Back at TransWorld after a relaxing lunch at the local harbor (where business wasn’t discussed once), German skate-biz legend Titus Dittmann stretches his wiry frame and then sits cross-legged on a bench. Fresh half-inch-wide scars run the length of his forearm, the result of a recent car-racing injury. When asked about his plans for the weekend, Dittmann relates that he’s traveled to the U.S. with his own parachute and will be sky-diving for three days in Perris, about two hours east of us in San Diego. So when Dittmann finally gets down to the task at hand, talking about the corporation known as Titus AG, it’s noteworthy that he skips 24 years of history in the skateboarding business and instead chooses to talk about his newest project first:

“This is emotional information about what we do,” says Dittmann, fanning out a sheaf of papers that diagram all his companies and their roles in the Titus empire. “What our core competence is, our Youth Culture Competence. Not only skateboarding, it’s print media, PR … ” Dittmann’s profile in his home country becomes more apparent as he sorts through endless clippings of coverage: family magazines, sports mags, business mags, newspapers, talk shows, even his own autograph cards.

Dittmann’s newest goal is bringing his company public-offering public shares of stock. So he’s gone from catering to ten to twenty year olds with skateboarding to reaching out to corporate entities, sharing knowledge and credibility within the elusive youth culture for a price. So far takers include Sony Walkman, Hutchison Communication, and adidas. The adidas deal involved creating a team, as well as sports and music events, to bring adidas acceptance in skateboarding.

Youth Culture Competence is a registered brand-a quality and credibility stamp. It involves partnerships with other companies, and all the companies in the “family” can use the YCC stamp. It’s not used within skateboarding-it’s only used outside the skateboard and youth markets to help people without firsthand knowledge of the youth market.

Dittmann Then

“My start was being at university for geography, sports, and pedagogy (the science of teaching),” says Dittmann. “My goal was to be a teacher in a high school. My interest was always with action sports-I was one of the first hang gliders in Germany in the early 70s. I was one of the first snowboarders, one of the first windsurfers. Every time, real early, a pioneer. And then I met skateboarding for the first time!” Dittmann laughs. “I was not the first skateboarder-I was 30 years old my first time. Now I am 52!”

Skateboarding turned into an obsession for Dittmann-although he’d finished university, he was still doing a sort of teaching internship required in Germany. One of the papers he wrote at the time involved exploring the possibilities of having skateboarding as a school sport. At the end of the 70s, he was definitely one of the first to be discussing such things.

This was also the start of Dittmann’s skateboard business. He had befriended a group of skateboarding students, but the late 70s marked the end of a skateboard boom in Germany. “It was not possible at that time in Germany to buy good skateboard stuff. It was more of a toy wave, not a real business,” he remembers. “So I took my holidays to America to visit all the companies and producers here: George Powell, Rich Novak at Santa Cruz, Brad Dorfman from Vision, and Larry (Balma) at Tracker. My first import was a backpack with skateboards in it for my students.”

Lest you think Dittmann was making a profit at his students’ expense, he in fact sold the skateboards to the kids for the same price he paid, which is really no way to run a business. Of course it was all smuggled in as well-no taxes. Initially, word of mouth via his students had all the local skaters hitting Dittmann up for skateboards, then the requests came from more distant German locations, then in time,nternational. Within two years he was the only skateboarding organizer in Europe: he’d held events, in ’82 he started Monster skateboard magazine, which premiered near the same time as TransWorld SKATEboarding. That same year Dittmann held the first Münster Monster Mastership (now known as the Globe Shoes World Championships), the longest-running contest in skateboarding.

All this time, Dittmann was still teaching school: “I make the money with teaching, and I spend the money for skateboarding. It was never my wish to be a businessman, my wish was always to be a teacher. But,” notes Dittmann wryly, “if I am a teacher I have only the influence on 30 to 40 kids per year. Now I have the influence on thousands!”

