Running a skate specific shop could be one of the more challenging retail endevours in this vast seasonal country. Sure, the temptation to stock outerwear, women’s flip flops, or any other product to pad the till and help move you through the off-season always lingers. But for 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.
Dan Watson, Ninetimes Skateshop
Location: Saskatoon, Sask.
Size: 900 sq. ft.
Years in business: 16
Years as manager: 4
Years skating: 15
What are the advantages of being a niche skateshop?
Skateboarding is huge right now, and we find that people want to buy things from a legitimate store. We are skaters, and people connect with our authenticity.
How about the negative side of being a skate-specific store?
The flip side of our image and authenticity is that sometimes people might be a bit intimidated to come in our store. To a parent that has no connection with skateboarding, it can be much easier to just stroll into a mall store.
How do you and your store contribute to the local skate scene and help it grow?
We have demos and contests that always come through the store. We also work with and help a lot of local guys out posting skate videos and working with them. We sometimes give product to kids and juice our dedicated customers.
How do you differentiate yourself from the mall or big-box stores that may offer similar products?
If you are a legit store and people know that this is your true passion, it shines through. If you own a store and you are a little older, maybe you don’t care so much anymore and you don’t skate, it shows and people might not connect with you. We are skate rats, we skate all the time, we follow what’s happening and we can relate to our customers.
Has your customer changed over the years?
Yeah, we’ve seen some changes. If your customer isn’t changing, then you are not changing, and you’re maybe not doing a great job with your store. Our customer has gone from being the super-puffy-shoe rap kid to more of an LRG-type vibe, to now we have people that are more conscience of new fashion and always looking for new stuff. We are in Saskatoon, and we need to cater to a lot of different vibes. We still sell a lot of flex fit hats and things that might not be moving in the urban areas.
That being said, we sell a lot of niche brands and smaller brands; Palace and Magenta are outselling all of our bigger more established brands. The authenticity of these smaller brands is shining through, and they really connect with a new generation of skater. It really reminds of what went down with our industry in the early ’90s, when all the small skater-owned brands took out the big guys. It’s happening again.
How can the vendors and distributors help your business?
It would be nice to see some of the bigger brands not totally blow themselves out as soon as they get a taste of popularity. There was a time when we would fly through product from DGK and Diamond, but now you can get that stuff everywhere. I don’t know what the answer is. I know brands need to grow and make money, but we often feel like we are just a launchpad for these guys.
I guess I would just like to see a better support system for the little guy. For example, it would be great to know what shoes the mall store is carrying so I don’t have the same thing. I know we get a lot of exclusives, but to be honest, I don’t think people care about that. I don’t think anyone is coming in here for a specific colourway or collab shoe because they can’t get it anywhere else.
What are your thoughts on some non-endemic brands finding a solid place within skateboarding?
That is one of our biggest issues. In a way it bums me out to see a bigger sports brand sell better than a Lakai shoe, but these are the brands that my customers want. If my hardcore, knowledgeable skate customer is asking for New Balance, then why can’t I sell it to him? It feels good to know that the money we make off these brands gets cycled back into the store and into growing the smaller brands.
Is the skate industry in a slump?
I think it is, but there are new things happening that are killing the slump. There are legitimate brands coming up that are doing well, and that’s changing things. I could see it from the perspective of a shop owner that doesn’t skate and doesn’t know what is up, they might not have the desired brands, and kids know that they don’t skate and they’re not connecting. If you’re not changing and listening to your customer, then they’ll shop somewhere else.
What will the skateboard retail landscape look like in five to 10 years?
If you want to have a long-term business and want to stay legit, you have to follow what is happening in retail. There seems to be a lot more independent stores popping up, and these guys are looking to do something cool. If they do it right, they might have some longevity. There will always be a tastemaker-type store in every region—the store that everyone knows is the legit spot.