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BUD’S

COLUMN

By Bud Stratford

THE FUTURE ON THE INDIE SKATE SHOP

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f I had the chance to edit my own biography, I’d probably sum up most of my skateboarding career in two simple sentences: “That f ’n jerk (that’s me) was sometimes celebrated, and often vilified, for his harsh and unapologetic insights on the emerging issues of the day. Most frequently, for discussing the everyday trials and tribulations of – and reiterating his staunch and steadfast support for – the independent skateboard shop.” I like those two, because they’re fair, balanced, kinda funny ... and, best of all, they also honestly illustrate my personal strengths and weaknesses. Which ultimately make me exactly who and what I am. So, the inevitable question becomes: Why am I so steadfast in my pro-indie skate shop stance? The answer is actually quite simple: I cannot imagine a skateboarding world without them – mostly because we’ve never had a world without them. Think about it: Never in all of skateboarding’s history have we faced the grim prospect of the wholesale decimation of the independent-retailer paradigm. Suddenly, though, this has become an industry-wide hotbutton issue, because we’re watching the reality of indie skate shops going out of business unfolding all around us. Of course, there are plenty of pundits and experts who claim that everything is gonna be just fine. That there will be a nation of corporately-owned big-box skate retailers that will easily and enthusiastically fill the void left by the natural, Darwinistic rooting out of this weaker, independent species of skate shop. And that’ll actually be better for us all, long-term. However, the correct answer is still that we just don’t know for sure what’s gonna happen – until it actually happens. There may even be some unintended consequences that we won’t like and that might just do our pastime irreparable harm. But still, we won’t know what those will be until they actually transpire. It’s that unknown that sometimes keeps me awake at night. The very best we can ever hope for is that, by simple process of elimination, we can sort of guesstimate what might be possible and plausible. Take this one, for example: Without independent skate shops, who’s gonna pay for all those tours and demos that we, as skaters, like to attend from time to time? “The Industry” does tend to forget that the independent retailer network makes for a mighty handy road-trip itinerary, while they also subsidize

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AXS LONGBOARD RETAILER | WINTER 2011

many of our industry’s promotional tours. Skate shops do, after all, pay cold, hard cash to have those demos come to town, year in and year out. Then, if and when we get the “demo” question sorted out, we also have the questions of: Who’s going to sponsor all those local, hometown skateboard teams? And who’s gonna throw all of those local contests? And fight for all of those new skateparks? And arrange all of those Go Skateboarding Day events? These shops are not promoting themselves, mind you, but rather, promoting skateboarding. But unfortunately for the independents, they’re facing an onslaught of chain-store and mega-corporation competition. There’s an even more important dynamic at work here, though. If we lost the independent retailers, we might also lose one of those critical intangibles that makes skateboarding what it is. Sort of like Independent Trucks, Thasher magazine, Duane Peters or Steve Olson, these are entities whose ultimate value could never be calibrated, substantiated or justified by the dollars-and-cents concerns of a corporate balance sheet. These are things that you, as a skater, might not support, like or even approve of. But as skaters, we also intrinsically understand that skateboarding would sort of suck without them. It’s these things that keep skateboarding “real” when everything else around us is going straight to the toilet. My natural enthusiasm for the cause is tempered in many of my writings by the realization that, too often, the independent skate shops actually become agents of their own demise. At some point in the debate, honest and brutal observation is required to get a complete and evenhanded perspective of the problem at hand. This was rammed home to me a few years ago when, while doing a random survey of a few hundred skateboard shops across the Midwest, I came to a startling realization: Out of those 300-plus shops ... less than a dozen of them knew how to answer the damned telephone correctly. This, my friends and enemies, is an extremely startling factoid. And this told me, honestly and brutally, that it was high time for the skate shops to wake the hell up, and start learning how to build better, more customer-focused businesses. Put another way: To start helping themselves. However, that’s balanced by the need for us – the community of manufacturers, brands and the media – to wake ourselves up and realize the

indie skate shops’ true importance in the far bigger picture. They also need our help to make the hard-goods-centric, independent skateboard shop a sustainable paradigm for the future. What kind of help do they need, exactly? At this juncture, I’d say any help that we can spare would be a damn good start. A few years back, I began to champion ideas like MAP/MSRP pricing structures that would, at the very least, give the independents a level playing field, and maybe even a fighting chance to make a nickel or two once in a great while for all of their investment, hard work and dedication. Sometimes this process compels me to ask “The Industry” difficult questions, such as: How exactly does so much “premium product” find its way to so many mass merchants, rogue e-tailers or seemingly every eBay and Amazon storefront owned by some clueless jackass somewhere? It’s a perpetual mystery to me how “The Industry” can claim to be helpless to control their own distribution channels, but they do. And they’ll constantly wring their hands and bemoan the problem, while they do virtually nothing at all to fix it. To me, that’s not just disingenuous; it’s sheer hypocrisy at its very worst. Admittedly, at Everything Skateboarding, we can only do very small things to advance this cause. Of course, shopping at independentlyowned skateboard shops is the best place to start; and we do our very best to encourage our readers shop at them too. I also spend countless hours on the road, attending and covering those local events myself. I make the time to personally visit shop owners in their own shops, and to educate myself on the other small things that my staff and I can do to spread the word. Of course, no matter what I or we do, it’ll probably never be enough. My big hope is that, between my magazine and our readership, it’ll all add up eventually to making a bigger difference, somewhere. And if everybody pitches in and does their part, I think it will. AXS

Bud Stratford is the editor of Everything Skateboarding Magazine. everything skateboardingmagazine.blogspot.com

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AXS Longboard Retailer  

for those who wish to learn about the business of selling and marketing longboards