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Skateboard business leaders on industry challenges, opportunities and the Olympics

By Tiffany Montgomery
June 19, 2009 8:13 AM

Updated Friday at 12:20 p.m. with comments from Doug Palladini and Steve Van Doren of Vans.

In honor of Go Skateboarding Day Sunday, I asked six business leaders in the skate industry several questions about the state of the industry, including what they see as the biggest opportunities, whether skateboarding should be an Olympic sport and what one thing they would change about the industry.

I received a variety of interesting answers from Pierre André Senizergues of Sole Technology, Doug Weston of Osiris Shoes, Per Welinder of Blitz Distribution, Mark Miller of DC Shoes, Kelly Jablonski of Ultimate Skateboard Distribution and Ryan Clements of the Skatepark of Tampa.

The International Association of Skateboarding Companies started Go Skateboarding Day six years ago and there are events happening all over the world, including Emerica's Wild in the Streets event in Vancouver, Nike SB's grand opening of the P-Rod Skatepark in Pacoima, and DC's four-week tour with its amateur team that culminates with an event Sunday in Salt Lake City. For more events, check out the Go Skateboarding Day website.

Pierre André Senizergues, CEO, Sole Technology

Q: What is the biggest challenge facing skateboarding

Pierre and RyanA: Poor infrastructure. Cities across the world have skateparks that are not built or maintained correctly. Cities build a park because the community parents want it for their kids, but they don't build it right; people don't go because the obstacles are poor, the terrain is not good. Then the city thinks it's not popular and they back out of it. It's a vicious cycle that is not helping the industry or serving the kids properly.

Losing the spirit of skateboarding. So many people are jumping on the boat and diluting the message and not accurately representing the core spirit, which is about defying convention.

The world we skate in. Thinking long term, we have to have a planet to skate on. We need our planet to survive.

Q: What's the biggest opportunity for skateboarding?

A: With skateboarding going so mainstream, it is our opportunity to make sure that we tell the authentic story of skateboarding. A great way to do this that has large appeal is through building legit events with a legit infrastructure that keeps things credible for the skateboard community. Similar to why we are working with the Maloofs on the Maloof Money Cup, we want to make sure that we are partnered with people who are reaching the masses and doing so in a legit way - they've done that through reaching out to key people in the industry for help and insight. It tells a true story about skateboarding to the general public.

Another way is through what we're doing on Go Skateboarding Day with Emerica's Wild in the Streets where we go into cities, rally the local skateboarders to raise awareness about their specific needs in the city and get the attention of the public.

It helps people understand that kids need a place to skate. It's pretty cool this year because Wild in the Streets is going to Vancouver, Canada and we're trying to raise awareness about making this underground skatepark, LeeSide, a recognized city park. GOOD NEWS! Just yesterday, the city made the announcement that they are moving forward in making it official and our event hasn't even happened yet! It's the power of numbers rallying together to tell our skate story to our communities so that they can better understand and support skateboarding. Go Vancouver!

Q. Should skateboarding be an Olympic sport?

A. I actually think the better question is, should the Olympics change their image? Can the Olympics really properly represent skateboarding? As it stands now, I'm not confident that it would, but I guess we'll see what the future holds. Skateboarding at its core doesn't really fit in their mold. So, if they want us, what are they going to do to be true to how they represent us?

Q. If you had a magic wand and could make one improvement to the skate industry, what would it be?

A. Green the industry and have skateboarding lead the way and set the example for the world.

Doug Weston, partner and vice president, Osiris Shoes

Doug WestonQ. What is the biggest challenge facing skateboarding right now?

A. Not being turned into just another sport. Skateboarding is creativity, individualism, style - all the parts of you that allow you to express yourself.

When the sporting goods companies execute their marketing plans, and force the skater owned companies out of the shops, everyone will ask, "What happened?" Just like in snowboarding 15 years ago.

Q. What is the biggest opportunity for skateboarding?

A. Getting more kids involved in actually skateboarding, and giving them a place to progress. Most of the spots are getting "skate-stoppers" on them, and that's forcing skateboarding off the streets. Where is the progression going to happen? More skate parks that are geared toward street skating - props to Dyrdek for leading the way.

