The retail business of skateboarding gets its heart and soul from the small independent retailers who sell skateboard products not so much for the love of money, but more for the love of skateboarding. Like most of today’s skateboard manufacturers and distributors, these retail shops were started and are run by people with a passion for skateboarding.
For many years, skateboard companies limited their distribution to these ‘core stores because they were the only stores with management that cared enough to sell skateboards and skateboard-related products. That all changed when skateboarding’s popularity exploded and skateboard companies started getting courted by larger corporate retailers wanting a piece of the pie. Not all small independent retailers were immediately affected by this, but some retailers quickly found themselves head-to-head with large retail chains, where they were once the only skateboard carrier in town. This competition can often be a battle of David versus Goliath, but a small retailer can become the David that defeats Goliath. Here are a few of the things an independent retailer can do to ensure that the shop can handle the competition from a Goliath retailer.
First and foremost, build and be a part of the skate scene in your community. This means much more than just attending city council meetings when the city contemplates the building of a skatepark. It means being your town’s vocal skatepark and skateboarding advocate. Be the shop that gets quoted in the newspapers and is interviewed on TV during newsworthy skateboarding issues or events. Be the shop that mobilizes the skateboarders and parents in the town to attend council meetings, and pressure your elected officials to make your town skate-friendly. When people think or talk about skateboarding in your town, they you should think about your store.
Fostering and nurturing the skate scene in Birmingham, Alabama has been a major part of the success of Faith Skate Supply. Owner Peter Karvonen believes that the time spent building the skate scene in the area has paid off tremendously: “We have become synonymous with skateboarding in Alabama, and we are rewarded for our efforts by having loyal customers that would never shop anywhere else.” It takes extra effort beyond just running the shop to be the driving force behind skate contests, skateparks, and demos in your town. However, when your shop is that force, the rewards of a loyal customer base will help you more easily handle competition from a corporate store that does little to promote skateboarding locally.
A grassroots approach to marketing your store can frequently become a competitive edge when opposing a larger corporate skateboard retailer. Decisions in the corporate world are often bogged down with red tape and corporate policies. Being able to react quickly and creatively is a clear advantage that can often level the playing field against a competitor with many more marketing dollars to throw around. Locally, a low-cost ad in the school newspaper can be much more powerful than a full-page ad in a major skateboarding publication.
Take your community involvement beyond just the skate community and become active in other ways within your city and neighborhoods. The Cal Skate shop in Portland, Oregon, supports the community with the “Cal Hookups” program. The shop offers a fifteen-dollars-off coupon to skateboarders who donate three hours of their time to help feed the homeless at local shelters. Owner Howard Weiner says, “This unique program is more than a way for our store to give back to the community-it teaches the value of charity, gives skateboarding a good name, and sets us apart from the chain stores in our area.”
Becoming a member of the local Chamber of Commerce can provide excellent resources that help your business succeed against any size of competitor. The purpose of these organizations is to stimulate and support small businesses, and they are an outstandiing way to build strategic alliances with other small businesses in your town. Consider teaming up with businesses that share your same customers such as an amusement center or ice cream shop, and develop ways to cross-market and reward your frequent customers. Don’t be afraid to also form partnerships with other small independent skateboard shops in your area. While this may seem as though you are sleeping with the enemy, there is strength in numbers, and these types of alliances can prove to be very formidable.
Corporate retail stores tend to have a perceived advantage due to their larger buying power and the size and location of the stores. These things can easily be overcome when you commit to providing exceptional customer service. People are often willing to pay a bit more and drive a little farther for better service. Undoubtedly, a mall location makes it easy for a parent to get their kids outfitted with skateboard gear, but by making your shop parent-friendly and providing superior service, you can lure them away from the mall and into your shop.
Start by having a set telephone procedure that welcomes and invites customers to visit your shop. While kids may decide what they buy, it’s the parent that decides where they will buy. Once they visit your shop, do your best to get to know them on a first-name basis and use their name often in your conversation. Everyone loves to be known by their name, and the fact they are known within the local shop will bring them back again and again.
Product knowledge is an area of customer service where your shop can outshine the glitz of a corporate store. Typically, the staff at a corporate-style skate shop will not be people who live and breathe skateboarding like those of a ‘core independent skate shop. ‘Core skateboarders want to be associated with the ‘core store, not the corporate store. This breed of employee has firsthand knowledge of the merchandise and will assure that your customers get the right products for their needs.
Monument Skateboard Shop located in Pismo Beach is proud to have an expert staff and sees it as a great advantage over larger, less skate-orientated stores. Owner Billy Wallace says, “Our employees are local skaters who are hyped on the product and know what’s going on in the industry. We allow them to make decisions about what the store carries, and because they actually use the product, they can give customers unbiased opinions about what will work best for them.”
Better product selection is another area in which an independent store can secure a leg-up on a corporate adversary. Generally a big retailer will buy more of selected items within a brand, not smaller quantities of more boards. It’s much more work for them to manage numerous SKUs than it will be for a smaller retailer. Thus, your customers can have a better selection from which to choose, and less possibility of having the same shirt as their friend down the street. Furthermore, most skateboard manufacturers have new products available weekly. Beat the competition to the punch by leveraging your close relationships with your vendors so you can have the newest products on your shelves long before the corporate store has processed the red tape of ordering.
Having a big corporate store as a competitor can seem unendurable at times, but have confidence that your shop is the finest place for consumers to buy skateboard products. Claim the label of “skater-owned-and-operated,” and list all the things that your shop does to promote skateboarding in your community. When skateboarders and their parents know they are getting the best possible service and selection, price will no longer be the issue, and the corporate store will not seem like such a formidable Goliath