Live. Love. Ride. By Jason Hermansdorfer A business profile feature story written for a feature writing class at Auburn University. April 2009 Courtney Starr, 21, founder and owner of Starr Boards, views his custom skateboard company the same way he views his life, it’s all about enjoying every moment. Starr Boards, appropriately named, consists of Starr and his father, Fred Starr. Since beginning in 2002, the father-son duo has been shaping custom skateboards from their workshop in Ellicott City, Md., for skateboard enthusiasts across the country. Despite a successful launch into the custom skateboard market, Starr Boards isn’t trying to become the next big thing. After seven years, the company is exactly the way Starr wants it, enjoyable and easygoing. For Starr, crafting skateboards is all about personal satisfaction. Starr and his father are the sole investors in Starr Boards, and profit is measured less in dollars and more in intrinsic reward. Today the company is best described as self-sustaining. “We operate on small profit margins,” Starr says. All of the profit is invested back into the company in order to buy new equipment and other materials necessary to continue making quality skateboards. Starr is open about his plans for the company and for his life. He explains that Starr Boards isn’t meant to be a financial mainstay for him. “There was a time when I thought about investing everything I had into Starr Boards and not going to college,” Starr says. “I am so glad I didn’t. Trying to support myself with this company would be way too stressful for me.” For the past three years, Starr has been managing his company offsite as he pursues an undergraduate degree in graphic design from Auburn University. Although he originally thought the move would hinder his business, the result has been the exact opposite. At Auburn, Starr has found a large market for his skateboards. In 2008, Starr sold over 70 boards, nearly matching his previous six-year total of boards sold. “Every time I went home last year I was busy making boards,” Starr remembers. Furthermore, his studies in graphic design allow Starr Boards to offer enhanced artwork. A recent example of this improvement is the addition of silk screen graphics now available on Starr Boards’ skateboards. Starr views his studies as a way to improve his business, but he insists that Starr Boards will remain an enjoyable craft and not a career. Though Starr Boards’ business model may not be on course to compete with the larger skateboard companies, there is not doubt that its skateboards are on par with the industry standard. Starr Boards sets itself apart from larger skateboard companies in that each board is shaped from start to finish by hand. The craft requires a conscientious eye and many hours of hard work, but for Starr, it is a labor of love. Starr begins the process by designing a template, or outline, for the board. “Once you have a template you can recreate as many boards as you want,” Starr says. After seven years of shaping, Starr Boards has developed an arsenal of proven templates, each one geared for a different style of riding. Customers have the opportunity to choose one of Starr Boards’ popular skateboard designs, or imagine their own unique shape. Whether you are interested in cruising around town or racing down asphalt hills, if you can dream it, Starr Boards can shape it.
After the template is created, Starr traces it onto a sheet of premium marine-grade wood, and the beginning shape for the skateboard is cut. He then takes the rough cutout and begins the process of sanding the surface and smoothing out the edges. After this is complete, a graphic is added to the bottom of the board and grip tape is bonded to the top. Finally trucks, bearings, hardware and wheels are assembled to the board. At this point, the only thing left to do is ride. Starr grew up woodworking with his father and grandfather in Maryland. This experience provided the foundation necessary to begin shaping skateboards. “When I was in 8th grade I had been skateboarding long enough to need a new board,” Starr remembers. “I didn’t have enough money to buy one, so I just traced the outline of my old board onto a piece of wood, cut that shape out and made my own.” Shortly after, Starr shaped a board for his friend. It was in this moment that a love for shaping skateboards was born. “Between my knowledge of woodworking and my experience skateboarding, I’ve always understood how to make a skateboard.” For Starr, the shaping has been the easy part of managing Starr Boards. Since beginning the company, Starr has never had anyone to help guide him through operating the financial and legal aspects of his company. He obtained most of the necessary information by talking to local Maryland business owners and by searching for answers on the internet. “The hardest part of getting the company started was finding a contact through which I could order parts wholesale,” Starr explains. “Once I finally found one, I was not allowed to order less than $500 worth of parts. I had no clue if I was going to be able to sell enough boards to pay off the investment.” Luckily for Starr Boards, it wasn’t long before people began taking an interest in its product. Starr Boards sold its first board from Rascals, a skateboard shop in Maryland. “I grew up going to Rascals,” Starr recalls. “That shop was an inspiration for starting my own company.” Starr knows that getting his boards in skateboard shops across the country is a great way to get the word out about Starr Boards. When Starr is on break from Auburn, he spends his time traveling around to skateboard shops in the eastern United States in order to find retailers interested in selling his boards. Today, Starr Boards’ skateboards are in seven retailers across the United States. Due to Starr Boards’ increasing presence in skateboard shops and because of its popularity with Auburn’s student body, the company has been able to stay busy despite all the negative feelings surrounding the economy. “Things have definitely been slower, but we’ve maintained a steady stream of orders,” Starr says. His contact with skateboard retailers has given Starr an interesting view on the economic situation and its effect on the skateboard industry. Starr explains that most retailers have been responding negatively to his proposal to sell Starr Boards in their shops. “Many of the shops are worried they won’t sell the boards they already have,” Starr explains. This current trend isn’t enough to trouble Starr, and he remains positive about the future. The priorities that have shaped Starr Boards are a direct reflection on Starr’s approach to life. “You can’t change the way a wave breaks, but you can change the way you ride it,” Starr says. Whether it’s riding a skateboard, meeting new people or living life, Starr is trying to love every moment. “My favorite experience about being a part of Starr Boards is seeing people I don’t know riding a board I shaped,” Starr states. With Starr Boards increasing popularity,
thereâ€™s a good chance Starr will be seeing a lot more people riding his boards. When this does happen, one thing is for sure, both people will be smiling. Contact Information: Official Website: www.starrboards.com E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Additional Information: Starr Boards use Paris Trucks, FKD Speed Bearings (ABEC 5), Cargo Hardware, Jessup Grip Tape and wheels by Kryptonics. The wood for all itsâ€™ boards is premium marine-grade from Hardwood Inc. (Fredrick, MD.)