Unique philosophies guide these independents through crowded waters.

Damn there are a lot of board companies right now! How in the world can a shop narrow down what lines to carry? Then there are concerns about consolidation and what it means to skate companies. Already some manufacturers have decided to call it quits, while others have made business decisions they feel will allow their brands to continue through the next round of adjustment.

And everyone knows the power of the Big Three: World Industries, Birdhouse, and Tum Yeto not only house outstanding brands and teams, but they have established themselves as capable distributors, leading them to dominate the skate market.

So what in the world would possess anyone at this point in time to start a fledgling skateboard company – to carve a niche in the already crowded skate market, oftentimes with limited resources?

Vision. Really, that’s it. Dreams unique to each of the following individuals give them the strength to be Davids up against Goliath. Although it’s too early to know which will not only survive but thrive let’s see just what kind of rocks they’ve got in their slingshots.

The Art Of Renaissance

Brad den Dulk got into the skateboarding business in a roundabout way. The group of teens he mentored in a Big Brother-like program were having a tough time finding summer jobs. So den Dulk, who worked as marketing manager at Universal Studios in L.A. at the time, decided to show them how to create their own business. In April of last year they started Renaissance with about six-thousand dollars in seed money and a couple deck designs heavy on Renaissance-style art, which the guys then sold out of their cars. Within a short time, den Dulk decided this venture was worth more of his time, so he quit his studio job and had business-partner Jim Belcher join up.

Renaissance is mostly known as the “no devils, drugs, or death” company – den Dulk’s attitude is that those things have nothing to do with skateboarding. “Parents worry about what their kids are riding,” he explains, “and we feel we should focus on good skateboarding and good skateboards at a good price instead of all this other stuff.”

The goal to focus on “good” goes deeper than skateboard quality: A local nonprofit organization, People In Progress, made plans to build a skatepark as part of their Skateboard Workshop program designed to encourage volunteerism and help keep kids away from gang activity. Skaters earn “points” for working with local hospitals, the L.A.P.D.’s Rampart Division, and North Hollywood’s AIDS Service Center. The points are then traded in for equipment – generously donated by Renaissance.

Positivity has been rewarded with plenty of sales and distributor interest: Renaissance now offers twelve decks, and a few of the original kids are still involved in the company – most of the others are off at college. The team consists of four riders up and down the West Coast who were chosen for their ability to be role models as well as their skate aptitude.

The SUBCON Archetype

Who is SUBCON? Shrouded in mystery, this Tacoma, Washington skate company sounds more like an acronym for a top-secret government project. Back in January of this year, former skate-shop-owner Jerry Suhrstedt decided it was time for the Northwest to have its own brand. Not an egotistical type, Suhrstedt’s vision was based on collaboration, and he enlisted Dave Kinsey of Black Market design firm to create the art for the new company.

“The result is a thinking man’s board line,” says Marketing Coordinator Chad Hochman. He notes that board graphics may include esoterica such as a Freud quote: “‘Technology will be the downfall of humanity’ – that is very much what we believe. In this era of composite boards, we’re saying don’t mess with something good – wood is good!”

When asked about any similarities to Alien Workshop, Hochman says, “Only in the way that we’re not going the T&route or flash route; we’re thought-provoking. And we’re also off the beaten route by not being in California.”

Northwest riders have very little opportunity for exposure, so they look for skate involvement in other ways. When SUBCON opened its doors, local skaters got really excited and wanted to be a part of it – so skaters turned into telemarketers, creative types, and event coordinators. And in turn, working with Dave Kinsey in San Diego involved a great amount of trust in his creative vision: “We might call him up,” says Hochman, “and tell him we want an ad with Dane Brummet, our rider in San Diego. Dave coordinates the whole thing, and we may not see the ad until it runs.”

Hochman feels board manufacturers have been squeezing the margins out of retailers; he says SUBCON can get the price down on good Canadian maple by doing a pro line, an am line, and a rookie line, featuring profit-booster models the retailer can set their own price on.

