El Segundo, California-On October 31, 2003, Dwindle Distribution made a bold and history-making move via e-mail, by sending out an industry-wide announcement “finally admitting” their skateboard decks for the World Industries, Blind, enjoi, Almost, and Darkstar brands are made in China at their own facility called Chop Chop Wood Shop, later renamed to Douglas Street Manufacturing (DSM).
The press release further declared that now, as the cost of manufacturing has been lowered, they felt the need to translate those savings to retailers and their end consumers worldwide, by drastically lowering their wholesale prices of decks to 29 dollars, five to ten dollars cheaper than what their distributors and accounts had been previously paying.
The vast majority of the industry reacted with a great deal of surprise, particularly to the announcement of the lowering of the prices.
As the retail price of a skateboard deck had not increased in over twenty years, the cost of manufacturing a deck has grown relatively steadily-and consequently, profit margins had been decreasing along with the increasing costs ranging from materials and labor, to marketing and an extremely competitive marketplace.
“When I got the opportunity to develop something from scratch with no limits, I was really excited,” says Dwindle’s Rodney Mullen, who worked closely with former company President Frank Messman on research, development, and establishing the Chinese facility. “These boards are always the same and quite good. That’s crucial because kids don’t have to ride these junked decks. That’s still where my heart is. This is skateboarding.”
“If we don’t do something to push skateboarding along, it’ll go away. If we don’t look to pass on savings to skaters, it’ll become a non-branded market,” explains Dwindle’s Vice President Matt Hill, stressing the importance the company feels in reestablishing the branded-board market. Over the past several years the presence of blank and shop decks has surged around the world in order to provide consumers with a cost-efficient alternative to the marketed pro boards. This is one of the reasons that marketing brands began selling and marketing pricepoint boards.
Hill explains the project has been three years in the making. “We held on releasing it because we wanted to be sure about quality, and we’ve got more at stake than anybody.”
“I’ve had input for a long time- since the late 80s,” says Mullen about his involvement in the boards made by World Industries, which he started with Steve Rocco in 1988. Mullen has played a key role in developing the boards made at Dwindle Distribution over the past few years and not on his own: “Daewon (Song) and Chet (Thomas) have been close to me (in providing input in research and development of the boards) for about two years,” he says, adding that the manufacturing process and facility now established in China are humane from every angle. And to the concern of a loss of U.S. jobs, Hill is optimistic: “When you get down to the labor issues, if we sell a lot more boards, then we’ll create jobs here (in the U.S.A.), it’ll open a lot more doors.”
Hill further explains that what they’ve established and observed at their Chinese facility is something powerful and unique: “It’s this odd hybrid of capitalism and communism. What goes on is this almost paternal role that the owner takes on-that he’s responsible for the livelihood of all the workers and their families.” Dwindle’s facility, like many other manufacturing plants in China, is set up within a walled compound, where workers live and work together as a community. It’s in a town where there are schools and medical facilities, but the workers live in a dormitory-like setup within the compound.
The overall shock and surprise to Dwindle’s announcement has been a catalyst for a great deal of dialogue throughout the industry worldwide and has initiated a general movement to gain awareness on the issue. However, expplains Hill, “It seems to be blowing over much quicker than anticipated.
“People have known we’ve been sourcing out of China. We really wanted to come out with some sort of big statement and tried to come out on the front of it all,” he says, adding, “We’ve offered to do boards for our competitors.”To this, Dwindle’s Sales Manager Travis Nohe adds: “From the retail end, it’s (Chinese manufacturing and lowered prices) been accepted across the board.”Mullen is passionate in discussing the issue and the quality of the boards-something which he has spent a great deal of time developing over the past few years. In fact, he says the first prototypes were shipped in 2000. “This is about skateboarding and skateboarders,” he says. “And being able to skate on good equipment. And for us to bicker about that kind of makes me sick to hear the comments.
“We found an effective way to lower the price so that everybody benefits,” adds Mullen.