Skateboarding grows despite political turmoil.

Despite the country’s cold winters and short summers there is a growing skateboard market in Russia. A harsh political, economic, and seasonal climate has made it difficult for a few determined skateboard dealers to make a living selling skateboard hardgoods, apparel, and shoes, but they’ve managed to build on a short but solid history of skateboarding in Russia and the former Soviet Union and supply skaters who once resigned themselves to homemade and grossly substandard skateboards. This article will introduce you this “terra incognita.”

In the early 1980s, the first Western skateboards infiltrated Soviet Russia under the Iron Curtain. Unable just to go to a shop and purchase a board, smart and skillful kids began building skateboards out of plywood, steel parts, and rubber hockey pucks. The children’s magazine Skillful Hands, a sort of home improvement for teens, even published an article about how kids could make “a funny board on wheels” at school or in their garages.

Eventually, Estonian, Latvian, and later Russian factories started manufacturing skateboards. They used whatever materials they had: aluminum alloys, plywood, and various plastics. Hence, they didn’t pay too much attention to quality since skateboards were just another civil product they were forced to manufacture¿along with their prime directives of manufacturing aviation engines, tanks, and missiles. In the early days, when the best skateboards were coming from Soviet Baltic republics like Estonia and Latvia, people from Russian cities like Moscow and St. Petersburg were traveling to Riga and Tallinn to find these much coveted boards.

By the mid 80s, skateboarding had spread across the country like a forest fire, the “skateboard industry” started growing, and skaters were uniting in clubs and associations, often competing in slalom, downhill, high-jump, and even skateboard-soccer contests.

By the late 80s, skateboarding’s popularity in the Soviet Union began to wane, and by the early 90s, it practically died, despite the great enthusiasm of hardcore skaters and the established mass production of skateboard equipment.

The dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 further isolated skaters in the various republics, and for most of the 90s only a few-dozen hardcore fanatics kept skateboarding alive in these fledgling nations.

Relaxed travel restrictions in the early 90s saw Russian skaters bringing top-quality American skateboards from abroad. Those who could afford the rare and pricey goods rode them, while others took meticulous measurements and mimicked the designs as best they could. These skaters made their equipment by pressing birch veneers into decks, sand cast trucks and filled the molds with aluminum, and lathed rubbery roller-skate wheels or second-hand old-style skateboard wheels into popular shapes and sizes. At least Russian factories still made decent 608-size bearings for general needs.

Nowadays, three Moscow-based companies distribute and retail skateboard products. While a premium American complete board sells in Russian skate shops for 170 to 220 dollars (U.S.), regular sport shops and toy stores also sell cheap Asian completes for about 30 to 40 dollars (U.S.).

The total number of skaters in the whole country is hard to track. Russian distributors and shop owners estimate that in the summer of 1999 there were as many as 1,000 regular skaters, concentrated primarily in the Moscow and St. Petersburg metropolitan areas. Seriously speaking, though, if only ten to twenty percent of affluent young Russian males take an interest in skateboarding, then participation can easily reach 100,000 to 400,000 skaters in a few years, if we could only let them know how cool skateboarding is.

Russian Shops And Suppliers

Pavel Martynov, General Director of Firma Kvant

Kvant retails skateboard and snowboard products through its Moscow shop, Adrenalin Sport,hich opened in August 1998.

Brands carried: Alien Workshop, A-Team, Axion, Blind, Circa, City Stars, Chocolate, DC Shoe Co., Destructo, Droors, Dub, Element, Foundation Super Co., Fourstar, Girl, Gullwing, Jessup, Mercury, New Deal, Orion, Osiris, Pig, Reflex, Roofie’s, Shorty’s, Thunder, Toy Machine, Tracker, True, Venture, World Industries, Zero.

What surprised you the most about the skateboard business?

Martynov: While attending some sport show I was just shocked by the fantastic tricks that Tony Hawk and other pros were performing on the ramp.

