Southern California retailer sets the tone in the new millennium.
“What will really kill our industry is if the manufacturers go online. To be successful you have to see where you’re at¿you either have to be the retailer or the manufacturer.”¿Shane Wallace, Active Rideshop
Active Rideshop, one of the premier retail and mail-order businesses in this industry today, emerged from that unlikely interior region of Southern California just east of Los Angeles, the Inland Empire. The first store was opened by John Wallace in 1989. Located in Chino, the small shop catered to adults participating in the surf culture that was then expanding east of Interstate Five.
With the infamous Upland Pipeline skatepark closing and participation in skateboarding at an all-time low, this new inland surf culture was flourishing far from the beach, and Active was there to provide the goods landlocked consumers were seeking. Filling the racks and shelves with MCD and Quiksilver, among other brands, Active still experienced difficulty in acquiring some surf lines. “They surf brands think if you live outside the Five freeway, you don’t belong,” says John Wallace’s son Shane, who now oversees the entire Active operation. “It’s funny because we still get that a lot from the surf people.”
Wallace began working at the original shop when he was sixteen. After graduating from high school, he helped transform Active from a softgoods-oriented store to a skateboard-hardgoods-focused business. As a result, the second shop opened in Rancho Cucamonga in ’92 with a focus on hardgoods. Managed by Shane, the shop’s inventory supplied his family’s snowboarding, surfing, and skateboarding habits as much as it did the local clientele. But when the store began flourishing, the Wallaces knew they were on to something.
Trying something completely new for an action-sports retail store, Active decided to bring shoes into the product mix at the Rancho location. At the time, Airwalk, Simple, and Vans were the only popular brands available, and footwear was an insignificant percentage of overall shop sales. But the product mix of hardgoods, softgoods, and shoes gave customers three different reasons to visit Active. “No one was making money on shoes,” says Wallace. “I think mixing it all together equaled success.”
As skateboarding’s wounds healed from the recession and the popularity of the sport was again on the rise, Active saw the opportunity to branch out and open additional locations. Seeing the chance to serve niche markets far from the shoreline, Active opened in San Dimas (1995), Temecula (1998), Escondido (1999), and Irvine (2000). At 8,500 square feet, the Temecula store underwent three expansions to become the largest in the Active chain. The Wallaces have also recently signed a lease to open a store at Anaheim’s Gotcha Glacier, the indoor skateboard, snowboard, and surf park scheduled to open in 2002.
When a mall recently opened near the Temecula store, Wallace actually welcomed the idea because it allows Active to focus on its ‘core product mix. By not having to carry so many mainstream brands, Active is able to allot more space to brands like Fourstar and Matix, which weren’t able to blossom to their full potential because the surf brands had them cornered.
Active supports its team of athletes and the industries of skateboarding and snowboarding beyond just supplying its clientele. Each store in the chain sponsors a local regiment of skaters, many of whom work in the stores: J.P. Jadeed in San Dimas, Jay Thorpe in Escondido, and Chad Timtim in Irvine. “We sponsor probably over 50 up-and-coming kids,” says Wallace. “But the team we advertise consists of Eric Koston, Daewon Song, Adrian Lopez, Andrew Reynolds, Danny Way, Kenny Anderson, Steve Berra, Mark Appleyard, and Alex Gall.”
Another type of support the Active athletes enjoy comes in the form of inventory. Wallace makes it point to carry the brands his riders represent and to keep the merchandise in stock. “Eric Koston has his hands in Fourstar,” says Wallace. “We’re buying Fourstar, we’re putting it in our stores, and we’re selling it.”
Even though Active’s main advertising campaign focuses on its elite team, Wallace stresses the importance of supporting your local scene. “Local kids honestly do more for your business,” he says. “The best skateboarder in town is the most influential kid at his school.”
Besides supporting skaters on all levels, Active shops manage an endless schedule of events and demos. This promotional part of the business is so overwhelming, they’ve hired a full-time employee to handle it. “We have our own street course, and we take it out at least once a week to local schools, churches, and store demos,” says Wallace. “It’s helped out our business so much.” Last year Active did about 75 demos and went through two complete street courses.
Last November, Active hosted its first big contest. It took place at the Long Beach Convention Center and included a best-trick competition with prize money worth 5,000 dollars. That weekend the convention center was hosting a snow and skate expo. “There were brands from Tum Yeto to all the Sole Tech brands to snowboard companies,” says Wallace. “It was really a cool thing.”
Good For Competition
In 1999, Active launched a mail-order business that recently celebrated its one-year anniversary. Being supported with a strong advertising campaign in TransWorld SKATEboarding that utilized its elite team, the mail-order category has grown to 30 percent of Active’s overall business.
According to Wallace, only one other mail-order business is doing it right, but he doesn’t think it’s good for only one business to control any market. “CCS is going to be the best mail-order catalog for a long time,” he says. “It’s healthy for the skateboard industry to have another person they can sell their product through, and for kids to have another catalog to look at.”
Active’s mail-order program has also been supported by its Web site, activemailorder.com. Optimistic about e-commerce, Wallace admits it’s a double-edged sword. “If everybody holds price when selling product online, it’s healthy for kids to at least go look at product and see what’s out there,” says Wallace. “Before online sales, it was really easy to be lazy as a retailer and not represent all new product.”
Wallace believes that e-commerce represents a useful tool for shops because retailers are best suited for direct customer service. “What will really kill our industry is if the manufacturers go online,” says Wallace. “To be successful you have to see where you’re at¿you either have to be the retailer or the manufacturer.”One Big Happy Family
Even though Active’s success has allowed it to grow six-stores strong, the company still likes to maintain a single-store family-type atmosphere. “Each store is run like a single shop,” says Wallace. “Each store has its own group of kids it sponsors, and each shop has its own identity, where some brands do better in certain shops and some do better in another.”
Just about the entire family is involved in the business somehow. The three Wallace brothers and their father John each operate a store. Jason Dean, a childhood friend of Shane, has been a part of Active for seven years and runs the Escondido location. And one of Active’s first snowboard teamriders, Brent Futagaki, manages the newest location in Irvine.
With a substantial mail-order business and six locations, with a seventh on the way, Active now employs close to 200 people. “We just took a survey,” says Wallace. “There are probably about 30 to 40 college students and 25 people who said they want to make Active their careers. So there’s a lot of pressure on us because we really like keeping a family atmosphere.”
Most important lesson learned: “Our biggest mistake was trying to do a private-label brand within our stores. It’s a serious animal. It makes you lose touch with your vendors, creates a lack of support from your vendors, and it separates you. You have to know: Am I the manufacturer, or am I the retailer? And that’s how our industry stays healthy.”¿Shane Wallaceour stores. It’s a serious animal. It makes you lose touch with your vendors, creates a lack of support from your vendors, and it separates you. You have to know: Am I the manufacturer, or am I the retailer? And that’s how our industry stays healthy.”¿Shane Wallace