Let’s Talk Shop:
Seven Things Every Shop Should Be Doing Right Now (But Aren’t)
By Bud Stratford
Monday, February 19th, 2018
As I mentioned in my “Through The Eyes Of A Traveling Skater” article (printed in the January issue; you can see it here), I spent the better part of 2017 on tour scoping out skate shops all over the southwest. I spent a lot of my summer being un-pleasantly surprised at how disappointed I was in the core, brick-and-mortar skate shop.
If you ask the brick-and-mortar what the biggest threat is to their business, they’ll be really quick to point out a whole smorgasbord of external threats. I know this, and I know this well; I spent the entirety of last summer doing exactly that.
The answers were predictable enough: Amazon. The Internet. Crap-ass profit margins. Severely broken (and ancient) distribution channels that spread a thick oversupply of product everywhere. Small brands (and big brands) utilizing Direct-To-Consumer strategies. A lack of BRA and IASC initiative or support. The list goes on and on. But the one thing that I almost never hear from shops, is how they might be to blame for their own failures, or how they may be a very real threat to themselves.
The things that struck me the most this past summer, were the things that I didn’t experience out on the road. The things that were clearly missing; those were the things that I remember the most. Below, every shop in the country will find a quick-hit list of what was lacking on my Summer Tour 2017.
I’m publishing this piece as an open challenge to retailers everywhere: Fix This Shit. Help make my Summer Camper Tour 2018 far better than the 2017 version was.
The most startling part of this list, is how little it’s going to cost the skate shops, in terms of dollars spent, to fix these things. Most of the stuff on this list can be fixed, immediately, for free (or, at the very worst, “almost immediately, for nearly free”). They require nothing more than a caring disposition… caring for the customer is always Job One, after all… a little bit of initiative, some creative thinking, and the uncompromised, concrete resolve to make some long-overdue improvements and adjustments in how they conduct their business.
Here they are, the Top Seven Things on my 2018 Tour wish list:
Answering The Phone Correctly
I’m surprised that I even have to bring this one up. It’s such a common-sense sort of thing, you’d think that every skate shop in the world would get it right, one-hundred percent of the time.
Shops: there is only one commonly accepted, correct way for any business to answer the phone. That commonly accepted, correct way, is this: with a friendly, enthusiastic, and engaging, “Hello! Thanks for calling Bud’s Skate Shop! This is Bud, how may I help you today?!”
Any other imaginable way of answering the telephone is just plain wrong. I’m sorry. It’s the truth. And everyone (except for most skate shops) knows it.
You’ll think I’m full of shit, but I swear to God I’m not. More than ninety percent of the shops I called last year, answered the goddamned telephone with a droll, unenthusiastic, bland, and uninspiring, “Buuuuud’s”. That’s it. One word. No enthusiasm. And no engagement.
That’s so damned pathetic, it hurts. Shops: fix this one first, and fix it today. It’ll cost you nothing. But it makes all the difference in the world when you’re making that critical first impression to a would-be customer.
Engaging, Empowering, Encouraging, All-Inclusive Customer Service
Every single person that walks through your door is a potential customer. Many of them are skaters. Even if they don’t look like one.
There was a time when you could spot a skater a mile away. The way they dressed, the way they talked, their age… skaters were a very distinctive breed twenty years ago. Mostly teenage, white, male suburbanites in oversized clothing: that was a skater. Or, at the very least, the “most likely to be a skater” demographic.
Today, those rules are no more. Skateboarding has gotten so big, and so diverse, that even that clueless, 40-something truck driver standing in the corner of your shop just might be a skater. And for a good many skate shops in the southwest last year, he was. Because that clueless, 40-something truck driver just happened to be me.
I know from experience that as soon as I walk into a skate shop, and introduce myself as “Bud Stratford, Executive Director of This or That Magazine”, that the red carpets will almost immediately begin rolling out, and somebody is going to start kissing my ass. But that’s not the experience that I’m going for here. What I really want to experience, is how skate shops really treat their customers, or their potential customers. So, I don’t go in as “Bud Stratford, Mr. Important Somebody”. Nope. I go in as Joe Nobody, the clueless, truck driving dad.
Again, I spent the summer being consistently disappointed on this front. So did my ex-girlfriend, the 44-year-old single mom. Once she actually found a shop that treated her respectfully, and treated her kindly, she happily dropped $350 on two completes, no questions asked. Turns out, she was a skater at heart the whole time. All she needed was a shop that made her feel like one, and that would help her buy the perfect setup(s) for her skating desires, wants, and needs. But it only took twenty shops’ worth of window shopping to find that one shop that would actually stand up, stand tall, buck the trends, and treat her like a valued human being.
Shops: it’s impossible to tell anymore who is a skater, and who isn’t. So, stop judging people based on their age, gender, color, or socioeconomics. Treat everyone that walks into your door as if they were a skater. Because chances are, if they’re coming into your shop at all, then they’re (at the very least) a skater at heart. And that means a potential customer. And a potential customer is money in the bank.