Why do you carry these particular brands, and what criteria do you use to determine what brands to carry?

I look at TWS and Big Brother magazines, check sites on the Internet, and participate in ISPO, ASR, and other shows. After that, Sergey Nitsenko, who is the president of the company, and I make final decisions.

What should American skate-business people know about the Russian market?

It’s not easy to promote new brands on the Russian market. The quality of goods should be high enough to be able to support the image. Advance payment and seasonal type of orders make it difficult¿they have summer twelve months a year in California, while our season is only three months long.

What are the main problems Russian companies face while establishing skateboarding in Russia?

Russian trade regulations: We have to provide to the Russian Standard Committee a sample of each type of goods for certification. They cut every sample to be sure the materials are actually not dangerous for customers.

Customs: They charge either for weight or for volume, depending on what is more profitable for them. After we discover a quality problem, we will never get a customs fee back, and to send the stuff back to the U.S. makes no sense at all; it’s more profitable to throw it away.

Tags for goods: Every single thing in a shop must have a tag with the brand name, country of origin, material, and description.

What are your company’s volumes, and your plans for the near future?

From August to December 1998 we spent 80,000 dollars (U.S.). From April to December 1999 we spent 250,000 dollars. Next year it could be 500,000 to 600,000 dollars, and in a couple of years it could easily grow two to three times a year.

Right now we’re actively working on our indoor-skatepark project. It will include a 2000-square-meter approximately 6,500-square-foot skatepark for skateboarders and a separate area for in-line skaters, an Internet cafe, a kids club, and a skate shop. A German company is doing the design and will construct the park in a former ball-bearing plant. We want it to be opened in late December 1999.

Our company sponsors bi-monthly X-Strëam skate/snowboard magazine, which published its first volume last summer.

Yuriy Kolobov, Owner and Director of Sport XXI (formerly DSS Sport)dss@glasnet.ru

Sport XXI is a wholesaler and retailer of sporting goods, including snowboards, bikes, and sports outerwear, and operates its own shop and skatepark in Moscow, Ne Olimpiyskiye Igry (Non Olympic Games). Sport XXI also distributes skateboard products to five shops around Moscow, and six shops in other cities, including a partner shop in St. Petersburg, Diana Sport.

Ne Olimpiyskiye Igry opened in May 1999, but Kolobov has been skating since 1980, and involved in the skate business in Russia since 1998, at first selling skateboard shoes.

Brands carried: Bullet, Emerica, éS, Etnies, Independent, Jessup, Krux, Oakley, Powell, Road Rider, Roofie’s, Santa Cruz, Sessions, Speed Wheels, and TransWorld SKATEboarding.

What surprised you the most about the skateboard business?

Kolobov: Relations in the skateboard-business community are far better compared to the ski and snowboard industry.

Why do you carry these particular brands, and what criteria do you use to determine what brands to carry?

I brainstorm with my skateboard park director, team manager, and shop managers, though I make the final decision based on information from the magazines, my business contacts with skate and snow industry people, and my impressions from sports shows like ISPO and ASR.

What should American skate-business people know about the Russian market?

The Russian market is very promising. Don’t look at Russia as a country of 160-million people, think of it more as a European country of twenty-something million with two big cities, Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Take your time when choosing Russian partners, but please do not switch from one to another twice a year without really serious reasons¿loyalty and respect are especially important in this small community.

People, who are promoting skateboarding and brands in this country are literally heroes. They do it at their own risk while their foreign partners have no risk at all. Moreover, they American partners practically do nothing to support the sport in Russia, even if it costs them nothing.

What are the main problems Russian companies face while establishing skateboarding in Russia?

Transportation of goods¿air is expensive and sea freight takes too long, reorder problems, and unstable and imperfect Russian banking system. Because of the weakness and instability of the Russian banking system, foreign companies do not accept Russian letters of credit¿they insist on full payment in advance, sometimes as early as six months. In fact, we have to know well in advance what we need and when, then we have to wait a few months for the goods. It’s a real pain to reorder products, especially if we only need some spare parts or a few rolls of griptape.

