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Mikke and Todd on 20 years of ZJ Boarding House

By Tiffany Montgomery
October 05, 2008 6:28 PM

Todd Roberts and Mikke Pierson recently celebrated the 20 year anniversary of ZJ Boarding House with a party for the community in Santa Monica.

Since many partnerships and businesses don't last that long, I asked Todd and Mikke what has kept them going.

Todd and Mikke hope to throw another party in December to thank their vendors and the rest of the industry.

Mikke PiersonMikke Pierson

What are the top two or three business lessons you have learned over the past 20 years?


Communication. This very over used word has been very important to our business and our partnership. Learning how to communicate with our customers, our employees, our vendors and between ourselves has proven to be a huge task in business and in our lives in general. And communicating well is even more difficult and takes a greater commitment. One of the keys to good communication is that it's never static...and you are never done with it. We build in systems to make sure we all keep communicating what we all need to share. It's very important to us and we talk about it constantly. Oh, and it's important to know that good communication is a learned skill.


Passion for the lifestyle. Todd and I really care about the surf*skate*snow lifestyle. We are participants and so are our employees. This had lead us to try and conduct our business with a great deal of care and honestly in what we do. We truly want to carry the best products and we really do want our employees to give the best product knowledge and customer service possible so that our customers can enjoy the sports and the life style the way Todd and I do. We try and develop our same ideals and goals with our staff, many of whom we are proud to help move on into the industry.


Keep being a student of what we do. Todd and I learn every day from our staff, our vendors and our customers. For the last 20 years we have tried not to think that we know what we're doing all the time, but rather we view our business as an evolving entity. We are constantly learning new business skills, meeting new people, being exposed to new products and styles. We share this philosophy with our staff and as a group we are always trying to improve and grow what we do.


What was the biggest challenge, and how did you guys overcome it?


Why do I have a feeling we might be facing one our greatest challenges right now! It's not just a challenging and changing economy that can make business difficult, but rather having the energy and passion to keep growing as people and a business. We can never rest on what we accomplished yesterday. Every new challenge needs to invigorate us to meet the challenge, and not just survive, but eventually flourish.

Whether it's the economy, a new vendor store up the street, massive discounting on eBay. ... or whatever, I think it's important to view all challenges as opportunities; opportunities to gain knowledge, to figure out a strategy that works or to make decisions that make sense for our business, our customers, our vendors and mostly ourselves.


Do you think you will be operating the same business 20 years from now?


That is a fantastic question I wish I knew the answer to! More important than whether I'll be there, is that I'd like ZJ Boarding House to be there. I'd be 68 years old in 20 years and the thought of a crazy old coot like me telling kids what's cool is a little disturbing to me! But still I take most of my stoke and pride at work from the lives of our staff and customers that Todd and I have touched. We have become an important part in the lives of our neighborhood and our staff. I really feel we have saved and changed lives for the better. And for that I feel like a better person and I would love to see that continue. I love ZJ Boarding House and I really love what I do. Not sure I could handle that much tequila though at the next 20 year party!


Any secrets to maintaining a partnership for that long?


Well as long as Todd listens to me, everything will be fine! Though seriously, our friendship and business relationship has been truly remarkable. And I think that any secrets we have involve our communication and our passion for what we do. Ultimately I feel very humbled and honored to be friends with and have worked with Todd all of these years. I would never have dreamed 20 years ago that we could be a part of something so special. So I guess the secret is in the intention with Todd and I. And our intention has always been to run our business and our friendship with honestly and honor.



Todd Roberts



Todd Roberts

What are the top two or three business lessons you have learned over the past 20 years?

The first lesson in business was taught to me by my father when I was 13 years old! Work hard first then play hard after...

He taught me early on what it was to make a buck and to take pride in what I do.

The lesson was and still is that the good things in my life are earned. Love, friendship, respect, trust and even fun and leisure are far more enjoyable when earned.

To this day, everything that I have worked for has been far more gratifying than things that were gifted or fell in my lap!

I don't feel like MIkke and I would have survived this long if we didn't have a parallel work ethic and passion for board sports.

Mikke is a hardworking guy who takes pride in this same mantra, "Work hard, play hard."

Take risks, believe in your vision, be patient and be willing to sacrifice some blood, sweat and tears!

Stay close to your Board! Get out of the office, shop or warehouse and and go surf, skate or ride. Get out there with your crew and remember why you're in this industry.


Go bond with your kids, your staff, your friends and customers. Love what you do or don't do it.

What was the biggest challenge, and how did you guys overcome it?

Mikke said it very well, all of our major challenges have been and always will be opportunities.

For me personally though it was learning to accept that surfing, skating and snowboarding were all becoming big business.

As our culture and lifestyle became more main stream and big business - outside (non-endemic) money and influence has perverted parts of our industry into a demon I don't relate to.

Don't get me wrong, I still love this business, our roots and the tribe but it was a bit more enjoyable back when we didn't have to strategize our next move based on the big guns last quarter's performance!

We spent more energy figuring out how to gather and celebrate our culture without the thought of how it would affect our bottom line or a balance sheet.

So, yes, I get the importance of all these tools, but I say put as much energy in the water as you would the office is all. Keep it authentic... You know who you are!

Do you think you will be operating the same business 20 years from now?

It's my hope that in 20 years I'll be surfing with my wife and future kids and getting the same stoke from sharing all that I love about surfing with them.

I'm sure by then that Mikke and I will be more hands off but still very connected to this industry. I'll only be 64 so I plan on loving the dream until the end.

Any secrets to maintaining a partnership for that long?

I wish it were as easy as a secret but I think Mikke and I are pretty lucky.

I feel blessed and very fortunate to have Mikke Pierson in my life. He's been an inspiration, a mentor and one of the best friends I could dream of.

Before we were in business together we just clicked as friends and we had the same lust for life, boards and the dream of making a living sharing the lifestyle we love.

I'm really proud of the business that we've built. We have shared so much of what we do with the local community and we give back everyday. We set the bar pretty high and it feels unreal to get up every morning knowing that I get to join our extended ZJ family for another day of sharing the passion. I really love ZJ Boarding House and what we represent and that feels great!

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