Far East And South

You can’t accuse Brian Schaefer of jumping the gun. In fact, the former pro and Skate Park of Tampa owner has beenthinking of starting Far East skateboards for nearly three years, but he wanted all the right people and the proper resources lined up first.

“Having the relationships I do with a lot of people makes me feel a little more comfortable starting a company,” Schaefer says. “There’s a demand for an East Coast skate company, but I think a lot of California companies succeed because they have the resources – they’ve already worked out the production kinks. It’s for that reason a lot of companies have failed on the East Coast.”

Although Far East is a small company, it’s been in the works for so long, almost everyone had heard about it even before the first board came out. This is due, in part, to Schaefer’s ingenious “pirate” advertising – banners and advertisements hung at SPoT and at Slam City Jam in Vancouver.

Chris Williams, who managed World Market skate shops in Florida for some time, was able to realize his dream of starting a skateboard brand by joining up with Schaefer. His business acumen allows Far East to see the brand from both shop and customer viewpoints: “We’re building good relationships with shops, calling them to check out new stuff. And we’ve gotten distribution now through South Shore, and hopefully Eastern Skate Supply.” Rather than use their resources at such an early stage for a booth at ASR, Williams and Schaefer have chosen to let the distributors showcase their goods while they focus on growing their company.

The entire team – Paul Zitzer, Mike Daher, and a bunch of stellar ams – has ties to Tampa, and the skatepark there makes it easier for the team to spend time together. The boards themselves are made on the East Coast – a point of pride for Far East’s owners as they attempt to create their own resources away from the West Coast.

God Save Panic And Blueprint

U.K. companiesPanic and Blueprint are only a couple years old, but their story goes way back to 1977, when Joe Burlo started selling skateboards. Skateboarding “vanished from England in the 80s,” in Burlo’s words, and the focus turned to BMX. But in about ’85, he saw skateboarding reemerging and decided to begin a distribution company, Faze 7, because it would enable him to push skateboarding farther than owning a shop.

Faze 7 had been rolling along quite nicely, distributing a plethora of American skate brands for U.K. consumption, but about three years ago Burlo started Panic to give British skaters the opportunity to be part of something based in their own world. “Most of the sponsored skaters in the U.K. have a distributor deal,” explains Burlo. “And we also wanted to help rebuild British skateboarding, which had become increasingly stagnant. We’d lost several of our homegrown skateboarding publications – RAD, Skateboard, and Skate Action. And we also lost Britain’s top-rated skaters, most to the U.S.”

Britain certainly hadn’t lost all its talent – one of Panic’s first skaters, Dan McGee, provided the brand’s graphics. But one problem that came up was a coherent vision for the team – the riders were unused to being sponsored and felt shy about communicating their opinions. Because of the resultant trial-and-error means of progression, Panic was not an instant success. Nonetheless, Panic provided a foundation to build on; as Burlo says, “People were saying ‘Let’s skate.’ You could believe in British skateboarding again.”

In spite of the desire to go U.K. all the way, the failure of previous British companies came in part from woodshop troubles, and Burlo (determined to avoid that pitfall) decided to keep manufacturing on the California West Coast. “You have the selection of good quality woodshops in the U.S.A.,” Burlo says, “and all the manufacturing bugs were worked out years ago.” And those Panic and Blueprint boards sold in the U.S. can be shipped directly from California.

In a short time, Panic became a rapidly growing company for British skaters. The folks launching high-quality mag Sidewalk Surfer shared a similar goal with Burlo in wanting to create a British scene, and they were able to work together. Now the mag is nearly 100-percent British skateboarding. It seemed a good time to start a second company that was not only more team oriented, but had a specific image. Blueprint, meant to be the blueprint for British skateboarding, has a fixed focus regarding graphics and ads, which in turn helps to market the team and the boards. Panic has one pro – Matt Pritchard – and a bunch of amateurs. “There’s room for both in the U.K.,” said Burlo. “These riders have accessibility – they’re British, and they stay in Britain. Skaters in Britain can say, ‘I don’t have to leave my country to be like him.’”

