For this month’s Inside The Industry spotlight, I picked a fellow that’s pretty local to me, geographically: Steve Williams of Phoenix, Arizona based Dead Canary Skateboards. Now, you might be scratching your head pretty hard right about now, wondering why I would pick such a small, largely unknown skateboard company for such a high-profile segment that is typically reserved for much larger, and far more established brands.
Here’s why I picked Steve for this month’s segment: they’re doing everything right. Like literally, every single thing, without falter and without fail. They have it all: the solid, American-made product; the team; the media savvy; the exposure… and what’s more, they have a perpetual presence. That perpetual presence is what keeps them front and center on my personal radar. You just can’t escape them; they seem to be everywhere, all the time. No matter where I go, and no matter what I’m doing, Steve is always right there, complete with his pop-up tent, his logo-wrapped Honda, his beard, a friendly handshake, a quick and ready smile… and a hell of a lot of bright insight and keen wisdom. I make a point of crossing paths with him at least once a month (usually, at Phoenix’s First Friday festivities), and picking his brain for a few minutes. I can’t say that about too many brand managers in my contacts roster, no matter how big (or small) those brands may be.
Every company in the world could (and should) learn something from Steve; that’s why I picked him for this month’s feature. Read on, brothas and sistas:
Photos, clockwise from left: Steve with a boardslide; Roosevelt Row street art; Jan Thavy, 50-50 at the Clash at Claremont
Steve, let’s begin with the basics: what’s your name, age, and hometown?
For sure, Bud: I’m Steve Williams, 34 Years old, born and raised in Mesa, AZ.
How long have you been skating? What’s your favorite stuff to skate?
Well, I started skating when I was 13 years old, and skated heavily until I was involved in a head- on collision that totaled my car and my right foot/ankle when I turned 20. That kept me away from skateboarding for years, but in the end I was like, “fuck it!” It hurts every day, anyway, whether I’m skating or not… so why not do what I love, and continue to skate? I was born and bred on street skating, and that’s still what I really enjoy to skate… although I keep it pretty mellow and low impact these days (haha!) My favorite things to skate are ledges, curbs and flat-bars.
What’s your position at Dead Canary?
I am the Owner, Designer, Creative Director, Team Manager, Janitor, Sales rep… basically the general jack-of-all-trades here at Dead Canary. It is a true one-man show, born and bred right here in Arizona.
How long has the company been around? What year was it started?
I launched Dead Canary Skateboards in February of 2016, so we’ve been around for exactly 2 years now.
Why “Dead Canary”? What’s the story behind that name?
I was randomly researching about American coal mine workers in the late 1800’s; I know I’m weird, but the whole history of coal mines was filled with some really interesting facts. One of the most intriguing being that every time a group of coal mine workers entered a mine, they carried a little canary in a cage along with them. They did that because when you dig into a mountainside to create a mine, natural gasses that are deadly (and can’t be detected by smell) can fill the mine, and kill anything inside. Since there was no modern technology to monitor the gases, the canary alerted the miners to the presence of these gases by dying! They knew that if the canary died, that the gases were getting way to deadly and they needed to get out of the area as soon as possible, or they would be next.
I thought it was not only a great story, but a great part of American History- and ultimately, that story is what inspired me to name my company Dead Canary.
Photos, clockwise from left: The Crew; the famous Dead Canary Honda on Roosevelt Row; Roosevelt Row street art
What was the motivation for starting the company? What is Dead Canary doing that is different from all the other small companies in the marketplace?
Truthfully, my main motivation was that I was tired of working my ass off day, night, and weekends at dead-end jobs- and always for someone else. I had no real clue of how to go about it, and very little start-up money… but I did have some things going for me. Guts, common sense, and a solid background in manufacturing and sales. Most of all, I believed in myself.
Dead Canary is truly a grassroots, skater-owned company that prides it self on being 100% Made In The USA, and focuses on quality over quantity- always! What we’re doing is nothing new; it’s more like, we are trying to bring something back. Forget competitions, and definitely fuck the Olympics; the skateboarding industry has, in some cases, lost its way and forgot what its all about, the STOKE!! Not to mention that there has been a recent boom in culture vultures, some of who don’t even skate, out there just looking to get rich and make a quick buck off of skateboarding, the Olympics being the biggest of them all. Then you have some new companies out there charging kids to compete in competitions, to participate in an event they’re throwing, or even just to skate and chill at a public skatepark with said companies… what the fuck?! That’s not what skateboarding is supposed to be about!