What are your company’s volumes, and your plans for the near future?

In 1999 the volumes of skateboard goods were about 200,000 dollars (U.S.). Next year it will be somewhere between 400,000 and 600,000 dollars.

We are quite proud to have opened and to successfully operate the first Moscow skateboard park, where we organize competitions and demos. We will move the ramp and the street obstacles indoors to let kids ride in winter.

I am planning to open one more skate shop in downtown Moscow. What can be done by skateboard companies interested in developing the Russian market? Assist in the promotion of skateboarding (it’s not always a question of money), include Russia in pro-team world-tour schedules, and give some discounts while the partner company is still growing the market.

Denis Markhasin, Skateboard Manager of Sportland

Sportland is a wholesaler and retailer of skis, bikes, snowboards, in-line skates, and skateboards, and operates a skateboard section in its own sport shop, Marathon Sport, and skate sections in three other shops around Moscow. Sportland also distributes skateboard products to the city of Samara.

Marathon Sport began selling skateboard products in May 1999. Markhasin has been skating since 1992, and has been involved in the Russian skateboard business since 1997.

Brands carried: Birdhouse, Dukes, Flip, Fury, Hook-Ups, Jessup, Orion, Neighborhood, Sixteen, Stamina, Tracker.

What surprised you the most about the skateboard business?

Markhasin: For me the most surprising thing in Russian skateboard business is the company Kvant that had the courage to create the first skate shop, Adrenalin Sport. They were not afraid to switch from the fashion industry to something so specific as skateboarding.

Why do you carry these particular brands, and what criteria do you use to determine what brands to carry?

I study skate magazines, I pay attention to who rides for what company, I test the products if I can, then I share all my ideas with the company’s managers, who make the final decision on the brands and volumes.

What should American skate-business people know about the Russian market?

Local people are welcoming skatery?

I brainstorm with my skateboard park director, team manager, and shop managers, though I make the final decision based on information from the magazines, my business contacts with skate and snow industry people, and my impressions from sports shows like ISPO and ASR.

What should American skate-business people know about the Russian market?

The Russian market is very promising. Don’t look at Russia as a country of 160-million people, think of it more as a European country of twenty-something million with two big cities, Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Take your time when choosing Russian partners, but please do not switch from one to another twice a year without really serious reasons¿loyalty and respect are especially important in this small community.

People, who are promoting skateboarding and brands in this country are literally heroes. They do it at their own risk while their foreign partners have no risk at all. Moreover, they American partners practically do nothing to support the sport in Russia, even if it costs them nothing.

What are the main problems Russian companies face while establishing skateboarding in Russia?

Transportation of goods¿air is expensive and sea freight takes too long, reorder problems, and unstable and imperfect Russian banking system. Because of the weakness and instability of the Russian banking system, foreign companies do not accept Russian letters of credit¿they insist on full payment in advance, sometimes as early as six months. In fact, we have to know well in advance what we need and when, then we have to wait a few months for the goods. It’s a real pain to reorder products, especially if we only need some spare parts or a few rolls of griptape.

What are your company’s volumes, and your plans for the near future?

In 1999 the volumes of skateboard goods were about 200,000 dollars (U.S.). Next year it will be somewhere between 400,000 and 600,000 dollars.

We are quite proud to have opened and to successfully operate the first Moscow skateboard park, where we organize competitions and demos. We will move the ramp and the street obstacles indoors to let kids ride in winter.

I am planning to open one more skate shop in downtown Moscow. What can be done by skateboard companies interested in developing the Russian market? Assist in the promotion of skateboarding (it’s not always a question of money), include Russia in pro-team world-tour schedules, and give some discounts while the partner company is still growing the market.

