Deep Roots In Poland

Poles have been using the word “skateboarding” for about twenty years.

Initially, skateboarding was more of a novelty brought from abroad and available to only a small group of people. With time, it came to symbolize the California sun, freedom, and independence, and could only be seen by young Poles in Western magazines. With the fall of the Iron Curtain, skating grew as an ideology and lifestyle to which a larger group of young people began to subscribe.

It also grew as a business. A modest collection of skate shops and distributors evolved together with the economically and culturally developing Poland, which was quickly becoming a prosperous market where freedoms of press and economic competition emerged. Nowadays, as in the rest of the Western world, one can notice a sudden surge in interest and growth of skateboarding, which is currently enjoyed by about 5,000 hardcore skaters, and which offers thousands more with popular shoes and fashions. With a population of 40-million, this may not seem like many, but the number of skaters in Poland has almost doubled in just the last couple years. Despite many barriers and differences, the skateboard market in Poland is trying to catch up with the rest of Europe.

History

The first skateboards appeared in Poland in the early 1980s. Warsaw, of course, was first to receive them because it’s the capital and has always soaked up novelties from around the world. People zooming down the streets on slalom skateboards peaked interest.

Initially, the skateboards available were made in Poland and the Soviet Union. They were poorly executed copies of 60s-era Western boards. But Poland’s first generation of skaters was raised on those “toys.” In time, more professional equipment became available in Pewex department stores that sold Western products for Western “hard” currency only.

By the end of the 80s, the Iron Curtain started letting in more light from the West. The more entrepreneurial-minded started quietly importing products from Germany and Sweden. Equipment and clothing bought in wholesale stores were sold to friends at skate spots or in “home skate shops.”

In the early 90s, a real skateboarding boom took place in Poland. The papers wrote more frequently about kids riding on the marble city squares and monuments, and television started to cover the topic as well. Thanks to a few good shows about it, more people became interested in skateboarding.

The first magazine to show the real skate scene in Poland was the full-color monthly Juppi. The whole magazine was produced by a small group of Warsaw skaters in a country that had just become free from the anti-American regime¿every imported copy of TWS was memorized, and Juppi quickly gained cult status. In June of ’91, Juppi sponsored the first Poland Open Championship and invited a group of pro Western skaters to come: Curtis McCann, Stefan Toth, Ryan Monihan, Tomi Toiminen, and Rodney Mullen.

That same year, the Swedish distributor Street Style opened a distribution center and shop in Warsaw. Equipment, shoes, and clothing, which until then had been expensive and difficult to find, became easily accessible and almost twice as cheap as in Western Europe. More skate shops followed Street Style in other large cities¿the privatization of the Polish market gave the young entrepreneurs a chance to start their own businesses. They immediately sought to bridge the decades-old gap between themselves and the West.

At that time the first Polish skate companies began to appear, though the lack of manufacturing technology forced them to concentrate on clothing. Skateboards with Polish brand names appeared on the shelves for a brief period, but those were made in the U.S. and Canada. The Flying Max brand appeared in 1991, followed by Capitol, Organics, and Monument in ’96. By then, the new economic and legal regulations stabilized the market and allowed more products to be impord, which catalyzed the distribution business.

Today’s Market

Today the largest centers of skateboarding in Poland are Warsaw, Lodz, Poznan, Szczecin, Tomaszow Mazowiecki, Silesia, and the Gdansk-Gdynia-Sopot Tri-City region. Since 1990 there has been constant cooperation between American companies and a few Polish distributors, the largest of which are California Import/Export and TJ International. Together they ship to more than 100 stores all over the country. Most shops are in Warsaw, where Poles traditionally travel to get the latest novelties from abroad, although the skateboarding population hasn’t necessarily concentrated there.

There is no standard look or layout to Polish skate shops. Some of them are large, downtown, and always well stocked. These are usually managed by someone with little or no connection to skateboarding; for them, skateboarding is purely a business opportunity.

The smaller shops, hidden in the alleys or malls, are where skaters go to watch a new video and talk, if not to buy something. These are usually managed by skaters.

During the past few years, sales of Polish-made skate clothing have gone up by about 50 percent. Most of the skate shops now depend on the domestic brands for volume, treating the American products as luxuries for the more affluent clients. Their reasoning is simple¿the Polish-made products are often better quality and much cheaper.

Companies like Malita, R Pure Denim, Mass, and Clinic dominate the market, and despite a lot of competition, they’ve remained strong. Today, as much as half of the two-million-dollar skate market in Poland can be attributed to sales of Polish clothing brands. Still, none have yet ventured to make shoes or hardgoods.

