Retailer Tips April 1999

In the movie Field of Dreams there is a famous line: “If you build it, they will come.” Today that line can be directly applied to the skateboard industry. Skateparks are being constructed at an extraordinary rate¿everything from a free city-operated park to the massive 46,000-square-foot Vans Skatepark in Orange, California. With this wave of construction come opportunities in the skateboarding retail sector.

Skateparks and retail skateboard stores share the same target market and customer base. Because of this, there are great opportunities for cross marketing. Skateparks and retail skateboard stores support each other by supporting the same consumers: The skate shop or pro shop provides the product necessary to skateboard while the skatepark provides a place to participate in the sport. Here is a look at how some skateparks and skate shops are using the lure of a place to skate to help boost sales, diversify their businesses, and support their local skate communities.

At High Adventure Outfitters in Cullman, Alabama, Owner Charlie Buettner uses the draw of indoor skateboard ramps and a climbing wall to attract customers to his new store and provide entertainment once they are there. Charlie designed his new building with this in mind, and devoted almost one third of his retail floor space for the Demo Area. The ramps provide his customers with the only real place to skate in town and brought in new consumers from areas with the same dilemma. Demo Area users must wear a helmet and sign a release form, though it costs nothing to skate. Buettner says that insurance was difficult to get, but so far the park has been a great success. “The ramps have given my store some legitimacy in the skate market by supporting the sport,” says Charlie. “And it has brought people to my store from a larger radius than ever before.”

Taking the same idea a step further, DS Sports in Iowa City, Iowa, charges a low four-dollar fee for all-day skating on the halfpipe outside its store. “At first people come just to skate,” says Manager Chris Larsen. “But after a while they start coming in the shop. Before you know it, they become regular customers.”

Increased consumer traffic should be a goal of any business. Adding a place to skate in or around your shop can be a great way to increase that traffic.

Having skaters practice their skills in front of the store can be a problem for surrounding businesses. This can be a major drawback in a prime location, and was the reason behind moving XXX Sports in Nashville, Tennessee. XXX Owner Barry Page had always wanted to open a skatepark, and felt that it would help his retail skateboard shop prosper in a less visible location. He says the park is a lot of work, and sometimes a downright pain in the ass, but it is the combination of the two that makes it work. “If one is slow, the other always seems to pick up the slack,” says Barry. “Having both makes the business much more stable.”

To get the most out of both businesses, Barry does a lot of cross promotion. A 50-dollar purchase in the shop will get you a free skate session, and skatepark members can get special discounts inside the shop. To maximize the allure of the park he holds regular contests and demos, and backs it up in the shop with an occasional sale.

At Sanctuary Skate Shop and Skatepark in Dothan, Alabama, Shop Manager Fannie Gunton says the skatepark helps build a strong skate scene in the area and brings more awareness to the sport. This strong scene, in turn, perpetuates consistent sales in the shop. The shop helps make the skatepark affordable, but the shop would not survive without the park and the scene it creates. “The skatepark is the draw while the shop is the breadwinner, but it is the combo of the two that balances things out,” says Fannie.

For Lee Judd, owner of Metro Trend in Waterford, Michigan, building a skateboard park became one of her goals after six years of business; she saw it as a service to the aters who had been supporting her store for so long. At first she hoped to find a place where she could operate both in one location. This proved impossible, and she settled for a park location twenty minutes from the store. She operates a small pro shop at the park¿primarily to provide emergency items like kingpins, bearings, and bolts¿but directs most sales back to her store.

She says that cross promotion and marketing are key to the success of both locations. Pro demos for Metro Trend start with an autograph signing at the shop, and then make their way to the skateboard park. The offer of big discounts at the store encourages park riders to get yearly memberships and do their buying at her store. When they do buy, a 100-dollar purchase will get them a free skate day at the park. These types of promotions help her retain customers as well as bring in new ones.

After four years of doing business in Clearwater, Florida, Skate Crate was approached by the city to help build a public skatepark. According to Co-owner Dean Dupree, a plan was set for a co-op venture, but as the project stalled, the city decided to back out. That was not enough to stop the Skate Crate owners from going ahead with their plan. In fact, they decided that if they were going to take the project on themselves, it would be on a much grander scale. They found a site that was centrally located about fifteen minutes from both of their stores, and dubbed the new venue Central Skate Park.

A small pro shop at the park acts as an “outpost” for the Skate Crate stores. “We don’t want the park to take retail business away from our stores, or even our competitors,” explains Dean. “It’s the name association that we’re after.” The shops and the skatepark share and cross-reference mailing lists to maximize their potential, and like most shop-operated parks, they offer free skate sessions with minimum purchases in the store.

Over twenty years of business has taught the owners of Kona Skatepark USA in Jacksonville, Florida, how to get the most from their retail space. The pro shop at Kona is not just a service; it’s a fully stocked skate store. According to Owner Martin Ramos, one could not survive without the other. Sales in the pro shop are directly proportional to the number of kids in the park. The pro shop also takes advantage of low overhead when the park covers the cost of daily operation. “If you are opening a skatepark, think you’re opening a retail store also,” advises Martin. “You will make more money selling them product than just renting them pads.”

Skateparks and retail collide at The Block in Orange, where the new Vans Skatepark is located. Vans Vice President of Marketing Jay Wilson, says, “Having the park in the mall is a win-win situation for everyone involved.” The Block is an entertainment and retail complex sprawled along the intersection of two major highways. It has something for everyone, and while the kids skate a two-hour session, Mom can go shopping or catch a movie.

Skateboarding gets mass exposure at the Vans Skatepark. It was designed with a mezzanine viewing area and closed-circuit televisions so that mall goers can get a first-hand look at the action.

The park has been a tremendous success. Vans’ President and Chief Executive Officer Gary Schoenfeld stated in a press release that the park is expected to gross up to four-million dollars in its first year. Based on that success, Vans has announced plans for four more parks in North America, plus possible projects in Europe and South America. While most skateparks can’t hope to build the facility that Vans has, its success suggests that skateparks don’t have to be tucked away in remote warehouse locations.

The scientific definition of mutualism is the symbiotic relationship in which both the host and guest benefit. Skateparks and retail skateboard shops can prosper in this type of relationship, often changing role of host and guest. Skateparks are coming, and they will impact your business. Make it a positive change by supporting skateparks and preparing your shop for new opportunities. When you do, you will find yourself building your own field of dreams.y will impact your business. Make it a positive change by supporting skateparks and preparing your shop for new opportunities. When you do, you will find yourself building your own field of dreams.