So, we focus more on Skate Jams and DIY events that are all 100% free, with no vendors, traditional format, or contests… because let’s face it, contests do have their place, but it’s not the sort of event that I’m interested in running. Rather, we want to keep our local skate scene, as well as other local scenes out there, thriving by never charging a dime for the events we organize. Just show up, skate, grub, and ultimately leave stoked on skateboarding!!
In my intro, I alluded to the fact that I originally saw you at a First Friday here in Phoenix. Am I correct on that? My memory doesn’t serve me as well as it used to…
Aye! I’m right there with ya, my dude! Haha! But yeah, that’s where we first ran into each other.
Let’s talk about First Friday for a second. If the readers don’t know (or have one in their own towns), First Friday is basically a huge block party that happens on the First Friday of every month, where all the galleries and businesses stay open late; street musicians and performers come out in force; and there are street vendors all over the place… is that pretty accurate, Steve?
Yup, that is absolutely correct on all counts. I’m stoked to say that Dead Canary has been a staple of Roosevelt Row now for two years, since I first started the company.
Okay. Now, here’s the big question: Why are you guys there every single month? I mean, most companies would just hang their decks on the walls of the local skate shop, and maybe do an event at the local skatepark, and leave it at that. But you guys are always at the biggest party of the month, every month, in downtown Phoenix. What’s the strategy there, Steve?
Yup, you’re right! But there is no real strategy, other than simple marketing, and thinking outside the box, which go hand in hand. I mean, if your just gonna do what everyone else is already doing, then why even start a company in the first place? Am I right?
Also, like I’ve said before: I love and pride myself on supporting not only the local skate scene, but my local community in general, because I love my hometown! First Friday gives me a great way to do both. Furthermore, its just fun; I really enjoy every aspect of it. It also gives people a chance to really see what Dead Canary is all about.
You’re also at every single local skate event and gathering that happens in the Phoenix Metro Area. Have you ever missed an event, Steve…? Again: why the determination to be so out in force, so consistently?
Haha! Well ya… I fucking love skateboarding! So for sure, if there is worthwhile event in town, you can probably bet on me being their supporting my local skate-shops, skaters… and of course, The Dead Canary Squad! Someone much smarter than myself once said, “The key to success is consistency”, or some shit like that. But, yeah- I really took that shit to heart.
You mentioned the last time that we chatted, that you’ve organized and hosted quite a few events of your own. What kind of events were they? Did you ever charge skaters any money to be a part of them?
NEVER, man! No way…! I never have, and never will charge skaters to attend any event organized by Dead Canary! Skateboarding is for fun, and for FREE; always has been, and always should be!
The first event we hosted was a “Back 2 School” Skate Jam at 91 West Skatepark, which was a total success and so much fun! It was 100% FREE to attend and participate! Check out the video in the link below…
The second event we hosted was a DIY skate jam at the local DIY up in Flagstaff in collaboration with Lowcard Mag and the local skateshop (formerly known as Oncore, but now better known as Rov Ride Rideshop)- and of course that event was free as well! You can also see an edit of this event by clicking the link below…
All of our events are roughly the same format- again, going back to that whole consistency thing. We do tricks for cash, tricks for product, we have plenty of water and pizza to grub on, and do a huge product toss at the end- all free of charge, it costs nothing to attend. Just show up, skate, and leave with some shit. Or at least, a full belly.
You can also find us setting up booths at all the local events such as Cowtown’s PHXAM, SkaterCon and supporting our rider Janthavy Norton on the “All Girls Progression Sessions” she organizes and puts together, which are totally rad as fuck! This is where girls of all ages and skill sets (some of which have never even stepped on a board, but want to learn) can come out, hang out with other skater girls, and not be intimidated by skateboarding. Rather, they learn from each other, teach each other, empower one another, progress, laugh, grub- and ultimately they just have fun, and leaved stoked on skateboarding! It’s so rad to see and support that kind of thing, and can’t wait to see more of it!
So what’s in the works? Do you have any up-coming events?
Oh, chafawkyea! No doubt! March (2018) is going to be a real doozy, with multiple events going down! Were kicking off the month with back-to-back events. First Friday on March 2nd, downtown on Roosevelt Row, is up first! We will be out there from 6pm-11pm. You can find us on the 2nd Street Market, located right on 2nd St. in between Roosevelt and Garfield, right next to Revolver Records.