But Dittman greatly underestimates his influence: the Titus Magalog, a huge catalog of Titus-branded goods as well as those of other brands Titus imports and distributes, reaches over one-million German-speaking skateboarders.

Dittmann has trouble pinpointing when his business started precisely-he certainly wasn’t making any money with skateboarding for quite a while. He can’t even really say when he opened his first shop-not due to a poor memory but the fact that even as a young couple, Dittmann and his wife lived in a small condo with a living room full of skate goods for sale, although that wasn’t a real shop. “The next step was that it takes a lot of money to fly to America,” Dittmann explains, “so I charge a little more money so I can buy a ticket. Step by step. Go to the government for legal business papers, pay taxes.”

The American manufacturers looked forward to Dittmann’s shopping trips: no one else from Europe was buying boards at all. Any other distributors still around in the early 80s in Europe were only selling old clearance stock. A question about when German distributor Urban started up brings a laugh from Dittmann: “Jörg (Ludewig, Urban Supplies owner) was my student! I taught him how to skate, and when I started the business, he was my right-hand man! Jorg was my student, and (Urban’s) Christian Seewaldt was my rider. Everybody in the business in Germany comes more or less out of our operation.”

One of the reasons Dittmann started his own brand in the mid 80s, Titus Skates West Germany, was to promote German skateboarding identity. Although he admired the California skate scene, he felt his own country had plenty to be proud of. “In the beginning I was so crazy, I tried to do everything on my own: I used German wood, not maple.” He pauses to laugh at his own naiveté. “We made our own molds! (European vert champion) Claus Grabke helped me to build up the brand and create the boards. It was a nice time to make something for our own. Not just be the consumer, but the creator. We never made money with our own (skateboard) brand, it was an image-building thing.”

The Monster In Münster

The (Münster Monster) Mastership is the only skate contest to run consecutively for twenty years. Unlike many of Dittmann’s ideas, this contest started as an international event back in ’82. “Okay,” admits Dittmann, “that first time was maybe ten or fifteen competitors and three spectators! (He laughs.) The first American competitor was Adrian Demain in about ’84. Then came Lance Mountain and Steve Caballero, then Tony Hawk by about ’87.” The Münster Monster Mastership was not a for-profit venture-mostly without sponsors, no bouncers. It was, as Dittmann planned, “for fun.” Over the years the contest became the gem of summer competition, and skate teams planned summer tours in Europe around it.

The event hit its first real snag in ’96 when American riders boycotted the event for a number of reasons, including altercations with security guards, complaints about the skate structures and layout, and a building displeasure about their treatment in previous events. Within a year, though, the contest emerged with a new name in a new town (Dortmund)-with full American participation.

“We learn fast,” says Dittmann. “American culture is different: if something is wrong with our contest, nobody tells me. They say it’s fine, so you do it the same way again and again. In Germany, if someone feels it’s shit, they say it’s shit! My English is bad, and if I talk with an American pro it’s not possible for me to hear between the lines. They may have said, ‘It’s nice’ in a way that meant it’s not nice! I think we went one year too long with the same course.”

Dittmann knows that it wasn’t just the street course that had American competitors down, but something deeper: “It was more an emotional thing. Skateboarding is rebellion!” Outside of the politics, Dittmann feels the city of Münster was too small for such an onset of skaters-Dortmund can more easily absorb the numbers. And the Halle in Münster was just too small, unlike the new massive venue in Dortmund.

“The contest that year was successful without the American pros, and it was a good experience for me,” says Dittmann. That year many unknown skaters, including some now high-profile Brazilians, got exposure they might otherwise not have. “I learned a lot. In the 80s I was the only one in Europe (doing skate business). It was not necessary for me to think about my image, to make PR, to say the right thing in the media. Then I had competition, and more criticism. Maybe my self-image was not the right image. Maybe I was not so sympathetic.

