Running a skate specific shop could be one of the more challenging retail endevours in this vast seasonal country. To those who remain solely dedicated to skate and help grow the scene in their communities, we salute you. In this series we talk to shop owners and managers who have made the decision to stay true to their roots, through thick and thin.
“The mall stores made us smarter,
they made us be more on our game.”
Location: Québec City, Que.
Size: 2,000 sq. ft.
Years in business: 25
Years as owner: 15
Years skating: 25
How do you and your store contribute to the local skate scene and help it grow?
I own an indoor skatepark. Every fall and winter, we’re open for kids to come skate and learn. It’s very expensive paying rent and insurance and all of that, but this is the best way to give back and keep in touch with the skaters in my town. I sponsor a lot of younger kids, and also hire a lot of skaters to work in my store. Sometimes we even hook little kids up with a free winter in the park just so they can get better and improve their skills. Come spring, that same kid might get a spot on our skate team because he’s been shredding the park all winter.
How do you differentiate yourself from the mall or big-box stores that may offer similar products?
The big-box stores don’t have all the brands that I do. On top of that, it’s my staff that makes a big difference. My staff knows all our brands and they can answer any questions. A big chain store might buy three or four SKUs of a brand and go deep, where I can experiment with much more product and have a better selection.
Has your customer changed over the years?
My customers are a lot younger now. For years, I would have 17- to 19-year-olds coming in mostly. Now there are a lot of younger kids—kids like 11, 12, 13. I hope this is better for the long-term. Skateboarding used to be more fringe and anti-social; parents would never come in my store. That all changed with Tony Hawk and X Games. Parents look at it as a sport now, and they want to help their kids get into it earlier. As a store owner, you can’t really have that old punk rock attitude towards your customers anymore. These parents could easily go to a mall store and buy a board. The mall stores made us smarter, they made us be more on our game and clean up our stores to be more family-friendly.
“A big chain store might buy three or four SKUs of a brand and go deep, where I can experiment with much more product and have a better selection.”
What is the biggest issue that affects sales?
Temperature is the biggest issue; the weather is hands down the biggest issue with my store sales. If it’s cold and shitty in the spring, our sales are down… clothes, shoes and boards—everything slows down. We do deal with some kids who order things online from the U.S. Often they try to come in and exchange stuff. People always want to try and get the best deal. Sometimes it’s good that they order a few things online from the U.S., then they quickly figure out that it’s not really cheaper when you factor in the warranty issues.
How can the vendors and distributors help your business?
Living in Québec, and especially in Québec City, a lot of companies don’t see our guys or realize how good some of these kids are. I’d like to see the distributors sponsor more kids in my area so other kids can see that it’s possible and have something to shoot towards. If it’s done right, brands will see the payoff when other kids come in looking for that company’s board.
“Even if I improve my online store, at the end of the day I can’t compete with the prices from the States. The Canadian distributors really need to work with the brands and bring the price down in Canada.”
What are your thoughts on some non-endemic brands finding a solid place within skateboarding?
I saw all these brands at trade shows years ago coming into our industry. I was one of those guys that said “No thanks,” I’m going to grow with the skate brands. But the problem with that is all the brands I supported and grew up with are in the same mall stores as these brands that want a piece of the skate market; they are in Winners and they are everywhere. So if Nike is offering a shoe that you can’t buy in the mall, why wouldn’t I bring it in? DC Shoes are available everywhere, so why don’t I bring in a Nike that is exclusive to skateshops?
I had a rep give me a hard time because we carry some New Era sports team hats. He wondered why I would have that in my store. I asked him if he’s ever been in a Lids or mall store lately? They all carry skate brands, so why can’t I offer some stuff that they carry? Skate kids wear team and sports hats all the time, so why can’t I be the one to sell it to them?
What will the skateboard retail landscape look like in five to 10 years?
I’m hoping we’ll stay strong. I’m not expecting big growth for my store. I have a lot more competition with online stores. Even if I improve my online store, at the end of the day I can’t compete with the prices from the States. The Canadian distributors really need to work with the brands and bring the price down in Canada. A long time ago, the mark-up on shoes was maybe 30 per cent. Slowly it went up, and now it’s up too high. And that’s mostly because these guys wanted to be in the mall stores and mall stores wouldn’t sell skate shoes on a 30 per cent mark-up; they need a bigger margin. This has been a big issue of mine for years.
“I’d like to see the distributors sponsor more kids in my area so other kids can see that it’s possible and have something to shoot towards. If it’s done right, brands will see the payoff when other kids come in looking for that company’s board.”
Is the skate industry in a slump?
I don’t think so. There are too many brands out there right now, and shops simply can’t carry all of them, so some are not gonna make it. Sales have dropped a bit since 2005, but that could be due to the economy being down also, not just our industry. I’m happy with how our store is doing.