Popping Bubbles Of Convention

Earlier this year, at the February ASR trade show in Long Beach, California, scores of grinning faces lurked about Giant Skateboard Distribution’s massive trade-show-booth installation chomping on pink bubble gum.

Giant handed out thousands of pieces of Ollie Pop bubble gum–the newest brand under their massive skateboard-distribution umbrella.

The idea for Ollie Pop was created in December 2000 by Vista, California’s Glade Thibodo and Ed Hoffman–both were working for Converse’s skate line at the time. Hoffman was the sales manager for Converse skate shoes, and Thibodo had worked with both Armageddon Distribution and XYZ in the past, and was then an outside sales rep for Converse skate shoes. It’s through Converse that the two met and the gum idea was born.

When Converse’s skate line started coming to a halt, the two decided that it was a perfect time for them to begin to develop the idea, and Hoffman came up with the name. As the idea developed, the two realized that for their sample run, they wanted to have prominent skateboard-brand stickers enclosed in the package. That’s when they approached Giant, who agreed to allow them to enclose a 411 Video Magazine decal in the bubble-gum packages. The promotion was done at no cost to Giant, and that was much of the appeal to them.

Perhaps what’s most interesting to note is not that Ollie Pop exists–as it falls perfectly in line with heightened contemporary mainstream interest in skateboarding–but that Giant would be distributing the item.

Giant’s Director Of Marketing Roger Harrell explains how the company decided to take on a confectionery item: “At inception we started talking with them (Thibodo and Hoffman). About a year and a half ago is when they decided they were going to make samples. They started passing some stuff out at Surf Expo, and I was amazed with how the retailers reacted to it, saying they could sell this stuff for sure. At Surf Expo we were at Eastern Skate Supply(‘s booth), and here at ASR in Long Beach, it was even more successful. We were really just giving it away as a promotional type of thing–just to see what type of reaction we were getting from our retailers.

“Ollie Pop ended up approaching us for distribution to the shops and to be able to reach the ‘core market for the initial product launch.”

Harrell says there was definitely a debate at Giant about taking on the product. But instead of focusing on the cons or conventional arguments against taking on a confectionery item at a major skateboard distributor, they opted instead to look at the product from a retailer’s standpoint. “In terms of the debate, as to whether we wanted to be involved in it (or not), we kind of saw it as a win-win situation,” says Harrell. “And the flip side of that is to offer the retailers a new product that they’re not already selling–an impulse buy with great margins.”

Other companies were interested in the product as well. In fact, Volcom, Etnies, and Element also included stickers in Ollie Pop’s first run.

Giant got its first full shipment in June and immediately began distributing Ollie Pop to shops. “Prebookings were okay,” says Harrell. “A lot of people were weary and said, ‘Just call us when you get them.’ The test shops ran through them pretty quick. The big thing for Giant is the marketing potential it has and it’s potential to promote skateboarding to a broader market. I guess the best analogy is that it’s like skateboarding’s version of baseball cards.”

Giant is handling Ollie Pop distribution on the West Coast, and Eastern Skate Supply and AWH will take care of the Midwest and East Coast. To promote the product, Ollie Pop has already advertised to skaters via TransWorld SKATEboarding and the TransWorld SKATEboarding Buyer’s Guide.

In addition to offering a few free stickers, random packages of Ollie Pop will include a card offering a free skateboard. “We realized that there was nothing new in the bubble-gum market–nott for a long time,” says Thibodo. “We just felt it was really stagnant, and that’s when we realized it was about time we united skateboarding with the confectionery industry.

“We looked at the bubble-gum market, and the last thing that was a big hit in sports-related candy was Big League Chew in the early 80s. Everybody chewed Big League Chew. It was the coolest thing out there. And with Ollie Pop we realize that there are more kids involved with action sports than ever right now. We thought that skateboarding and bubble gum would go really well together.”

Right now, says Hoffman, the goal is to broaden distribution. Keeping the product in ‘core skate shops isn’t necessarily a priority for them. While they understand that distribution of their product is limited to skateboard-related retailers through Giant’s distribution, they admit that they hope to broaden their distribution “to confectionery stores, so we could expose action sports to a broader market,” says Hoffman. “Eventually we want to go through a broader-based confectionary distributor, to benefit skateboarding.”

Their program appears to be on point. Prebookings for the product that debuted this spring were “excellent,” says Hoffman, reaching stores throughout the United States, Canada, and Australia.

As to where they see Ollie Pop in a year, Hoffman claims they’ll maintain their current marketing strategy. “Our product isn’t changing, we’ll just go to a wider distribution.”

Companies currently involved with decals for Ollie Pop include Monster, Ezekiel, Birdhouse, Zoo York, Element, Gold wheels, Volcom, Etnies, Expedition, 411VM, Elwood, DVS, Skateboarder, and TransWorld SKATEboarding.

Piney Kahn is Ollie Pop’s PR director and maintains that Ollie Pop is foremost a skateboard-oriented product and even has a team, currently consisting of Danny Way and Chris Lambert. “They’re also helping us with product development,” says Kahn. “I don’t know what their specific deals are, but they are getting paid.”

Kahn says Ollie Pop’s objective with their team is like every company with a skate team–to legitimize the product among skaters. “It’s different from a product that just taps into the skateboarding market in order to tap into a new hot demographic,” she says. “Because it’s made by skateboarders and centered around them, and involves actual skate companies as opposed to giant corporations.”

Skateboarding is huge. Coincidentally, so is the average American’s disposable income. And if there’s one thing Americans love, it’s junk food–and if there’s one thing American kids love, it’s sugar.

Considering the above, Ollie Pop should do quite well.