Fort Worth, Texas, or the “City Where The West Begins,” is home to cowboys, ten-gallon hats, rodeos, big trucks, bigger hair, and twisters.
Referred to by the natives as “Cowtown,” it’s also a place where its half-million inhabitants run many of the nation’s largest corporations, including Lockheed Martin, American Airlines, Bell Helicopter, Pier 1 Imports, and Radio Shack. Originally an army outpost in 1849, Fort Worth became the last stop on the Chisholm Trail, a historic cattle-driving route.
In the Wild West days it was coined “Hell’s Half-Acre” due to an area of town brimming with gamblers, brothels, and saloons. Later, it was reformed into the center of wheeling and dealing when oil began gushing in West Texas. In 1984, two men would introduce this dusty cow trail to its first skateboard shop.
Gerry Anderson, then a retail employee at Pacific Sunwear in California, teamed up with his friend Brandon Batton, who was living in Texas at the time, to bring to Texas what PacSun had originally started with the skate shops on the West Coast. Together they opened Fast Forward, Fort Worth’s very first full-fledged skateboard shop. In the beginning their product line was more diversified, but a warm-weather climate quickly changed all that. “We used to do snowboards back in the 80s,” admits Anderson, “but we got out of that, and since 1994 we’ve been sticking with strictly skateboarding.” In less than a decade they’ve watched their business grow to an impressive fifteen shops spanning from Texas and Oklahoma to California.
The shop in Fort Worth is a spacious 2,300 square feet, and it sits next to Northeast Mall-just a few miles from downtown. The other fourteen shops around the country range from 2,000 to 4,000 square feet, and all are modeled after the Fort Worth store. The boards are held on the walls by old plate holders. Anderson recalls, “Yeah, we got these holders from a dish wholesaler that was going out of business. We’re the only ones who have this design.”
Within ten years the local scene had grown by leaps and bounds. This rapid growth spurt provided Anderson and Batton the opportunity to expand their business and add people like Dameon Rowe, a local skater and the buyer for Fast Forward, to help guide in the development of the budding environment. “Basically, we’re the only shop here,” says Rowe. “So I came on to work on the skateboard side of it. I’m a skater, so my job is doing what’s best for the local scene.”
Like many of the bigger shops, Fast Forward puts on demos with professional skateboarders. Rowe, who oversees that portion of the business operations, drives a portable setup around in a trailer. He also takes the local guys to do demos at schools and churches: “We throw contests and sponsor almost all the local events.” “Being able to give back to the community is a major advantage of having a business grow,” adds Anderson.
In addition, they offer products to the Fast Forward team, which exists in a three-tier program. The top level consists of established skateboarders such as Forrest Kirby and Jon Comer. The second level is local rippers who live in and around the areas of one of the fifteen shops. The third level is a “flow” level of younger kids Anderson, Belton, and Rowe have their eyes on. “Kids who are stoked on skating,” says Rowe.
Anderson’s role in the maturing of his store has changed dramatically over the last ten years. “I used to be in the store, running the store, doing the buying, and everything out(side) of the store.” This was a time when they had only two stores. “Brandon would be in one store, I’d be in the other, and we’d be doing everything. Then, as we got up to the fourth shop, I started spending more time performing the buying functions and doing orders.”
Now he spends most of his time in his office/warehouse on the other side of town, “behind the scenes,” managing the numbers. All of Anderson’s time is dedicated to his business life. “Sure, you go on vacion and things like that, but I’m always thinking: it’s a lifestyle,” he comments lightheartedly.
But this business-minded attitude doesn’t suggest it’s all work and no play. “I don’t even call it work, it’s not work at all, it’s the most fun I could ever have. I couldn’t pick a more perfect or fun thing to do in life,” says Anderson.Throughout the years, the business has grown to about four-dozen coworkers and employees who help run Fast Forward. “We’ve got a lot of wonderful people around,” says Anderson. “That’s the pleasure of getting larger. It’s no longer just Brandon and I, now we help provide people with the opportunity to get married, buy houses, and raise families.”
Being a small town with lush sprawling suburban areas, Fort Worth’s family-oriented environment stands as a solid backdrop to most of Fast Forward’s clientele. About the wide range of customers who come into his stores, Anderson says, “We get kids from as young as eight to guys in their twenties to early thirties.”
Rowe, who remembers shopping at Fast Forward in 1993 during skateboarding’s slump, says, “There was still a full wall of boards. These guys stayed true to skateboarding, that’s what keeps me stoked to work here.”
With ESPN and Tony Hawk doing so much to publicize skateboarding to the masses, Anderson has noticed the shift in attitude of parents and a growing involvement in their kids’ desires to skateboard. “It used to be that the schools and churches would pass laws against skaters,” Anderson admits. “Now, more and more you find parents who, instead of insisting their kids join baseball or some other organized sport, are supporting the idea of skateboarding.” He recalls a parent’s astonishment at how patient their child was for hours while waiting for Tony Hawk’s autograph during an in-store event. “A parent came up to me and said, ‘My child is usually a wiggle worm. Now he has been in that line for two hours, completely still.'”
Staying current is one of the challenges of running a business, and with the constant flux in the skateboarding industry, companies have to keep up with the pace. “It’s always an evolution of change,” Anderson admits. He comments highly on the staff’s ability to help him stay up to date with what the consumers’ needs are: “The computers can’t tell me if I walked a sale.”
Anderson gives most of the credit to the employees who are out there skating every day. “They know because they do it,” says Anderson.
The bulk of their inventory is made up of about 60-percent hardgoods and skate shoes, and followed closely by 40-percent apparel and other softgoods, which is based on customer and employee demand. Moreover, it’s not just the guys who find what they need at Fast Forward: women and juniors find that at least sixteen percent of the store’s merchandise is geared toward them.
He also stresses the importance that the store places on customer service. To Anderson, that is one of the fundamental aspects of getting repeat business. “They have somebody here who’s going to care about their needs,” says Anderson. “We still run it like a small local shop, but since we are bigger, we have an advantage to do more for the grassroots efforts,” Rowe adds.
Asked whether they expected the store to do as well as it has, Anderson’s reply is simple: “Well, coming from a background like ours we knew that if we did things right we could fully expect to open a store a year.” And that’s exactly what they have done. “Even now we have the ability to open a couple of stores a year, but we wait for the right opportunities to present themselves,” he adds. It all boils down to the financial reports and their expense structure to let them know where they stand.
Anderson acknowledges that one mistake he learned early on was trying to develop in an area where the population wasn’t yet prepared. “Trying to pioneer a location has been tough. It has since corrected itself, but it took some time. The danger lies in the fact that you have a ten-year lease, and no matter what you’d carry in that particular location, it wouldn’t sell.”
Although Anderson did run into some difficulties along the way, he reiterates the fact that if he had to do it all over again he wouldn’t change a thing: “I just want to keep saying how much fun it is.” that you have a ten-year lease, and no matter what you’d carry in that particular location, it wouldn’t sell.”
Although Anderson did run into some difficulties along the way, he reiterates the fact that if he had to do it all over again he wouldn’t change a thing: “I just want to keep saying how much fun it is.”