Skateboarding media has taken off as well. The most popular Polish skate mags today are Dosdedos Supa Magazine, Extreme Games, and Slizg (which means “slide”). These monthlies deal with more than just skateboarding: Extreme Games and Slizg also cover music, graffiti, and subculture, and Dosdedos Supa features snowboarding as well. Together they publish about 70,000 copies each month, and in 1997 they were joined by Info video magazine, which is produced in Gdansk.

The clothing companies and skate shops sponsor talented and influential Polish skaters, who are generally the ones to start new trends. Some of the best-known Polish skaters are Patryk “Stikorama” Wrzosek, Bartek Milczarek, Artur Wojtania, Igor “MXR” Tomaszewicz, Tomasz Frant, and Eryk Gaj.

At the moment, hip-hop is still king, with as much as 80 percent of Polish skaters sporting Muska-style sweatpants, jackets, and gold. The percentage may be higher in Warsaw, Szczecin, or Tomaszow¿the hatcheries of technical skaters.

There are also places where jeans-and-T-shirt hardcore skaters are more common. Lodz, for example, has many skaters who specialize in park skating. Some of the parks are elaborate and expensive, and some are geared toward roller skaters, in-liners, and¿because of cold and snowy winters¿for seasonal business. The “season” lasts from May to October, but most skaters ride year-round wherever they can.

More indoor skateparks would make it easier to develop a consistent year-round skateboard market, but many obstacles still stand in the way of coordinating such huge projects. On one side, the skateboard community is split politically, and on the other side there are restrictive tax and legal regulations; companies are weary of investing in projects such as a large indoor skatepark because of the lack of attractive tax breaks, and skateparks haven’t proven to be as profitable as importing or retailing.

The only businessman to exhibit such vision and dedication to the sport is Ryszard Kolodziejczak. His company, Lurys, makes in-line-skate clothing, and since 1995 it’s operated an indoor skatepark during the winter. Beginning in 1997, Kolodziejczak’s also been organizing the largest competition in the country¿the Lurys Cup.

Epilogue

Using the example of the Mystic Cup in the Czech Republic, Poland is sure to host world-class competitions in the near future. The interest in skateboarding is growing from year to year among the country’s youth and potential sponsors. Skate fashion has moved into the Polish mainstream, as well, and this has helped generate interest in the sport. In fact, nowadays it’s hard to identify a real skater based solely on attire.

Despite the popularity of skate fashion in Poland, real skateboarding remains a mystery to the average person, and demand for the new, well-promoted brands is increasing. As before, distributors continue to fight battles with customs officials and the entire bureaucracy every season. In the next several years, the Polish skateboard market could grow two- or three-fold if customs duties and taxes stabilize, though a strong U.S. dollar could slow that somewhat.

Consumers and their tastes are quickly becoming more sophisticated. People are ready to pay more for brand names and logos, and Poland is slowly becoming the consumer society we’ve long desired.

Distributors In Poland

California Import Export

Piotkowska 25

90410 Lodz, Poland

48-42-630-1950 ph/FAX

(650) 691-9472 x454 ph

cali4niask8@go2.pl

Megaplast S.C.

UL Rakowiecka 9

02-517 Warsaw, Poland

48-22-49-4245 ph/FAX

Street Style

Ul. Smolna 14

00-375 Warzawa, Poland

48-22-8279-402 ph

48-22-8279-402 FAX

TJ International Distributors

Ul. Stepinska 22/30

00-739 Warzawa, Poland

48-22-410-031 ph

48-22-411-596 FAX

California Import/Export

Lodz, Poland; 48-42-630-1950 ph/FAX

President: Tomasz Canert

Brands Carried: Adio, Anarchy, Angel, Arcade, A-Team, Axion, Black Flys, Black Label, Blind, Darkstar, Deca, Duffs, DVS, Dynasty, Element, Elwood, Expedition One, Foundation Skateboards, Ghetto Child, Grind King, Jessup, Lakai Limited Footwear, Malita, Maple, Matix, Mercury, Neighborhood, New Deal, Orion, Osiris, Pig Wheels, Planet Earth, Rhythm, Shorty’s, Sixteen, Speed Demons, Stamina, Synonim Exclusive Outdoor, Tensor, Toy Machine, Tracker, TransWorld Media, World Industries, Zero, Zoo York, Giant.

