Earth Core

New Brunswick, New Jersey will have a public skatepark.

Having just graduated from Rutgers University, Craig Baily was sitting on the beach one summer day in 1993 and posed the question, “What the hell am I gonna do?” He had a bachelor’s degree in economics, a minor in mathematics, and a knack for business seemed to run through his veins: his grandfather ran a gas station next to Yankee Stadium in the 30s and 40s, and his father owns two computer stores.

Craig was working at a ski shop at the time; he was the first employee there to try snowboarding. His addiction to snowboarding and skateboarding quickly grew, and sitting on the beach that day, he decided the next logical step was to open his own skate/snow shop. It was his chance to apply the knowledge he had learned from his family and his experience at the ski shop. “I didn’t even want it to feel like a job, though,” said Craig. “I just wanted the shop to be a great extension of a lot of our friends and things that we all enjoy doing.”

Situated in the center of New Brunswick, New Jersey (known as “The Hub City”), Earth Core is surrounded by high schools and universities¿including Rutgers¿and the Atlantic coast is 30 minutes away, offering a sloppy beach break for dedicated surfers. With little shop competition in the surrounding area, Earth Core supplies a great demand for skate products. New Brunswick is situated between New York City and Philadelphia, making it a prime location, although the weather isn’t always the greatest for skateboarding. “New Jersey has a full-blown winter,” says Craig. “We’ve had ice storms the last two nights. There’s about an inch of ice on everything that just began melting today.”

As a result, Earth Core carries snowboards as well as skateboards and surfboards. About one-fourth of the floor space in the 1,500-square-foot shop is devoted to skate products. On average, they stock about 100 decks at any given time. During busier weeks, Earth Core sells about 25 decks, compared to five in a slow one. “I think if I were to try to do a skate shop solely, without anything else to subsidize it, I wouldn’t be able to afford my rent,” says Craig. He attributes about one-third of his yearly sales to skateboard products: Shoes sell the most¿around 40 percent of the total skate sales, hardgoods are a close second at about 35 percent, and softgoods make up about 25 percent of skate sales. He plans to focus more on skate softgoods, citing lower margins on hardgoods. He also wants deck prices to remain low to encourage kids to keep skating.

Earth Core’s business varies tremendously with the seasons, as does its clientele. “Our biggest time is mid December to mid January,” says Craig. “That’s when we really do the four weeks of holiday shopping for everything. Now January we’re getting toward the slower time of the year, when everybody who’s gonna make an investment in a snowboard has already done so, and everyone who’s skating is skating indoors¿so there’s not too much going on. But once it starts to warm up, the skate-shoe business picks up.”

Catering to a few different sports forces Craig to meet a broader range of customers. He describes his patrons as varying in ages from young teens through early 30s, with about twenty-percent more men than women. He indicated that more young kids are skating and that many parents are also interested in the products: “We got to the point where we needed to start carrying some of the smaller boards for the younger skaters who can’t skate the wide wheel base¿a little bit smaller than 30 inches, and like seven inches wide.” Another recent development is the greater number of students from local colleges coming in to buy longboards.

One of the early challenges for Baily was figuring out what to buy. Weather patterns are fairly predictable, but learning who the customer is, who to buy for, when to buy, and how much to buy¿these are the things he had to pick up quickly. “Eventtually you stop making the buying mistakes¿wrong stuff in the wrong season,” he says. “And you learn what your customers are looking for versus what you like. So, learning my customers’ tastes and buying habits¿being able to better buy for my customers¿was one thing I had to do.”

Craig works closely with his customers, particularly the kids. There’s a couch in the back of the shop where people can sit and watch videos. “When Birdhouse’s The End came out, I can’t tell you how many nights we just sat and watched that thing¿time and time again,” he says.

Unfortunately, New Brunswick doesn’t have a public skatepark, a problem that Craig and his crew have been working on for four years. He sees it as a simple supply-and-demand issue: Give the kids a place to skate. The local politicians have not budged on the matter. Craig describes it as “a tremendously uphill battle.” He continues to fight for a public skatepark in New Brunswick, and traveled to the Spring ASR Trade Expo this year to seek advice from others who have fought this battle.

Craig goes above and beyond the call of duty as a shop owner. He’s even been known to tutor kids who come to his shop: “I definitely try to be a positive influence on their the kids lives,” he says, and cites an example: A local kid wanted to start working in the shop, and Craig told him he could have the job if he pulled up his grade-point average. “I think it definitely lit something up in him.”

Between Thanksgiving and Christmas last year, Craig literally opened and closed the shop every day; he worked 28 days straight. Typically, he works six days a week, usually skating the couple miles each way. He feels that spending time in the shop is a crucial part of being a shop owner. He learned this important lesson at someone else’s expense: “When my former employer at the ski shop Mr. Robertson retired, the store was taken over by a competitor. They did an okay job, but they could have done things better.

“That’s what Earth Core is trying to dial in on¿doing everything just a little better than the surrounding stores. And that’s really what it boils down to: Earth Core is going to be as good as I and all those who are helping me can make it.”

By keeping a close watch on Earth Core, Craig Baily has made it enough of a success that he’s currently looking to open a second shop.