Taking Baker – Baker Skateboards has two leaders with one idea.

It’s a an overcast Thursday afternoon in a North Hollywood neighborhood, and Andrew Reynolds-CEO and sole owner of Baker skateboards-is sitting on a folding metal chair on the front porch of his new home, sipping a Starbucks coffee, and smoking cigarettes relentlessly.

And his right-hand woman, Robin Flemming (brand manager of Baker) is sitting beside him, doing the exact same thing.

Both Flemming and Reynolds have taken the afternoon off from their day-to-day routine to talk to SKATE Biz about Baker-a company that is notoriously, uh, Baker …

And while they’ve got a lot to say about a lot of things, one thing is clear: their mandate isn’t very abstract. “I just want to do what I think is best for the team and keep doing (it) for as long as I can,” says Reynolds.

Baker was launched through Huntington Beach, California-based Blitz Distribution at the September 2001 ASR trade show in San Diego with an unmanned and fenced-off booth-complete with strewn garbage and nothing more than the first series of pro boards hanging on the booth’s walls. Blitz held partial ownership in the company until February 2002, when Reynolds purchased remaining shares of Baker to become the company’s sole owner, although it remains exclusively distributed through Blitz.

The response to Baker at its launch was one of curiosity and excitement. “We figured coming out with the Baker 2G video and having all of the boards come out at the same time was going to create some hype around the company,” says Reynolds. “At that time our guys were the first ones to look that way and not give a fuck. And we were one of the first companies down at Blitz-Per (Welinder) and Tony (Hawk) told me-to make a profit in the first year.”

Former Birdhouse Team Manager and current Bootleg Skateboard Company Director Jay Strickland was a major influence and part of Baker in its early days, leaving about a year later to start Bootleg through NorCal’s NHS.

Baker Roots

In fact, it was Strickland and Reynolds who developed the idea for Baker together. At the time, Strickland was the team manager for Birdhouse-the company Reynolds had skated for since his early teen years. However, he shared Reynolds’ sentiments about not identifying with the team and wanting to create something they felt better represented them and their crew of friends. Back then, the majority of their crew was living in Huntington Beach, California-much of the infamous “Warner Ave.” crew: Reynolds, Jim Greco, Dustin Dollin, Jeff Lenoce, Erik Ellington, Elissa Steamer, and many others. They all skated together, explains Andrew: “We used to just film each other all the time back then, throw all of our footage onto these VHS tapes, and kind of just piece them all together, editing with our VCRs. That was it-our editing equipment was pretty ghetto.

“And someone would just write on the video cassette, ‘The Baker Video,’ and that’s how it all began,” smiles Reynolds.

“It was to the point that we had set quit dates-actual dates that we were all going to quit our teams at the time to be on Baker.

“Me and the whole team were disappointed with the companies we were riding for and their whole image at the time. For me, it was Birdhouse, and of course they were good to me-Tony and Per-but it wasn’t the image I was into. So Jay Strickland and I decided we’d get together and do a company-something no one had done before. So we sort of pulled some swindle and put out a video with our friends, and that’s how we were operating-in some pretty scandalous ways to get our thing going. I didn’t want to leave Blitz because Tony had treated me very well since I was fifteen years old. So it was kind of like pulling teeth a little bit-they just didn’t understand that this is where skateboarding was going with street skaters who didn’t really skate contests.

“I pretty much had to convince them (Blitz) that these were profitable skateboarders. So, I told them that this is what I want to do and why, and said,Let me do this, otherwise I’m gonna leave.’

“I knew Tony would understand because he did the exact same thing and created Birdhouse. I knew he would understand where I was coming from,” adds Reynolds.

“We didn’t want to develop a team and then have people wait a few years after the team was developed to produce a video,” explains Reynolds. “What we wanted was to show up with a full team and a full video, and let kids make up their minds for themselves.”

Fleming was initially hired to help Strickland with the marketing: “Basically to be the receptionist and deal with their other team managers.” She added that things changed drastically when Bootleg was later launched by Strickland through NHS: “I was hired by Baker, and I ended up working for both Baker and Bootleg.”