Denis Markhasin, Skateboard Manager of Sportland

Sportland is a wholesaler and retailer of skis, bikes, snowboards, in-line skates, and skateboards, and operates a skateboard section in its own sport shop, Marathon Sport, and skate sections in three other shops around Moscow. Sportland also distributes skateboard products to the city of Samara.

Marathon Sport began selling skateboard products in May 1999. Markhasin has been skating since 1992, and has been involved in the Russian skateboard business since 1997.

Brands carried: Birdhouse, Dukes, Flip, Fury, Hook-Ups, Jessup, Orion, Neighborhood, Sixteen, Stamina, Tracker.

What surprised you the most about the skateboard business?

Markhasin: For me the most surprising thing in Russian skateboard business is the company Kvant that had the courage to create the first skate shop, Adrenalin Sport. They were not afraid to switch from the fashion industry to something so specific as skateboarding.

Why do you carry these particular brands, and what criteria do you use to determine what brands to carry?

I study skate magazines, I pay attention to who rides for what company, I test the products if I can, then I share all my ideas with the company’s managers, who make the final decision on the brands and volumes.

What should American skate-business people know about the Russian market?

Local people are welcoming skateboarding. Russia, and Moscow especially, has great potential. In tiny Prague, Czech Republic, they have as many as eighteen shops, but we in Moscow have bigger potential, and more and better spots to skate.

What are the main problems Russian companies face while establishing skateboarding in Russia?

Russian companies are still not ready to invest good money in

skateboard business. Managers who feel quite comfortable with other sports do not want to take a risk in this unknown area.

What are your company’s volumes, and your plans for the near future?

I suppose we will be able to round out the year 1999 selling more than a hundred complete boards. If I only had money to invest, I would have purchased three times more skate products for next year. Our company joined the skateboard market under pressure¿after Adrenalin Sport and Ne Olimpiyskiye Igry were opened. My prices for skateboard completes are lower, compared to my competitors, but I need to attract more skaters to our shop.

Consensus

While each of their businesses are operated differently, all three managers agree on the following facts: the Russian mafia, which has its hands in almost all sectors of the economy, is not interested in this business; skateboard shoes, the big-margin category in the U.S., is not quite profitable yet¿it takes a lot of time and money to educate people about new brands, and to inspire them to pay good money for “well-known and respected U.S. brands”; the Russian skateboard market has a big future¿sales will probably grow 1.5 to three times in 2000; companies import skateboard goods direct from the U.S.; and surprisingly enough, thievery is not a problem for Russian skate shops so far.kateboarding. Russia, and Moscow especially, has great potential. In tiny Prague, Czech Republic, they have as many as eighteen shops, but we in Moscow have bigger potential, and more and better spots to skate.

What are the main problems Russian companies face while establishing skateboarding in Russia?

Russian companies are still not ready to invest good money in

skateboard business. Managers who feel quite comfortable with other sports do not want to take a risk in this unknown area.

What are your company’s volumes, and your plans for the near future?

I suppose we will be able to round out the year 1999 selling more than a hundred complete boards. If I only had money to invest, I would have purchased three times more skate products for next year. Our company joined the skateboard market under pressure¿after Adrenalin Sport and Ne Olimpiyskiye Igry were opened. My prices for skateboard completes are lower, compared to my competitors, but I need to attract more skaters to our shop.

Consensus

While each of their businesses are operated differently, all three managers agree on the following facts: the Russian mafia, which has its hands in almost all sectors of the economy, is not interested in this business; skateboard shoes, the big-margin category in the U.S., is not quite profitable yet¿it takes a lot of time and money to educate people about new brands, and to inspire them to pay good money for “well-known and respected U.S. brands”; the Russian skateboard market has a big future¿sales will probably grow 1.5 to three times in 2000; companies import skateboard goods direct from the U.S.; and surprisingly enough, thievery is not a problem for Russian skate shops so far.