Midwest retailer forms triangle offense in Minneapolis.
The idea of operating your own skate shop sounds rewarding and fulfilling. Picking the location, setting your own work hours, and hand-selecting the goods to fill your racks, wall, and display cases is exhilarating to think about. But how many of us actually have the information and resources to reach the final goal of opening our doors to the public and servicing the local army of skaters? Often there are unforeseen circumstances and hurdles one must overcome in running a successful business.
For Joe Gieseking, who’s worked in a skate shop since he was sixteen, opening a shop in his hometown of Minneapolis felt like the natural thing to do. In 1994 he had six years of experience and decided to embark on his entrepreneurial path by opening the first of three Fobia skate shops. His first shop opened in a section of Minneapolis aptly named Dinkytown. “Our first store was 500 square feet on the second floor of this building,” says Gieseking. “It was kind of hard to find, and not many people knew about it.”
Trying to finance the store by borrowing money from his parents and maxing out his credit cards, Gieseking found himself in a bit of a bind with creditors. “We just tried to grow at a faster rate then we should have,” he admits. And for the first two years the shop was open, he had trouble convincing companies like DC and the Sole Technology brands to open his account.
With minimal exposure at its primary location, Gieseking decided to relocate Fobia to a higher-profile spot in the neighboring city of St. Paul. The new shop opened in 1996 on University Avenue at a 1,400-square-feet facility, where the shop has remained until July of this year.
With other skate shops in the area, Gieseking decided one way he could diversify Fobia was by sponsoring some local skaters and producing shop videos. “We were basically the only shop that had a team at the time,” Giesking explains. Their first promo video was produced in 1996, filmed with a basic VHS camera, and primitively edited, he admits. The hundred or so videos were given away as freebies to customers, and Gieseking also distributed some at trade shows to promote the local scene.
The positive feedback Fobia received from their first video prompted a second promo in 1997. “So many reps and customers were requesting footage, we decided to upgrade the quality,” Gieseking explains. “We found a Sony DCRVX1000 at a local pawn shop, and with a fisheye lens, that put our footage at a whole new level.” Their third video, the self-titled Fobia, sold about a hundred copies in late ’97, just enough to cover their costs.
Business was going well, and the demand for skate-related products increased with the growing popularity of skateboarding. Joe’s brother Dan, fresh out of college with a business-finance degree, was the perfect complement for Fobia. So in 1998, Joe and Dan ventured out and opened the second Fobia location in Maplewood, a suburb east of Minneapolis. Having Dan as CFO, and plus a new computerized inventory system, the Gieseking brothers were able to clean up their books and streamline their operation. Now they’re able to monitor cash flow more easily, and with the push of a few buttons, the staff can obtain a multitude of varying inventory and financial data.
Continuing to build the shop’s image and gain recognition through its team, in 1998 Gieseking decided to bring Benji Meyer on board to produce the next Fobia video, Hate Breeders. “Everyone started filming and skating a lot more, and the team became local heroes to the new skateboarders coming up,” says Gieseking, who feels that much of Fobia’s success is attributed to the fact their team is constantly skating and promoting the stores. “Our team goes out to the skatepark, to a demo, or just skating around downtown handing fliers out, and it hypes kids out to come down here.”
As the popularity of skateboarding continuedd to grow in the Midwest, so did the demand for Fobia to open its third location in Burnsville, a suburb south of Minneapolis, in 1999. “A lot of kids in the suburbs didn’t really have anywhere to go,” says Gieseking. “Every day we had six kids coming in buying a new skateboard.”
This has been another banner year for growth and recognition for Fobia. This spring, the shop released its newest video, Midopoly, which to date has sold close to 1,000 copies, and the Fobia crew has already started working on the next video, scheduled for release this fall. Fobia closed its St. Paul store this past July to relocate to a split-level 5,000-square-foot location in downtown Minneapolis.
Eager to promote skateboarding in any capacity, Fobia will often host demos and premieres of the latest company videos. This summer they hosted Alien Workshop’s latest project, Photosynthesis, and TransWorld SKATEboarding‘s Anthology. Fobia also recently held demos at all three stores, which had a strong turnout of 150 to 200 kids at each location.
The mix of Gieseking’s experience in skateboarding and his brother Dan’s education in finance has made it possible for Fobia to smooth out its bumpy start. Joe Gieseking explains his secret to success: “Through persistence everything has come together, and we’re happy where we are.”