Then the very next day is Phoenix SkaterCon, on March 3rd up at Paradise Valley Skatepark. We will have our pop-up-shop popping off and skating all day, so pull up. Unfortunately, this is not a free event- but tickets are affordable and can be purchased at Sidewalk Surfer or on the SkaterCon website.
Then it’s onto Cowtown’s PHXAM March 24th & 25th at Desert West Skatepark to finish off the month! We will be out there chillin’ at the Dead Canary booth in “Tent City” for the 3rd year in a row, with tons of free shit to give away and win! Tickets are ONLY $5, and can be purchased at any Cowtown location and online. There is also more in the works for the rest of the year, so just make sure to follow us on Instagram @deadcanarydenim to stay up to date on what we have going on.
Let’s talk about Phoenix for a second. There seem to be a zillion skaters here… but not much of a “scene”, per se. Why is that? Doesn’t that seem a bit odd? Or, am I just being stupid right now and making shit up?
Na, your not making shit up, Bud, and I think that could be said for big cities in general. While there are a lot of factors that play into what you’re referring to, I think I do have one theory in particular. If you want me to be honest, I personally think it is because of the abundance of skateparks, as weird as that might seem.
Now, let me explain. When I was growing up, there was ONE skatepark in the entire valley, and that was Desert West Skatepark. It was so far away, I could maybe convince my parents to drive me and the homies out there once a month if I was lucky. So naturally, we generally stayed in the streets, street skating.
Now, if you wanna talk about “a scene”, in general, I believe it always starts in the streets- especially when referring to skateboarding.
In my opinion, skateboarding is all about the lurk. Finding those backyard pools, or getting stoked to skate a spot that you stumbled upon or created yourself. Meeting up with the homies, skating from spot to spot in the streets and killing everything in between- that was where the so called “scene” was born. We had no choice but to skate the streets every single day, and I loved every minute of it; it’s still what really hypes me up to this day! The streets are rough and unforgiving, but its what my team and I live for!
Nowadays kids can basically throw a stone in any direction, and hit a skatepark. This has created a way easier place for kids to just pull up to, meet up with the homies, chill, and skate. Therefore it has created a much lazier, unmotivated skater that is ok with just skating perfectly poured skateparks instead of really getting stoked on skateboarding, you know… the missions, waxing up a fresh curb or ledge, shredding all day long, getting kicked out and all the other things that go along with it. Just like contests, skateparks have their place. It’s a place where you can practice and hone your skills without the fear of being kicked out, make a quick edit for Instagram or some shit… but then you should always take it back to the streets. Nowadays kids are too scared and lazy, so they stay in the parks. And I think it’s because of that, that the “scene” has kinda been forgotten.
But have no fear, because there’s not only Dead Canary out there; there are a ton of other rad, grassroots, skater-owned companies killing it and doing their part right now. And I believe the scene you are referring to, that we all remember, is coming back full force!
How many shops are representing Dead Canary these days?
We are stoked to say that Dead Canary is currently in 10 local skate-shops valleywide! Find us at anyone of these local, skater owned shops…
Cowtown: 215 W. University Dr. Tempe, AZ 85281
Cowtown: 5024 N. Central Ave. Phoenix, AZ 85012
Cowtown: 13000 W. Indian School Rd. Litchfield Park, AZ 85340
Cowtown: 5708 W. Union Hills Dr. Glendale, AZ 85308
Sidewalk Surfer: 2602 N. Scottsdale Rd. Scottsdale, AZ 85257
Rov Ride Shop: 123 W Birch Ave #106, Flagstaff, AZ 86001
The Skate Stop: 600 Miller Valley Rd, Prescott, AZ 86301
The Sk8 Haus: 13839 W Bell Rd, Surprise, AZ 85374
Freedom Boardshop: 1316 S Gilbert Rd, Mesa, AZ 85204
91 West Skatepark: 8550 N 91st Ave, 54, Peoria, AZ 85345
Kind of like the Phoenix skate scene… the shops here seem to operate like little islands unto themselves, with very little (to no) collaboration between them. How rad would it be if they worked together to cross-promote each others’ events, and built a truly cooperative, Phoenix-wide skate scene? Wouldn’t that be killer?
For sure, in a perfect world that would be rad! But we both know this world is far from perfect, and most likely that will never happen. It’s kinda just how the retail game is. However unfortunate, it shouldn’t discourage any one shop from collaborating with other local brands, such as myself, and organizing events to fuel the Phoenix skate scene.
Have any distributors picked you up yet?
Nope, we are currently a 100% self-distributed company and proud of it.
