Imagine, if you will, opening a skate shop near a college town. Close to two high schools and many elementary schools, the skate-friendly climate allows for year-round participation in the sport-and less than three months after you open your front doors, a public skatepark opens nearby. Oh, and you open the shop with three of your close friends. And this is your lifelong dream. Could life get any better?
Yes, you open your second shop nine months later.
This was the reality for Cowtown Skateshop owners Trent Martin, Ed Cox, Joe Dunnigan, and Mike Snyder when they opened their shop two years ago in Phoenix, Arizona. The Desert West Skateboard Plaza,the city’s public skatepark, was inaugurated three months later. Growing up skating, working in skate shops, and working to get the skatepark open created the perfect blend of business awareness, perspective on the industry, and devotion to skateboarding that these partners needed to maintain a successful shop.
Martin’s first job was working at a skate shop in Glendale, Arizona, where he stayed for six years. “From the first day of being there I decided that was what I wanted to do, and eventually I wanted to do it for myself,” says Trent. “I finally got the opportunity.”
Dunnigan also used to work in a skate shop. He and Snyder launched Big Deal, an Internet mail-order business, in 1995. Though the two companies are completely separate, Big Deal taught them a great deal about business-particularly accounting and financial decision-making-that would ultimately help them in their Cowtown venture.
The owners, who financed the shop themselves, keep a keen eye on what products are moving. “I’m in the shop every day, so I see what sells,” says Martin. “I definitely watch what goes out the door. We order what sells the most and a lot of newer, smaller companies, just to try stuff out-see how it does. If it does well, then we continue to order.”
Cowtown supports smaller companies that are just starting out, but also believes in carrying full lines in order to represent companies well. “We have a lot of inventory,” continues Martin. “Every brand we carry is represented, and then we switch back and forth. We do decent-size orders so that there’s full representation of the line.”
Shoes and hardgoods sell the best for Cowtown, which could be attributed to their fair weather.Their winters don’t get too cold, so customers have no need to bundle up in the latest skate or snow fashion. And because they can skate all winter, the shop doesn’t need to subsidize skateboarding with other sports such as snowboarding.
Why do so many manufacturers recommend Cowtown as a prime example of an above-and-beyond-the-call-of-duty shop? What has this relatively small 1,000-square-foot shop done to make companies so supportive? “They’re just so down for skateboarding,” explains Giant Distribution Sales Manager Chuck Salisbury. “They’re keeping skateboarding alive and taking care of the kids-providing a positive environment and good product.”
Investing time and effort in skateboarding’s future-the kids-seems to be something that comes up time and time again when hearing about Cowtown: “They represent the community really well,” maintains Girl Distribution sales rep Staci Gabrielli. “There are a lot of shops in Phoenix, but they are the ones who really support skateboarding. The owners all skate. Kids hang out at the shop, and they the owners watch out for them and give them rides to the skatepark and stuff. They’re just really involved.”
“Okay,” you say. “But give me concrete examples.” Well, how about this: Cowtown donates product to the local elementary schools when they have fundraising auctions; they help out at the skatepark a lot-holding video premieres, skate jams, and hot-dog roasts; they also support a local team and help organize local contests. “We don’t do demos because we have no room to do them,” says Martin. “Our parking lot is really, really small. I’d like to, but we can’t. A loot of younger kids come hang out at the shop. It’s more positive because it’s skateboarding only. We mainly support the local contests and provide fair prices. It’s just a positive atmosphere.”
Cowtown was successful enough that just nine months after opening the first store, a second Cowtown was started fifteen miles away in Glendale, Arizona. Local skate-activist Laura Alire was brought in as a partner on this second enterprise. The combination of working at a skate shop and being involved in the skateboard industry for eleven years prepared her to run the shop with no problems.
Cowtown makes a strong point of communicating with the manufacturers on a weekly basis in order to maintain a good relationship. “All the companies have been really helpful,” explains Martin. “I think we have a really good relationship with all the companies we work with.”
And is that important to you?
“Definitely,” he answers. “I talk to most of the companies on a weekly basis.”