“Cool Guy” vibing your customers, on the other hand, is a fast-track straight to bankruptcy. Never, ever forget that.
Cultivating A Real Skateboard Community (Not Just A Virtual One)
I heard a lot this year about social media. Many shops are very impressed with their social media skills. Me? Meh. Not so much. After all, I’m a living, breathing, thinking, feeling human being, standing in the heart of your skate shop. I’m not a computer with a brain the size of a microchip. I’m not particularly impressed by your virtual, digital “community”. The only thing that impresses me when I’m out on the road, is your living, breathing, thinking, and feeling, real-life skate community.
I didn’t see too many of those communities on the road last year. Lots of virtual reality. But startling little reality-reality.
So, how do you build one? By bringing people together. Hopefully, to skate. All of them.
More All-Inclusive, Grassroots Skate Events, and Fewer Contests (Please!)
I hate contests. I refuse to go to them anymore. Even when I go to one, I hardly watch it. I’d rather hang out and talk to people, maybe even do a little skating myself before or after the contest. But as for contests, themselves? I’m kinda over ’em.
Again: this notion of having a “skate event” where maybe a few hundred kids show up… and out of them, maybe a hundred actually enter the contest… and of those, maybe ten or twenty are crowned “winners”, and the rest of the field becomes a bunch of “losers”, by default definition… it’s just fucking stupid. It’s an insane way of “growing the sport”, isn’t it? To make 90% of the event attendees losers throughout the course of the event?
Why can’t we try making 100% of the attendees happy winners for a change…? Might that work out just a little better for us, and our industry, long term? Might that be a slightly smarter avenue toward “growing the sport” in a meaningful way?
Why don’t we try having all the best parts of the contest scene… the hanging out, the chatting, the socializing, and the skateboarding… without the drag of the actual contest? Why don’t we try to have more non-competitive, all-inclusive, all-inviting, all-skateboarding skateboard events?
If you’re shop isn’t doing these sorts of events, and doing one every week… whether it’s a bar-b-que, a shop demo, or just a meet-up-and-skate session at the local skatepark… then you’re just blowing it. Seriously. Blowing. It.
The Community Corkboard/The Events Newsletter
Every skate shop should have a “community corkboard” somewhere in the shop, where skaters can post up their event flyers, business cards, contact info, wanted/for sale tidbits, et cetera. If your local grocery store can do it… and you’d be hard pressed to find any grocery store in this country that doesn’t… then so can your skate shop.
Your shop simply cannot claim “community” until I see some tangible evidence in your shop of a bona-fide skateboard community. A Community Corkboard would be the best place to start building the community that I seek.
Network With “The Enemy”, Also Known As “Other Shops”
While I’m at it: your shop should be working with your friendly, brick-and-mortar competitors to promote each others’ skate events. Those events should also be up on your community corkboard at all times. I know, I know: that shop across town is “The Competition”. And that means they’re the enemy. I get it.
But guess what, brilliance? We have far bigger enemies to fry these days. The Internet. Amazon. Craigslist. Direct To Consumer. Let’s all realize that the best way to stabilize our retail infrastructure, and promote the whole idea of a brick-and-mortar led skateboard community, is for those brick-and-mortars to form a real retail community amongst themselves. And promote themselves in the process to the end consumer.
As Michael Brooke once relayed to me, “The enemy of my ememy is my friend”. Make that skate shop across town your friend (and partner) today.
There’s also an essay floating around this very website about some silly, Free-To-Join Skateshop Union idea. Maybe you should give that one a quick read, while we’re on the topic.
The Skatepark List/Skatepark Map
Again: you cannot claim “community” if you are lacking either of these things. Yes, I could go online to Concrete Disciples, and do a skatepark search. I could do the same on Google. But hey, guess what? They don’t always know everything. They don’t always have the latest updates, or the most recent data. I know this pretty well, because I work for The Disciples, doing exactly that: traveling around, and sending Jeff skatepark updates.
But here’s the rub: your shop sure as hell should. Your shop is, after all, the local expert and the local authority on your local skate community. That’s why you exist, right? Well. Until you have a skatepark map hanging in your shop, and a skatepark list sitting on your countertop, and a keen awareness of where every single skatepark is within a 30- to -50 mile radius of your skate shop, then I’m just not going to believe that you’re the local expert or the local authority on anything.
Look, man. Everything Skateboarding is a steadfast supporter of the brick-and-mortar skateshop paradigm. I’m serious about that, and I fucking mean it. However, I also believe that the skate shops themselves have to take their jobs as the anchors of their local communities, and their local skate scenes, as seriously as I do. If they don’t, then why would I bother shopping at one? Why would I bother going through the front door in the first place?
Before all else, I go to a local skate shop to immerse myself in the local skate community; that’s how I judge them. If there is no evidence of an empowered, engaged, inspired, local skate community anywhere in the shop, then I might as well shop online at a virtual skate shop.
That’s the risk. That’s what the rest of your customers are doing when you fail them, too.
Thanks for reading all these words and ideas. Now, please, make them a reality.