Q. Should skateboarding be an Olympic sport?

A. No. Maybe not such a flat no - Vert adds the visual aspect to the technical aspect so I can see that. But translating street skating to the Olympic audience? It's not going to be appreciated for what it truly is.

Q. If you had a magic wand and could make one improvement to the skate industry, what would it be?

A. Lower the costs of hard goods so the that the board/wheel/truck brands can make some good margins, and still sell an affordable set up to kids.

Anybody who's been in hard goods knows there's little money in it, yet it's the soul of the industry. I know it's a wish, but that's what magic wands are for, right?

Per Welinder, president and owner, Blitz Distribution. Per is an IASC board member.

Per WelinderQ. What is the biggest challenge facing skateboarding right now?

A. Keeping more skaters skating past age 17 - fancier talk is to lower attrition rate.

Q. What is the biggest opportunity for skateboarding?

A. Can I mention two? Skateparks and Olympic aspirations for the sport will keep fueling the fire for more people to skate in the U.S. and around the world for decades to come.

Q. Should skateboarding be an Olympic sport?

A. Yes.

Q. If you had a magic wand and could make one improvement to the skate industry, what would it be?

A. Create an organization mirroring the NBA of skateboarding, and if so, can Blitz be the Lakers, please?

Ryan Clements, general manager, Skate Park of Tampa

Q. What is the biggest challenge facing skateboarding right now?

A. Is this a trick question? Well, slower sales of course. Is the reason we're experiencing slower sales because of the economy or because of over-saturation of skate brands? Or is it simply because there are less kids interested in skateboarding at this very moment. I'm not quite sure here...

Ryan ClementsQ. What is the biggest opportunity for skateboarding?

A. This is a great time for the industry to come together. I felt as if we experienced this with Tampa Pro back in March. We had the highest participation from the legit pros in the past few years. It seemed as if they have something to prove, as in, "Hey, I'm valuable to the companies I'm supporting."

Additionally, businesses are looking within and questioning their operations and expenditures. They are becoming more streamlined and well-oiled machines. Those that understand this process and started a little bit early have the most likely chance of survival. And those that survive will most likely thrive when the economy picks up.

Q. Should skateboarding be an Olympic sport?

A. I'm up in the air with this one. In some ways it would be great for the growth and exposure of skateboarding. However, I don't see skateboarding being portrayed in the right way, or what I consider to be the right way, in an event of that caliber. It seems to me that it's going to make skateboarding really, really generic.

Q. If you had a magic wand and could make one improvement to the skate industry, what would it be?

A. There are a lot of the big brands out there, both endemic and non-endemic, that still have some sort of marketing budgets and are trying to create excitement. I commend them for their efforts.

However, on a local level there are a lot of skate shops and parks that really don't make things happen. You don't have to wait for the Girl or Zero team to drive through your town for an event. If you're a shop, build a manny pad out back and throw down a flat bar. BBQ on the first Sunday of each month and host a small contest.

With skate parks, there is no reason that a skate park should be doing less than two events per month. Create excitement. Get kids into it. Make them LOVE skateboarding. Play into the passion that they already have and create more. This is what will naturally create more business for all of us. Oh yeah...go skate yourself, too.

Mark Miller, senior vice president, general manager Americas, DC Shoes

Q. What is the biggest challenge facing skateboarding right now?

A. Keeping our specialty retailers healthy. The current retail environment and fueled by economic issues are impacting skate specialty retailers. At DC, we know that skate specialty retailers are the lifeblood of the industry.

Mark MillerQ. What is the biggest opportunity for skateboarding?

A. There are plenty of significant opportunities at present - it's easiest to make the most noise while the landscape is quiet. Strong companies like DC have the ability to invest in the business, sign new athletes, activate exciting marketing initiatives, and connect to skate consumers.

Q. Should skateboarding be an Olympic sport?

A. From DC's perspective, we'd love to see skateboarding in the Olympics, allowing our athletes the opportunity to shine in the biggest athletic venue imaginable. DC's teams have dominated the X Games over the past 15 years and as a company we would love the opportunity for them to have the same success on an even larger global stage.

