Tod Swank is one of skateboarding’s most innovative and most progressive minds around.

Without a doubt.

Swank recognized the diluted benefit of his company’s presence at the biannual Action Sports Retailer trade shows a few years ago. Instead of turning a blind eye to the issue, Swank, CEO of San Diego-based distributor Tum Yeto Inc., took a progressive attitude and decided to make a change. Issues such as cost, bureaucracy, and accessability were easily addressed and solved by Tum Yeto holding their own event. Taking the major issues he regarded as unfavorable in the direction ASR was heading, Swank initially responded by downsizing the size of Tum Yeto’s booth at ASR to a small ten-by-ten-foot cubed area at the 1999 fall ASR show in San Diego, directing people to a yacht in the harbor behind the convention center. From there he took shop owners and other visitors on a cruise in the harbor, gave them food, alcohol, and showed them the latest in the company’s products as well as a good time in a relaxed atmosphere.

At the following ASR trade show in February 2000, Tum Yeto didn’t even bother to get a small booth, instead rented a location across from the convention center where their anti-trade show Coup D’état was held. The space rented was much larger than that of a booth inside the ASR, free food and alcohol was served for the entire three-day period, and best of all, the event was open to the public. All of that for much less than the cost of having a booth of comparable size inside the convention center at ASR. Not only that, but the first Coup D’état managed to present a grassroots, fun, and appealing alternative—something that wasn’t possible at the ASR shows, which are closed to the public.

This year’s Coup D’état, however, was different from those previously held. In many ways, this year’s event was hardly the booze-riddled drunk-fest that it had turned into in the past. Instead, it was held at the Children’s Museum in San Diego. Primary sponsors were Alien Workshop and Foundation. This year, DNA distribution followed suit with Tum Yeto and, for the first time, pulled out of ASR entirely. On the first day of the Coup, access was limited to industry people only. Days two and three were open to the public and featured a skate video theater, team autograph signings, and the San Dieguito handrail challenge. No alcohol was available, and a three-dollar donation to the Children’s Museum served as admission charge.

What made this year’s Coup unique was that it included a number of other brands, many of whom had set up booths at the ASR show, also. Among these were Giant, DNA, and Blitz Distribution. 411 and ON Video sponsored the “theater” where videos played all weekend, King Rails shared a booth with Blockhead Skateboards, and Brown Beanies had a table. Ed Templeton had a Toy Machine display area set up—essentially an extended wall space displaying artwork, boards, and photos. An ongoing open mini-ramp jam was held, and Ruckus trucks sponsored the barbecue grill area where food was sold, with proceeds donated to the Children’s Museum.

An Alternative To Trade Shows?

According to their Web site, the ASR Trade Expo is “the premier trade event for the action sports and youth lifestyle industry.” The company is a division of VNU Expositions that “provides millions of professionals around the globe with knowledge and business intelligence.”

Darin Dennee is the publisher at the ASR Trade Expo. “It would be insightful to footnote that the San Diego 2001 ASR show took place in a pre-9/11 universe (September 6-8),” he says. “Which would arguably skew a year over year comparison. To show these figures absent of this information in a vacuum would be incomplete.”

According to Dennee, ASR 2001 in San Diego had 19,975 attendees and showcased approximately 800 brands, and a single booth cost 2,075 dollars. In 2002, the cost rose to 2,175 for a single booth, but attendance was down to 18,615 people, and apoximately 600 brands were displayed.

Swank doesn’t claim to be offering a trade show. Nor does he say that the Coup D’état should be a trade show. ‘We’re just trying to do something different,” he says. While Tum Yeto’s Coup D’état events have been a huge success, Swank is modest: “People notice it.”

When asked what he feels the next step for ASR is, considering the success of this year’s Coup D’état, Swank says he’s unsure of what ASR will do: “They just need to address the issue.”

The reason that Tum Yeto is doing the Coup D’état in the first place is grass roots. Far beyond limiting the lure of a convention-center trade-show booth to shops and other industry people, Tum Yeto is concerned with making their product accessible to the end customer. The Coup D’état is effective for their needs. Swank explains: “We’re meeting with our customers, but we decided to do something fun and open to the public—so that the end consumer is seeing our stuff. They’re going to buy stuff because they’ve got kids coming into the shop saying they want our product. And so that’s who we want to impress.”

As to why they chose the Children’s Museum as a venue rather than their previous carnival-atmosphere approach, the answer is simple: To eliminate the alcohol and drunken raging, and offer in place a welcoming open atmosphere for all people—including kids. And to support a good cause—the Children’s Museum, and also to allow other companies who are interested to be involved.