History: California Import/Export is the biggest skateboard distributor in Poland, selling to over 80 skate shops throughout the country, and carrying a wide range of brands, including those from the Atlas, Climax, Dwindle, Giant, Imperial, Podium, Shorty’s, and Tum Yeto distribution houses. Owner and President Tomasz Canert opened his first shop in 1994, starting with hip-hop clothes and urban wear, and later including skateboard products. Today, he has two large shops in downtown Lodz, and a six-person skate team. California also carries hip-hop/urban brands like Ecko Unlimited, South Pole, Fubu, PNB, 555, Paco, and Mecca.

A turning point in the company’s success was signing a cooperation agreement with Eurotrend USA, a California-based trading company that had working agreements with leading skateboarding companies for distributing their products in Poland.

Bartek Blazejewski: What criteria do you use to determine what brands to carry?

Tomasz Canert: I work with skateboarders who study all the skate magazines and know exactly what’s happening in the skateboard market. We also look at SKATEboarding Business magazine, watch movies, check Web sites, and attend ASR Trade Expos. My managers pay attention to all the new trends and skate heroes, and they test new products with our skate team. We also make decisions based on information from skate shops throughout Poland, but the most important thing is contact with skateboarders, because they know exactly what they want.

How do you promote your firm and the brands you carry?

Promotion and advertising are very important things. We spent over 50,000 dollars on promotions last ing the largest competition in the country¿the Lurys Cup.

Epilogue

Using the example of the Mystic Cup in the Czech Republic, Poland is sure to host world-class competitions in the near future. The interest in skateboarding is growing from year to year among the country’s youth and potential sponsors. Skate fashion has moved into the Polish mainstream, as well, and this has helped generate interest in the sport. In fact, nowadays it’s hard to identify a real skater based solely on attire.

Despite the popularity of skate fashion in Poland, real skateboarding remains a mystery to the average person, and demand for the new, well-promoted brands is increasing. As before, distributors continue to fight battles with customs officials and the entire bureaucracy every season. In the next several years, the Polish skateboard market could grow two- or three-fold if customs duties and taxes stabilize, though a strong U.S. dollar could slow that somewhat.

Consumers and their tastes are quickly becoming more sophisticated. People are ready to pay more for brand names and logos, and Poland is slowly becoming the consumer society we’ve long desired.

Distributors In Poland

California Import Export

Piotkowska 25

90410 Lodz, Poland

48-42-630-1950 ph/FAX

(650) 691-9472 x454 ph

cali4niask8@go2.pl

Megaplast S.C.

UL Rakowiecka 9

02-517 Warsaw, Poland

48-22-49-4245 ph/FAX

Street Style

Ul. Smolna 14

00-375 Warzawa, Poland

48-22-8279-402 ph

48-22-8279-402 FAX

TJ International Distributors

Ul. Stepinska 22/30

00-739 Warzawa, Poland

48-22-410-031 ph

48-22-411-596 FAX

California Import/Export

Lodz, Poland; 48-42-630-1950 ph/FAX

President: Tomasz Canert

Brands Carried: Adio, Anarchy, Angel, Arcade, A-Team, Axion, Black Flys, Black Label, Blind, Darkstar, Deca, Duffs, DVS, Dynasty, Element, Elwood, Expedition One, Foundation Skateboards, Ghetto Child, Grind King, Jessup, Lakai Limited Footwear, Malita, Maple, Matix, Mercury, Neighborhood, New Deal, Orion, Osiris, Pig Wheels, Planet Earth, Rhythm, Shorty’s, Sixteen, Speed Demons, Stamina, Synonim Exclusive Outdoor, Tensor, Toy Machine, Tracker, TransWorld Media, World Industries, Zero, Zoo York, Giant.

History: California Import/Export is the biggest skateboard distributor in Poland, selling to over 80 skate shops throughout the country, and carrying a wide range of brands, including those from the Atlas, Climax, Dwindle, Giant, Imperial, Podium, Shorty’s, and Tum Yeto distribution houses. Owner and President Tomasz Canert opened his first shop in 1994, starting with hip-hop clothes and urban wear, and later including skateboard products. Today, he has two large shops in downtown Lodz, and a six-person skate team. California also carries hip-hop/urban brands like Ecko Unlimited, South Pole, Fubu, PNB, 555, Paco, and Mecca.

A turning point in the company’s success was signing a cooperation agreement with Eurotrend USA, a California-based trading company that had working agreements with leading skateboarding companies for distributing their products in Poland.

Bartek Blazejewski: What criteria do you use to determine what brands to carry?

