International News: Germany
With the United States going to war on terrorism in 2002, many Europeans were turned off by most things American, and as skateboarders looked for an alternative to American-made products, a lot of them turned to European companies for boards and accessories. Last year marked a vital turning point for the European skateboard scene, and Germany was no exception.
Political events that have nothing directly to do with skateboarding and harm the U.S. side of the industry, were fuel to the growth of the European skateboard scene, making people more confident with local and national brands.
“Partly due to the weak economy, European brands are gaining ground because they come at a lower price,” says Mike Sprunkel, head of sales at Urban Supplies, distributor for U.S. brands such as Zero, World Industries, Girl, Element, and European brands like Popular, Blueprint, and Cliche. “We are still making 80 percent of our sales with American brands,” continues Sprunkel, who’s also co-owner of Popular skateboards out of Wiesbaden, Germany.
According to Sprunkel, a key reason for the rise in popularity of European brands is that they’re more accessible, more active and present nationally and continentally-whereas in the past, the majority of American brands have failed to be directly involved in Europe through sponsoring riders and supporting events and media. Such things have been left to the distributor whose financial abilities are limited. Furthermore, lack of identification for the riders sponsored by an American company through their German distributor may have made those teamriders feel second rate. For a long time European skateboarders felt the only way to make it as a pro was to be sponsored by an American company, which eventually meant immigration to America.
Sprunkel predicts that now things may be heading in a different direction. With anti-skate laws on the rise in America, many U.S. pros travel to Europe to skate because of the more hassle-free skate environment, which in turn will force the media to cover more of Europe and eventually European riders as well.
Helge Bachmann owns Support-two skate shops with locations in Kiel and Hamburg. “I couldn’t say that I sell more European brand decks in comparison to U.S. brand decks. The level has been pretty much steady over the past two years,” he says. “What I do see, though, is an increase in blank- and shop-deck sales. For every full graphic deck I sell, I sell three blank decks.”
Bachmann attributes the increase in blank-deck sales to the weak economy and states that his overall sales are down by roughly fifteen percent from the previous years. When money is tight, the price of a product is more important then its heritage.
According to Bachmann, the decreasing sales of pro decks are also partly due to the increasing number of pros. “Kids don’t know half of the pros who have pro models,” he says, attributing this fact in part to the falling interest in skateboard magazines and videos by his younger customers. “The Chad Muska pro deck used to be a safe seller for the last couple of years,” continues Bachmann. “Graphics are still a vital buying decision, but the pro’s name is not as important as it used to be. The rock-star hype is over.”
But are older, more mature skateboarders more likely to buy European brands because they are more prone to understand the whole picture? Bachmann says, “My older customers are more picky about the right shape and concave-those measures seem to be more important to them than if the deck they end up buying is made in Europe.
“The only way I can see that kids get excited about a certain local or national brand is sponsorship of the local ripper or young gun,” predicts Bachmann, who saw a rise in sales for Hamburg-based AYUME decks after they started supporting a young local upstart.
Frank Loth is the franchisee and manager of the Titus store in Marburg. Loth agrees with Bachmann: “I certainly have cusstomers with an attitude of not (being) willing to buy into blind consumerism. Those kids go for the often less-expensive European brands or Mini-Logo decks.” His shop is one of 38 Titus retail locations.
“Then again I have kids who, if I tell them that most European brand decks are made at the same woodshop than certain American brands, will still go for the more expensive American-brand deck just because there still is an air of minor quality toward European brand decks,” adds Loth.
Like Bachmann, Loth sees an increase in blank and Mini-Logo decks. “Not taking Mini-Logo decks in consideration, my store still sells two European brand decks for every American-brand deck sold,” Loth says. And he is known to push European-brand decks in his store. “Including Mini-Logos in this calculation though, we are selling four Mini-Logo decks for every full graphic deck sold,” he says.
“Tony Hawk and Rodney Mullen pro decks are still a best-seller-pretty much every pro who’s in the Tony Hawk Pro Skater video game or who just had an amazing video part,” says Loth, who experienced an increase in Flip decks after the Sorry video came out.
Andre is the sales manager of Downtown skate shop in Giessen. “We predict a decrease in overall sales of up to 50 percent for 2004,” he says.
Summing up this information from a cross selection of retailers and distributors, you’ll notice that German and European brands don’t really account for a vital or growing part in sales compared to American-brand decks. The shift in sales has to be attributed to the weak economy, which means a lot of customers go for the more inexpensive blank and shop-logo decks. This trend is also apparent in skateboard shoe and apparel sales.