“I know maybe why the boycott happened: I tried to make a perfect event. My concentration was on the security, the system, the organization, spectators. Maybe I forgot a little bit to give a better service with the pros, to show them they are the important people and what keeps the Mastership alive. The pros showed me, ‘Here we are.’ It’s okay, we learned. The next year we started a better service for the pros.”

The Titus Tentacles

In great contrast to the “shop” in Dittmann’s living room so many years ago, the Titus name is on a franchised chain of retail shops now numbering 25 in Germany. The agreement gives franchisees the right to purchase goods even from Dittmann’s competitors if they choose. “This is not a controlled system,” explains Dittmann. “In an open system, this is how it must be. We are strong because we’re not restrictive.”

Oddly, this system parallels the style of child-rearing Dittmann mentioned using with his teenage son at lunch. Young Julius is allowed much more freedom than most teens in the U.S.-in exchange, he feels comfortable telling his father where he is going, and what he’ll be doing. The need for deceit has been removed. Likewise, without restrictions, the shops operate within a healthy competitive environment that is totally open.

“Perhaps because my profession is teacher, my whole business is pedagogic-based on education and experience,” Dittmann muses. “It’s run totally different from normal business networks where the managers come from business school. Most companies say, ‘I’m a retailer,’ ‘I’m a wholesaler,” ‘I’m a producer,’ ‘I’m a brand manager,’ or ‘I’m a publisher.’ They serve one business-one core competence. My core competence is Youth Culture Competence.”

In this way Dittmann explains where all his various businesses fit in: “The competence(s) of retailing, wholesaling, brand management, publishing, event management, logistics, software evolution-everything is equal in importance.”

How can one man oversee such a vast empire and have time to skate, race cars, skydive, and do the countless things Dittmann enjoys? “If there is synergy, a real strength, it’s not necessary for me to control everything. A small company is like a speedboat: it can turn real fast, but as the company grows it becomes a tanker that needs three day’s notice to turn before the ice mountain (iceberg). I try to have a combination: a formation of speedboats. I need a lot of communication and somebody who tell-with full American participation.

“We learn fast,” says Dittmann. “American culture is different: if something is wrong with our contest, nobody tells me. They say it’s fine, so you do it the same way again and again. In Germany, if someone feels it’s shit, they say it’s shit! My English is bad, and if I talk with an American pro it’s not possible for me to hear between the lines. They may have said, ‘It’s nice’ in a way that meant it’s not nice! I think we went one year too long with the same course.”

Dittmann knows that it wasn’t just the street course that had American competitors down, but something deeper: “It was more an emotional thing. Skateboarding is rebellion!” Outside of the politics, Dittmann feels the city of Münster was too small for such an onset of skaters-Dortmund can more easily absorb the numbers. And the Halle in Münster was just too small, unlike the new massive venue in Dortmund.

“The contest that year was successful without the American pros, and it was a good experience for me,” says Dittmann. That year many unknown skaters, including some now high-profile Brazilians, got exposure they might otherwise not have. “I learned a lot. In the 80s I was the only one in Europe (doing skate business). It was not necessary for me to think about my image, to make PR, to say the right thing in the media. Then I had competition, and more criticism. Maybe my self-image was not the right image. Maybe I was not so sympathetic.

“I know maybe why the boycott happened: I tried to make a perfect event. My concentration was on the security, the system, the organization, spectators. Maybe I forgot a little bit to give a better service with the pros, to show them they are the important people and what keeps the Mastership alive. The pros showed me, ‘Here we are.’ It’s okay, we learned. The next year we started a better service for the pros.”

The Titus Tentacles

In great contrast to the “shop” in Dittmann’s living room so many years ago, the Titus name is on a franchised chain of retail shops now numbering 25 in Germany. The agreement gives franchisees the right to purchase goods even from Dittmann’s competitors if they choose. “This is not a controlled system,” explains Dittmann. “In an open system, this is how it must be. We are strong because we’re not restrictive.”