Photos, clockwise from left: Aden Jimenez, 50-50 on a steep chunk of Arizona ‘crete; the product; Roosevelt Row street art
Who’s on the team (if you have one), and why did you pick those guys to represent your product/brand?
No doubt! We have a team called, “The Dead Canary Squad”. Current team members are as follows:
– Dave Murphy @skatealldaydave
– Janthavy Norton @janthavy
– Aden Jimenez @aden.jamba
– Ryan Flitton @pv_savage69
– Erickson Donald @_ed00__
As far as why they are all are on the team- simply put, it’s because they represent what Dead Canary is about, on and off the board. We all vibe together, and we always have each others’ backs. Even more so, I 100% believe in them and their goals. We are way more than just a team over here… isa vibe!
Photos, clockwise from top left: Dave Murphy, bean plant in downtown Phoenix; Roosevelt Row street art; Ryan Flitton, frontside at one of Phoenix’s many concrete oases
What are the goals of The Company? What are your short and long term plans for Dead Canary?
As far as the short term goes, we are working on a promo video featuring full parts from some of the Dead Canary Squad that I would like to finish up by April or May of this year. Also, we want to organize and sponsor as many grassroot, totally FREE skate jams as possible. Long-term, our plan is to go national (and eventually worldwide) with Dead Canary, and get a pro team together as well. But that’s waaaaay in the future; for now, it’s baby steps.
Let’s talk “product” for a minute. Your boards are 100% USA made, right?
Yes, that’s a huge “for sure!” Not only our boards, but everything we make is 100% Made in the USA. Our boards are 7 ply 100% American Maple that are pressed, shaped, cut and finished, all by hand, in San Diego California by one of the leaders in the industry since 1974!
Why did you decide to go that route, versus going with the Mexico or China sourced wood that so many other brands use these days?
I can answer that question very easily, with one word…QUALITY!
But to elaborate: any company can get boards made at some chop shop outta Mexico, China, or even Canada, for hella cheap, and have a high profit margin… but that is not what Dead Canary is about. Since forever, I have always been about “quality over quantity”, no matter what the cost or the product may be.
When it comes to a product (like a skateboard) that is put through more hell, and endures more abuse than any other wooden toy, there is no substitute. And truthfully, if I am going to put my company name on it, well then it better be the best! Furthermore, I am proud to say we are helping to keep American workers working, and I don’t need a passport to pick up my product, or shake hands with the actual people manufacturing our boards. It’s a rad feeling to say the least.
Do you, or would you, sell direct-to-consumer (DTC)? If so, do you have an MSRP pricing structure in place to protect the retailers?
Yes, I sell direct to consumer on my website. But that it is not where I focus my attention, nor is it where the bulk of my sales come from.
That’s also a huge “for sure” on MSRP, and protecting retailers. My main focus is keeping the money in the local skate-shops pockets by offering them a premium quality product, with good margins, that they can sell at an affordable retail price- because let’s face it, they are the driving force not only behind the local skate scene, but skateboarding in general. Without them, skating would not where it is today, and companies like Dead Canary would not exist. I want to do anything I can to ensure they stay open for years to come, so they can continue to stoke out the next generation, and OG skaters everywhere!
Steve, you guys seem to have a really tight program going over there. Did you have any previous business experience before you started Dead Canary? Or, formal business education?
Hey! Well, thank you Bud! But no, I didn’t have any prior business experience or business education. I did graduate high school though, and earned an AA Degree in Fashion Design in college.
Have you advertised in any magazines lately? If so, how and why did you pick those mags…?
Oh, fa sho! We have been advertising with Lowcard Magazine constantly since day one, really. I selected Lowcard simply because they are into, and down with the same shit we are- such as DIY, and the “meet-up/Skate Jams”. Not to mention they’re 100% grassroots, fucking rad, core skateboarding… the type of skate mag I grew up with. Small format, low retail cost, no corporate BS, black and white printing, dope content, along with rad raw photos of street skating!
Where are you focusing the bulk of your promotional efforts these days?
We focus on local events, magazines, social media, DIY events and 100% free skate jams!
How crappy are my questions? Is there anything that I forgot to ask, that you’d like to talk about? Famous last words, perhaps…?
Haha na your all good man and yeah I just want to remind everyone to support your local skate-shop and skater owned companies!
Thanks, Steve. This was a blast to put together.
These fellas can be found on their website at www.deadcanaryskateboards.com; on Instagram @deadcanarydenim; and also on YouTube and Facebook under “Dead Canary Skateboards”.