Tomasz Canert: I work with skateboarders who study all the skate magazines and know exactly what’s happening in the skateboard market. We also look at SKATEboarding Business magazine, watch movies, check Web sites, and attend ASR Trade Expos. My managers pay attention to all the new trends and skate heroes, and they test new products with our skate team. We also make decisions based on information from skate shops throughout Poland, but the most important thing is contact with skateboarders, because they know exactly what they want.

How do you promote your firm and the brands you carry?

Promotion and advertising are very important things. We spent over 50,000 dollars on promotions last year. We contribute to a few magazines and run our ads there. Some of the best skateboarders are using the products we carry, and we promote them at every contest. Sometimes we also sponsor concerts and other shows. For example, last time California Import/Export and Osiris Shoes were major sponsors of the Polish premiere of the Jim Jarmusch movie, Ghost Dog: The Way Of Samurai. This summer we started a super tour through Poland called Looking For Spots. We’re doing this tour with our friends from Malita Skateboard Clothing.

We’re doing our best to promote all brands, but sometimes American companies could support us a little more. Now we’re thinking about organizing a world class event in Poland.

What are the main problems Polish companies face while establishing skateboarding in Poland?

The worst nightmare is the Polish trade regulations. You have to send hundreds of documents, certifications, pre-invoices, copies of these, and a copy of the copies. If you made any mistake they can delay a delivery, even for a few days. For example, T-shirts are made in Mexico, but the prints are made in U.S. So now, if you write Mexico as a country of origin, they say, “Hey, but the certification says this is an American product. Something’s wrong in here!” That’s horrible. The second thing is tax, but that’s always a problem.

What are your company’s volumes and your plans for the future?

In the last few years, volumes of skateboard goods were about 400,000 to 600,000 dollars. In 1999 we distributed about 800,000 dollars of skateboard equipment. This year it will be around a million dollars if everything’s okay. I think in the next couple of years it could easily grow two or three times.

Right now we’re also working on our own skateboard project. But the most important thing is an indoor skatepark. We’re working on it with our friends from a clothing company. I hope we can complete it before winter.

Metropolis

Lodz, Poland; 48-42-632-6788 ph

President: Tomasz Frant

Brands Carried: Alien Workshop, Black Label, Chapman, Cider, Destructo, Droors, Dub, Element, Emerica, éS, Etnies, Etylina, HCA, Infamous, Mosses, New Deal, Powell, Reflex, R Pure Denim, Speed Metal, Studio Super Brand, Syndrom, Thunder, Volcom, 32.

History: Metropolis is a chain of skate shops located in Lodz, Warsaw, Katowice, Gdansk, and Poznan that carry brands from the DNA, Giant, Merge, Sole Technology, and Skate One distributors, plus others. They’ve been selling skateboard equipment distributed by TJ International (48-22-410-031 ph) since 1998. Frant opened the business two years ago, and is also one of the best Polish skaters. Besides American brands, Metropolis also carries Polish products. It’s an example of a business owned and directed by skaters.

Bartek Blazejewski: What criteria do you use to determine what brands to carry?

Tomasz Frant: I’m a skateboarder, not a money maker. I’ve been skating for about eight years now, so I know this business well. I work with skateboarders, and we read skate magazines, participate in contests, etc. We see who’s on top right now. We don’t sell stuff that isn’t related to skateboarding.

How do you promote your firm and the brands that you carry?

First of all, we put ads in skate magazines like Slizg or Dosdedos Supa. But our favorite form of advertising is skate events. Metropolis organized a big contest in February. We rented a huge sports hall in downtown Lodz and built a skatepark there. We kept the park open for a few weeks after the event. Last year we spent over 20,000 dollars on promotions.

What are the main problems Polish companies face while establishing skateboarding in Poland?

The main problem in the Polish skate business is that we have no real skateparks. That’s what we really need, a big, indoor skatepark. Unfortunately, the Lodz city government isn’t interested at all. Selling shoes and clothes isn’t progressive for skateboarding, that’s onlyy the commercial side of it. Transportation is also a problem. Deliveries are always late, and we can’t ever get a full range of sizes. We can only buy what our distributor has at the moment.

What are your company’s volumes and your plans for the future?

In 1998 we spent over 200,000 dollars. Last year was much better¿we spent about 400,000 dollars for skateboard equipment and clothes. Our plans for this year are to spend about 500,000 to 600,000 dollars.