Oddly, this system parallels the style of child-rearing Dittmann mentioned using with his teenage son at lunch. Young Julius is allowed much more freedom than most teens in the U.S.-in exchange, he feels comfortable telling his father where he is going, and what he’ll be doing. The need for deceit has been removed. Likewise, without restrictions, the shops operate within a healthy competitive environment that is totally open.

“Perhaps because my profession is teacher, my whole business is pedagogic-based on education and experience,” Dittmann muses. “It’s run totally different from normal business networks where the managers come from business school. Most companies say, ‘I’m a retailer,’ ‘I’m a wholesaler,” ‘I’m a producer,’ ‘I’m a brand manager,’ or ‘I’m a publisher.’ They serve one business-one core competence. My core competence is Youth Culture Competence.”

In this way Dittmann explains where all his various businesses fit in: “The competence(s) of retailing, wholesaling, brand management, publishing, event management, logistics, software evolution-everything is equal in importance.”

How can one man oversee such a vast empire and have time to skate, race cars, skydive, and do the countless things Dittmann enjoys? “If there is synergy, a real strength, it’s not necessary for me to control everything. A small company is like a speedboat: it can turn real fast, but as the company grows it becomes a tanker that needs three day’s notice to turn before the ice mountain (iceberg). I try to have a combination: a formation of speedboats. I need a lot of communication and somebody who tells everybody, ‘Attention! We must all turn to the right!’ Then we are fast like a speedboat, with the power of a tanker.”

* * *
Keeping Track Of Titus AGIt should be noted that 480 people are employed at Titus AG headquarters in Münster. The corporation is currently composed of sixteen smaller companies.B to C Management (Business To Customer)Titus System-skateboard oriented: mail order, print media (Monster Magalog, Female Magalog), e-commerce (www.titus.de), e-community, news, servers, mail-order service for franchise system, local shop info. Brand ManagementVarious Titus AG skate, street, and fashion brands.Media And EventsIncludes sports- and music-marketing organizing services.Edutainment And TravelCamps, nonprofit organization, Titus European Tour.Technology And InnovationT-Log logistics center, distribution center.Titus Timeline1948-Titus Dittmann born.
1976-first imports skateboards from the U.S.A.
1978-starts cellar shop.
1980-opens first retail shop in Münster.
1982-launches Monster magazine, builds media and events departments.
1987-restructures company into four legally registered corporations.
1997-begins e-commerce at www.titus.de.
1999-founds House Of Titus.
2000-opens Ti-Log and Logistic Center with Fiege Group, Greven.
2001-Twentieth anniversary of the Skateboard World Championships.
2001-opens Youth Lifestyle Department Store in Münster.
2001-prepares to enter the open stock market.
tells everybody, ‘Attention! We must all turn to the right!’ Then we are fast like a speedboat, with the power of a tanker.”

* * *
Keeping Track Of Titus AGIt should be noted that 480 people are employed at Titus AG headquarters in Münster. The corporation is currently composed of sixteen smaller companies.B to C Management (Business To Customer)Titus System-skateboard oriented: mail order, print media (Monster Magalog, Female Magalog), e-commerce (www.titus.de), e-community, news, servers, mail-order service for franchise system, local shop info. Brand ManagementVarious Titus AG skate, street, and fashion brands.Media And EventsIncludes sports- and music-marketing organizing services.Edutainment And TravelCamps, nonprofit organization, Titus European Tour.Technology And InnovationT-Log logistics center, distribution center.Titus Timeline1948-Titus Dittmann born.
1976-first imports skateboards from the U.S.A.
1978-starts cellar shop.
1980-opens first retail shop in Münster.
1982-launches Monster magazine, builds media and events departments.
1987-restructures company into four legally registered corporations.
1997-begins e-commerce at www.titus.de.
1999-founds House Of Titus.
2000-opens Ti-Log and Logistic Center with Fiege Group, Greven.
2001-Twentieth anniversary of the Skateboard World Championships.
2001-opens Youth Lifestyle Department Store in Münster.
2001-prepares to enter the open stock market.