mountain, it’s good enough for me. I put them on my shelf for a while, but at the end of the day, my customers spoke out and they were not backing it. They all got put on the sale rack and they were done in six months.

“The politically correct answer would be “weather.” If we have a shitty spring, it really hurts sales, especially when I’m encouraged by brands to pre-book product. I cannot react as quickly if the weather is terrible. In-stock for a lot of distributors is scarce, so you kind of have to pre-book. If anything is left over, they often blow it out to Winners or they sell it at their sample sales that seem to come up five times a year.”

 

What will the skateboard retail landscape look like in five to 10 years?
There was a time when I used to say that skateboarding is safe, because we’ve got lots of concrete parks and there will always be a kid looking into getting into and skate that park. I don’t think that anymore. Scooters have really fucked that up, and so have the municipalities. They don’t call them skateparks anymore, they are called youth parks or all-wheel parks. They should specify that they are skateboard parks. You don’t build a basketball court and then leave it open for kids to play soccer or tennis. I fought hard for that 10 years ago, but I think in the name of making money, people don’t care so much these days.

Is the skate industry in a slump?
OK, so we won’t call skateboarding a sport, but when other sports are in trouble, they have associations that are in place to bring their numbers up and help promote that sport. If hockey participation is down, then Hockey Canada puts the word out to the local clubs and they work together to fix it. Skateboarding is driven by brands, and sometimes the brands get too selfish or they lose sight of what got them there in the first place. The brands are sometimes selfish when it comes to encouraging more people to ride skateboards. Parking lot demos, lessons and things like Expo 86 are what get kids into skateboarding.
     Sometimes the industry is too concerned with how cool they look. That’s why so many kids get into longboarding and scooters; there isn’t as much judgment in those activities, they can just cruise. Then everybody starts pointing the finger at everybody else, but really, it’s everybody’s fault. When Penny Skateboards came out, so many people said it was lame. It’s not lame, it’s a great entry-level way to get people into skateboarding. If they want to progress and start ollieng, then they come back to the skateshop and get some real shit. I’ve seen it happen.

 

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