Q. If you had a magic wand and could make one improvement to the skate industry, what would it be?

A. That's a tough one as I'm not sure there's just one silver bullet. Financial stability of the specialty skate retailers is number one.

Kelly Jablonski, General Manager- West, Ultimate Skateboard Distribution, Canada. Kelly is an IASC board member.

Kelly JablonskiQ. What is the biggest challenge facing skateboarding right now?

A. One of the biggest challenges facing skateboarding is all the competition to capture the attention and commitment of the young generation. We are competing against not only other sports that are drawing kids away from skating but more importantly all the non-sport activities such as video games. The more kids view skateboarding as just another game, the less emphasis there will be on pros and brand image.

When I was young, if you owned a skateboard, that's all you did. Now, out of 10 kids that own skateboards, only one or two of them are skateboarders.

The industry itself faces much different problems on a bigger scale as we fight internally for a smaller piece of the core business that has not turned mass market both in what is sold and how it is sold. Other challenges including like the government lead law that is happening in the US could really impact how our industry participates in the production and sales of skateboards and all the related clothing, shoes and accessories. Luckily, we have groups like IASC that are helping to bring our industry together to fight all these issues.

Q. What is the biggest opportunity for skateboarding?

A. In a world where kids are fighting for individuality, I think skateboarding can offer that and we really need a way to relay that to kids and capture them. There seems to be more kids then ever and with skateboarding now reaching its second and even third generation of skateboarders we now have the history to show kids how amazing it is.

Go Skateboarding Day is a great thing that will hopefully show kids that don't skate what they are missing.

Q. Should skateboarding be an Olympic sport?

A. This is a question that becomes more about personal opinion then really what is good or bad for skateboarding. To me, if somebody wants to go through the effort of trying to make skateboarding conform to the Olympic format, great. It can only help skateboarding grow.

The bigger question is, can skateboarding be packaged to fit the Olympic format without taking away from its vast individuality that really has no equal? As an industry I really don't think we are there yet to really understand how to change skateboarding to fit the Olympics. We all know they won't change the Olympics to fit skateboarding.

Q. If you had a magic wand and could make one improvement to the skate industry, what would it be?

A. We as an industry have failed in making the retailers and consumer realize the impact and importance of pro and branded product. Other industries have done a much better job at this. We are one of the few sporting good categories that have the issue of price point and blank/shop product.

There will always be a need for price point, but in order to have a healthy industry it needs to be the minority and not the majority.

Doug PalladiniDoug Palladini, vice president of marketing, Vans

Q. What is the biggest challenge facing skateboarding right now?

A. Giving consumers important reasons to support brands. We simply cannot allow skateboards to become commodity items with no brand loyalty.

What is the biggest opportunity for skateboarding?

A. We as an industry should focus more on what makes skateboarding fun and what fills up skateparks all over the world every day. We still don't do enough of that.

Q. Should skateboarding be an Olympic sport?

A. I could possibly stomach vert skating as an Olympic sport, but that's it...

Q. If you had a magic wand and could make one improvement to the skate industry, what would it be?

A. I'd eliminate all of the toys, blanks, and crap skate hard goods out there and allow the quality brands to provide segmented product to support all levels of skateboarding.

Steven Van DorenSteve Van Doren, vice president of promotions, Vans

Steve will be barbecuing at the Vans skatepark at The Block at Orange on Go Skateboarding Day.

Q. What is the biggest challenge facing skateboarding right now?

A. To keep skateboarding alive during down times. All skate comanies need to share their problems together and learn from each other. Many companies have been through tough times before and know how to "shrink" to stay alive. But I think when the skate companies do that, it really hurts the retailers. I believe the bigger companies like Vans need to work along side the board, wheel and truck companies and help support their teams to keep traveling out to the retailers. Grass roots is where we all came from and there is nothing wrong with that.

Q. What is the biggest opportunity for skateboarding?

A. The opportunities are out there and its a perfect time to take market share from traditional sports. All you need is a board and a helmet and you're exercising and having fun. No big cost to just be skating.

Q. Should skateboarding be an Olympic sport?

A. Not needed.

Q. If you had a magic wand and could make one improvement to the skate industry, what would it be?

A. Idea. No pad law. Free skate areas in every ciity.



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