Diabolical – Big Mouth Strikes Again

As a Powell pro,Mike Santarossa believed his opinions were welcome. So he continued to give the company suggestions and feedback at team meetings – all the way up to when they gave him the boot. He had about six months to think about what he wanted from a company and hadn’t gotten, and from this introspection came Diabolical.

Santarossa’s typical day is a little different than his day as a Powell pro: he wakes up at work (because it’s run out of his house) and calls skate shops to sell his product, and then he skates at night. He envisions a day when he’s got more help with sales calls and can focus more on his skating; already Diabolical has distribution in Canada, Germany, Holland, Belgium, and England. This past summer Santarossa helped out three hours every morning at a skate camp at Skate Street in Ventura, and he made his sales calls in the afternoon. “Yeah, it did interfere, but at the same time I wouldn’t miss it!”

For now Diabolical sponsors ams, until pros fit into the budget. The company’s graphics have come from skater-artists all over the U.S. and are art-quality images, as opposed to today’s prevalent throw-away cartoon images. Although Diabolical gets interest and support from fellow Santa Barbara skaters, Santarossa says his location has just as many built-in obstacles: “It’s kind of difficult having two of the biggest companies next door!”

And The Distributors Who Love Them

“We carry Renaissance,” says George Amolochitis at South Shore Distribution. “At first they called us and sent some promo out, and we saw a lot of their ads in 411. They even worked with us by calling shops and asking if they’d order the product from us.” Renaissance’s willingness to help made them a very attractive line for South Shore to carry.

“Plus,” adds Amolochitis, “their graphics are clean – you don’t have to worry about sending them to any shop.”

The distributor also decided to carry Far East: “Look at the team,” says Amolochitis, “Paul Zitzer and Mike Daher, those guys are super good. That’s how we made the choice to carry them. We try a new company and see holy hadn’t lost all its talent – one of Panic’s first skaters, Dan McGee, provided the brand’s graphics. But one problem that came up was a coherent vision for the team – the riders were unused to being sponsored and felt shy about communicating their opinions. Because of the resultant trial-and-error means of progression, Panic was not an instant success. Nonetheless, Panic provided a foundation to build on; as Burlo says, “People were saying ‘Let’s skate.’ You could believe in British skateboarding again.”

In spite of the desire to go U.K. all the way, the failure of previous British companies came in part from woodshop troubles, and Burlo (determined to avoid that pitfall) decided to keep manufacturing on the California West Coast. “You have the selection of good quality woodshops in the U.S.A.,” Burlo says, “and all the manufacturing bugs were worked out years ago.” And those Panic and Blueprint boards sold in the U.S. can be shipped directly from California.

In a short time, Panic became a rapidly growing company for British skaters. The folks launching high-quality mag Sidewalk Surfer shared a similar goal with Burlo in wanting to create a British scene, and they were able to work together. Now the mag is nearly 100-percent British skateboarding. It seemed a good time to start a second company that was not only more team oriented, but had a specific image. Blueprint, meant to be the blueprint for British skateboarding, has a fixed focus regarding graphics and ads, which in turn helps to market the team and the boards. Panic has one pro – Matt Pritchard – and a bunch of amateurs. “There’s room for both in the U.K.,” said Burlo. “These riders have accessibility – they’re British, and they stay in Britain. Skaters in Britain can say, ‘I don’t have to leave my country to be like him.’”

Diabolical – Big Mouth Strikes Again

As a Powell pro,Mike Santarossa believed his opinions were welcome. So he continued to give the company suggestions and feedback at team meetings – all the way up to when they gave him the boot. He had about six months to think about what he wanted from a company and hadn’t gotten, and from this introspection came Diabolical.