Swank is pleased with the fact that Chris Carter, head of DNA Distribution, decided to join with Tum Yeto to hold this year’s Coup D’état event. For Carter, it was his first trade show having pulled out of ASR entirely. Other distributors such as Giant and Blitz, who were present at the Coup D’état, also had booths at the ASR show. “With Chris (Carter) joining us—well, a lot of this is driven by money because the market has flattened out,” explains Swank.

Bod Boyle, president of Giant Skateboard Distribution, questions whether ASR has a role in promoting skateboarding today. “They do, but I’m not sure what that is right now,” he says. “When you come to ASR, you should be coming into the world of skateboarding. I liked the Coup D’État because when I walked in there, it was skateboarding.”

Do Skateboarding’s Dons Fear Collapse?

If skateboarding is being run by five main distributors today, then it draws an amusing parallel to the Italian mob in New York City back in the 70s.

The heads of skateboarding’s biggest players met privately with Kevin Flanagan, head of ASR, apparently to address the future of ASR, existing issues, and approaches to resolving them.

All media were banned from the event, and the people present were asked to keep information confidential. Those in attendance included: Paul Schmitt, head of PS Stix skateboard manufacturing; Tod Swank; Bod Boyle; and Johnny Schilleref, among many others.

Bod Boyle is the president at Costa Mesa-based Giant Skateboard Distribution. Asked how he feels about much of the discourse directed to the subject of this year’s visibly less-attended show, Boyle explains that it’s not the job of the companies to create a reason and environment to make the trade shows appealing for their customers. “It’s our job to create a good brand and product,” says Boyle. “It’s ASR’s job to make the show compelling for retailers to come out to. It’s a huge positive that ASR’s listening, but they should’ve been listening a long time ago.

“I think there was too much emphasis on the manufacturers and not enough about retailers,” continues Boyle. “It was great to be able to sit there with all of the industry.”

Many people who attended the meeting were asked what they felt were some of the major concerns raised. The answers were unanimous among everyone there. While individuals and parties wished to remain anonymous, everyone agreed that the main issue was the cost. The main comment made was that the cost of having a booth at ASR has risen out of control over the years. Factors attributing to this are the unions that must be used to set up, the price per square foot, etc. One company person was blunt: “The return on our investment (into ASR) is a huge concern.” Another person was more optimistic: “I’m excited with how they (ASR) are going to look at the issues with cost, rates, and the issues raised.”

Boyle is also optimistic: “If we as manufacturers can make exciting products and brands—I want the energy to trickle down to the retailer and to the kid. We need to consistently have that in our objective. There’s an obvious need for improvement. I believe retailers will come if it’s relevant.”

When asked how effective he feels the role of ASR is in skateboarding’s industry today, Swank is sincere. “We need trade shows,” he says. “But maybe they (ASR) aren’t, or weren’t doing it the right way.

“People just started going to them because that was the status quo. ASR has never addressed it (any issues) because they’ve never been called out on it,” explains Swank.

Boyle agrees: “There’s definitely a need for trade shows. My question is: is the convention center the right environment?” With shows like the Coup D’état providing a long-awaited alternative, the answer to that question may not be far off at all.

“Change is good. Not addressing change is bad,” says Swank.ooth at ASR has risen out of control over the years. Factors attributing to this are the unions that must be used to set up, the price per square foot, etc. One company person was blunt: “The return on our investment (into ASR) is a huge concern.” Another person was more optimistic: “I’m excited with how they (ASR) are going to look at the issues with cost, rates, and the issues raised.”

Boyle is also optimistic: “If we as manufacturers can make exciting products and brands—I want the energy to trickle down to the retailer and to the kid. We need to consistently have that in our objective. There’s an obvious need for improvement. I believe retailers will come if it’s relevant.”

When asked how effective he feels the role of ASR is in skateboarding’s industry today, Swank is sincere. “We need trade shows,” he says. “But maybe they (ASR) aren’t, or weren’t doing it the right way.

“People just started going to them because that was the status quo. ASR has never addressed it (any issues) because they’ve never been called out on it,” explains Swank.

Boyle agrees: “There’s definitely a need for trade shows. My question is: is the convention center the right environment?” With shows like the Coup D’état providing a long-awaited alternative, the answer to that question may not be far off at all.

“Change is good. Not addressing change is bad,” says Swank.