Skateboarding in Poland is growing fast, so I hope our profits will grow, too. Plans for the future? Right now we’re working on our first video, and we’re planning a tour.

r. We contribute to a few magazines and run our ads there. Some of the best skateboarders are using the products we carry, and we promote them at every contest. Sometimes we also sponsor concerts and other shows. For example, last time California Import/Export and Osiris Shoes were major sponsors of the Polish premiere of the Jim Jarmusch movie, Ghost Dog: The Way Of Samurai. This summer we started a super tour through Poland called Looking For Spots. We’re doing this tour with our friends from Malita Skateboard Clothing.

We’re doing our best to promote all brands, but sometimes American companies could support us a little more. Now we’re thinking about organizing a world class event in Poland.

What are the main problems Polish companies face while establishing skateboarding in Poland?

The worst nightmare is the Polish trade regulations. You have to send hundreds of documents, certifications, pre-invoices, copies of these, and a copy of the copies. If you made any mistake they can delay a delivery, even for a few days. For example, T-shirts are made in Mexico, but the prints are made in U.S. So now, if you write Mexico as a country of origin, they say, “Hey, but the certification says this is an American product. Something’s wrong in here!” That’s horrible. The second thing is tax, but that’s always a problem.

What are your company’s volumes and your plans for the future?

In the last few years, volumes of skateboard goods were about 400,000 to 600,000 dollars. In 1999 we distributed about 800,000 dollars of skateboard equipment. This year it will be around a million dollars if everything’s okay. I think in the next couple of years it could easily grow two or three times.

Right now we’re also working on our own skateboard project. But the most important thing is an indoor skatepark. We’re working on it with our friends from a clothing company. I hope we can complete it before winter.

Metropolis

Lodz, Poland; 48-42-632-6788 ph

President: Tomasz Frant

Brands Carried: Alien Workshop, Black Label, Chapman, Cider, Destructo, Droors, Dub, Element, Emerica, éS, Etnies, Etylina, HCA, Infamous, Mosses, New Deal, Powell, Reflex, R Pure Denim, Speed Metal, Studio Super Brand, Syndrom, Thunder, Volcom, 32.

History: Metropolis is a chain of skate shops located in Lodz, Warsaw, Katowice, Gdansk, and Poznan that carry brands from the DNA, Giant, Merge, Sole Technology, and Skate One distributors, plus others. They’ve been selling skateboard equipment distributed by TJ International (48-22-410-031 ph) since 1998. Frant opened the business two years ago, and is also one of the best Polish skaters. Besides American brands, Metropolis also carries Polish products. It’s an example of a business owned and directed by skaters.

Bartek Blazejewski: What criteria do you use to determine what brands to carry?

Tomasz Frant: I’m a skateboarder, not a money maker. I’ve been skating for about eight years now, so I know this business well. I work with skateboarders, and we read skate magazines, participate in contests, etc. We see who’s on top right now. We don’t sell stuff that isn’t related to skateboarding.

How do you promote your firm and the brands that you carry?

First of all, we put ads in skate magazines like Slizg or Dosdedos Supa. But our favorite form of advertising is skate events. Metropolis organized a big contest in February. We rented a huge sports hall in downtown Lodz and built a skatepark there. We kept the park open for a few weeks after the event. Last year we spent over 20,000 dollars on promotions.

What are the main problems Polish companies face while establishing skateboarding in Poland?

The main problem in the Polish skate business is that we have no real skateparks. That’s what we really need, a big, indoor skatepark. Unfortunately, the Lodz city government isn’t interested at all. Selling shoes and clothes isn’t progressive for skateboarding, that’s only the commercial side of it. Transportation is also a problem. Deliveries are always late, and we can’t ever get a full range of sizes. We can only buy what our distributor has at the moment.

What are your company’s volumes and your plans for the future?

In 1998 we spent over 200,000 dollars. Last year was much better¿we spent about 400,000 dollars for skateboard equipment and clothes. Our plans for this year are to spend about 500,000 to 600,000 dollars.

Skateboarding in Poland is growing fast, so I hope our profits will grow, too. Plans for the future? Right now we’re working on our first video, and we’re planning a tour.

and clothes isn’t progressive for skateboarding, that’s only the commercial side of it. Transportation is also a problem. Deliveries are always late, and we can’t ever get a full range of sizes. We can only buy what our distributor has at the moment.

What are your company’s volumes and your plans for the future?

In 1998 we spent over 200,000 dollars. Last year was much better¿we spent about 400,000 dollars for skateboard equipment and clothes. Our plans for this year are to spend about 500,000 to 600,000 dollars.

Skateboarding in Poland is growing fast, so I hope our profits will grow, too. Plans for the future? Right now we’re working on our first video, and we’re planning a tour.

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