Santarossa’s typical day is a little different than his day as a Powell pro: he wakes up at work (because it’s run out of his house) and calls skate shops to sell his product, and then he skates at night. He envisions a day when he’s got more help with sales calls and can focus more on his skating; already Diabolical has distribution in Canada, Germany, Holland, Belgium, and England. This past summer Santarossa helped out three hours every morning at a skate camp at Skate Street in Ventura, and he made his sales calls in the afternoon. “Yeah, it did interfere, but at the same time I wouldn’t miss it!”

For now Diabolical sponsors ams, until pros fit into the budget. The company’s graphics have come from skater-artists all over the U.S. and are art-quality images, as opposed to today’s prevalent throw-away cartoon images. Although Diabolical gets interest and support from fellow Santa Barbara skaters, Santarossa says his location has just as many built-in obstacles: “It’s kind of difficult having two of the biggest companies next door!”

And The Distributors Who Love Them

“We carry Renaissance,” says George Amolochitis at South Shore Distribution. “At first they called us and sent some promo out, and we saw a lot of their ads in 411. They even worked with us by calling shops and asking if they’d order the product from us.” Renaissance’s willingness to help made them a very attractive line for South Shore to carry.

“Plus,” adds Amolochitis, “their graphics are clean – you don’t have to worry about sending them to any shop.”

The distributor also decided to carry Far East: “Look at the team,” says Amolochitis, “Paul Zitzer and Mike Daher, those guys are super good. That’s how we made the choice to carry them. We try a new company and see how it does.”

South Shore doesn’t try to carry every company – that would put someone on the back burner: “We carry a lot,” says Amolochitis, “But we’re not overwhelmed.” He states that everyone at South Shore skates and is familiar with the companies, “There are some lines I wish we had, but we don’t carry a line just to say we have it. There are too many board companies out there right now, and it’s oversaturating the market.”

Reggie Barnes at Eastern Skate Supply has thirteen years in the distribution business: “I never say never – I may not order a particular product at a particular time, but that could change! If my sales reps tell me people are asking for something, that’s what gets me more likely to buy it.”

Barnes says the hardest thing about starting a new company is creating a demand – it’s not that difficult to get the money for funding, and the quality of goods is rarely a problem. Because he’s very involved in the skate community, a lot of these new companies are being started by friends, which he admits makes him more likely to check them out. “It would be hard to manage a hundred companies,” Barnes admits, “but if it all turned over quickly enough, yeah, I’d do it.”

Barnes also looks at how likely the company is to be around for a while: “I don’t want to get stuck with product. I think the industry’s better off if strong companies stick around. As long as it’s flooded, it’s bad for the industry. We’re better off investing in companies that are putting back into the sport It’s important for people to buy wisely – it’s important for our future.”e how it does.”

South Shore doesn’t try to carry every company – that would put someone on the back burner: “We carry a lot,” says Amolochitis, “But we’re not overwhelmed.” He states that everyone at South Shore skates and is familiar with the companies, “There are some lines I wish we had, but we don’t carry a line just to say we have it. There are too many board companies out there right now, and it’s oversaturating the market.”

Reggie Barnes at Eastern Skate Supply has thirteen years in the distribution business: “I never say never – I may not order a particular product at a particular time, but that could change! If my sales reps tell me people are asking for something, that’s what gets me more likely to buy it.”

Barnes says the hardest thing about starting a new company is creating a demand – it’s not that difficult to get the money for funding, and the quality of goods is rarely a problem. Because he’s very involved in the skate community, a lot of these new companies are being started by friends, which he admits makes him more likely to check them out. “It would be hard to manage a hundred companies,” Barnes admits, “but if it all turned over quickly enough, yeah, I’d do it.”

Barnes also looks at how likely the company is to be around for a while: “I don’t want to get stuck with product. I think the industry’s better off if strong companies stick around. As long as it’s flooded, it’s bad for the industry. We’re better off investing in companies that are putting back into the sport It’s important for people to buy wisely – it’s important for our future.”