The answer to the above question may just depend on who’s being asked. Companies feel slighted in that the kids buying shop boards are no longer buying pro models. Shops feel disenchanted because, due to increased distribution, every shop has access to the same thing. Even OEM companies aren’t fond of it because they usually end up looking like the enemy. In fact, the only party who doesn’t seem to have a complaint is the end consumer, the kid who buys the board.
It is true that over the past eight years many shops have started to carry their own models for several reasons. First on everyone’s list, of course, is money. Shop boards are substantially cheaper than pro models, or even team models. The wholesale savings then carries over to the retail, making it an attractive alternative to paying close to 50 dollars for a deck. Another aspect that some shops find appealing is that shop boards are a good way to advertise your shop, especially if you have a team of talented local skaters riding them. It’s hard to argue the value of a good promotion. There are even shops that have chosen to carry shop boards as a way of competing with the sporting-goods stores that have started to sell skateboards in the past few years.
Most of the shops that carry shop boards understand the impact they are having on the skateboarding industry as a whole, yet opt to carry them anyway. Several prefer to remain anonymous, but the general consensus is that if they need to carry shop boards in order to stay in business, then so be it. A shop that carries shop boards will sell far more company boards than a shop that went out of business.
Realistically, though, the decision to carry shop boards is rarely born from a sink-or-swim scenario. But it’s not that much of an exaggeration. There isn’t a single shop that has a problem moving its shop boards, but skate shops tend to get a bit defensive when the subject of shop boards surfaces. And with good reason. At the end of most discussions, they walk away looking like they betrayed skateboarding’s best interests. But they do have their reasons.
The Distro DilemmaAnother common explanation for carrying shop boards is that with the increase of skateboarding’s distribution, every companies’ skateboards are everywhere, and there are more shops selling skateboards closer than ever before.
One major concern skate shops have is that if skate companies sell their boards to everybody, there will be no differentiating between skate shops. In the past, part of what made shops unique was the different brands they had in their inventory. Ken Lewis of San Diego’s Hanger 18 feels that when shops all have access to the same products, a shop board can provide something different: “Sometimes a shop board is good because it’s the only unique thing in the store.”
And it doesn’t end with the companies, either. Skateboarding’s increased distribution has made it even more difficult for one shop to stand apart from another. “The companies can have great intentions and hold off on the store down the block, but the distributors won’t. They’ll sell to anybody,” Lewis summarizes. “What used to be special in a specialized store is now no longer special because it’s in every store.”
Stephen Fontenot, of New Orleans’ Humidity Skate Shop offers an opinion: “I look at shop boards as a necessary evil. Kids can’t afford to buy a pro model every time, so it’s a way to help them out.” Fontenot’s view reflects the general consensus of shop owners who carry shop boards. Shops are put in a tight spot when their customers are looking for something cheaper due to skateboarding’s popularity surge. For if they decide not to carry shop boards, there’s always someone nearby who will.
Who’s Making These Boards?
In recent years, several OEM companies have surfaced, allowing skate shops to eliminate some of the middlemen.
Glen Chapman of Chapman Skateboards manufactures skateboards for severaal major skateboard companies and a few shop boards on the side. When asked the advantages to doing shop boards, Glen replied, “There aren’t any. In fact, I don’t recommend it. It’s hurting the marketing companies.”
Grant Burns of Bareback Skateboards disagrees: “I think every single manufacturer, including the best of them, does a little combination of both (shop and company boards).” Burns believes that shops have just as much right to carry their own line of boards as board companies do: “They’re doing their own marketing and graphics, just like a regular board company.”
When asked about the obvious argument of shop boards saturating the market and taking money away from “real” board companies, Burns says, “I think there’s room for both. A lot of parents don’t have 60 bucks to drop on a skateboard. It keeps a lot of kids skateboarding.”
Paul Schmitt of PS Stix Woodshop has done a few shop boards for friends but maintains that it’s not something he does on a regular basis: “It’s not my mode of business. I turn down offers every week.”
Better Than Blanks
If shop boards are infecting the skateboarding industry, then blanks are a full-blown epidemic. At first, blank boards were only available in Southern California, but now they’re all over the country. They are dirt cheap, have no discernable brand affiliation, and worst of all, popular.
Many shops rationalize their shop boards as a compromise, as a way of offering the customer a price break but not stooping so low as to carrying blanks. Lewis reasons, “I’m all about them (shop boards). I’ve never wanted to sell blanks, but there’s a huge chunk of business that I’m missing out on by not doing that. So instead of selling a blank board for twenty bucks, I sell my Hanger 18 ones for 30. That way it’s not a nightmare jump in price.” Lewis also agrees that even shop boards can detract from the sale of company boards, so he makes sure not to flaunt them. “My focus has always been on company boards first. I’d always keep the shop boards in a stack on the floor rather than putting them up on the wall competing against the pro models.” In doing this, Lewis seems to have his bases covered. “It’s a good option for the customer who doesn’t have the dough, and I wasn’t offering him a shitty blank. And to be honest, I never stopped selling my pro models.”
There are still a few holdouts, though. Here and there a shop will choose not to carry shop boards, regardless of the consequences. Matt Roman of Boston’s Coliseum Skate Shop has made such a decision. “It takes away from a company directly, and it takes a royalty away from a pro,” Roman states flatly. He understands that many other shops are opting to carry shop boards, but he isn’t overly concerned with losing the sales. “It definitely affects our business, but you’ve got to put your foot down somewhere.”
Shop boards may be affecting the skateboarding industry more than we think. An informal survey of shops showed some surprising statistics. Burns explains, “Sixty percent of the people surveyed listed shop boards as their top-selling boards.” Similar results have been pouring into the TransWorld offices as a response to the biannual retailers’ survey. They may not be greeted with open arms, but it appears that shop boards are making their own place in the skateboard industry.