Reynolds nods in agreement: “The Bootleg team are all guys we skate with, and are all of our friends, and of course when they needed help, she’d (Fleming) help them. But I had to be a smart businessman and say that Baker comes first.”

Bakerism: The Growth Of Baker

Asked if he feels the brand has been well-received worldwide, Reynolds seems content: “Yeah, definitely. After the Baker 2G video we’d get tapes sent from countries like Finland, or maybe it was Norway, but they had, like, little versions of me and Jim and Erik. And it tripped us out because they looked just like us but were like fifteen and downing a bottle of vodka. So that tripped us out-we were like: ‘This is fucked up.’ So yeah, it was big all over the world.”As to how the popularity of the brand has developed since the brand’s early days, Reynold’s feels it’s been steady: “There’s a certain type of kid that latches right on to Baker. I go out to demos and stuff and see the kids with the T-shirts and boards, and so it seems to be doing all right to me.”

Fleming laughs, “It’s funny, because Andrew doesn’t look at sales journals or anything. He knows because he’s out there.”

Under The Blitz Umbrella

However, it’s important to note that Baker’s operations aren’t autonomous to Fleming and Reynolds. Blitz remains involved in facilitating Baker’s vision. “On a day-to-day basis there are people in production at Blitz who help us out, but it’s Andrew and I who do it,” says Fleming. “Basically Baker is an association of friends, and to protect his friends, Andrew owns the company.”

“It’s not hard to find out what motivates a distributor because of course it’s money,” observes Fleming.

Reynolds is quick to add, “So it’s pretty easy going to deal with Blitz.”

China

With widespread confusion and concern about manufacturing boards in China sweeping through the skateboard industry, Fleming stresses that Baker isn’t on the Asian manufacturing bandwagon: “We try to have some integrity in terms of the way we deal with each other. Everything we’re doing is hopefully for the right reasons.

“We have woodshops in the U.S. that helped build the industry, and then there are a couple of guys who sent presses to China and then they wonder why there are complete decks being sold for $24.99,” she continues.

“Sometimes we might not always be the best businesspeople, but I think we do okay. And I’m not sure if we’re the only ones who don’t have boards floating, but I think we are.”

“With this decline, the changes people are trying to institute are on such a massive scale, but you can’t predict what’s going to happen, whether it’s a war or a terrorist attack. There are a million variables of what goes wrong-how do you protect your seconds from being sold in Taiwan? When September the eleventh happened, we had an entire shipment of wallets sitting in the Port of Los Angeles for three months. Thank god they weren’t boards.”

Baker Heart

“I can try my hardest to do the right thing as far as the company and making sure the riders are happy, but I have no control with what happens in the world,” reflects Andrew upon his company. “It’s not like I don’t care, but if skateboarding gets smaller and smaller, and we go out of business, then I don’t care. But until then, I want to do what I think our company and Robin thinks is right.”

Fleming is quick to point out how sincere Reynolds’ commitment to the company is: “He doesn’t take checks.”

“I don’t make any money off of Baker,” Reynolds explains. “Everything I make from Baker goes back into the company.”

Fleming jumps in, “Because we have a kid called Spanky and another one named Braydon who decided to entrust us with their future.”

“If Robin wouldn’t have been hired, this company would have fallen apart a long time ago,” says Reynolds. “Because honestly, with the team and with me-we don’t know what’s going on as far as business goes. Seriously, she has saved this company.” er and smaller, and we go out of business, then I don’t care. But until then, I want to do what I think our company and Robin thinks is right.”

Fleming is quick to point out how sincere Reynolds’ commitment to the company is: “He doesn’t take checks.”

“I don’t make any money off of Baker,” Reynolds explains. “Everything I make from Baker goes back into the company.”

Fleming jumps in, “Because we have a kid called Spanky and another one named Braydon who decided to entrust us with their future.”

“If Robin wouldn’t have been hired, this company would have fallen apart a long time ago,” says Reynolds. “Because honestly, with the team and with me-we don’t know what’s going on as far as business goes. Seriously, she has saved this company.”