The Next Initiative: An Open Letter to IASC
By Bud Stratford
Monday, January 22nd, 2018
Having just come off of an ambitious summer tour, I can tell you this with certainty: we are at a key crossroads as an industry. The one thing that I saw this summer, and saw often, was the a clear delineation and the stark contrast between towns and cities that have a prosperous, thriving, engaged, and activist core, brick-and-mortar skate retailer (B&Ms, from here on out), and towns and cities that do not. The places that had one (or more) of these retailers had lots of skaters that collectively formed a cohesive, prosperous, thriving, engaged, and activist skateboard scene. Conversely, the places that did not have a prosperous, thriving, engaged, and activist B&M, did not have much of a skate scene at all. I would describe these places as “Skateboard Armageddon Zones”; that would not be at all inaccurate. It was a bit horrifying, really. And my experiences this summer point the way to a very, very bleak future, if we decide to let current trends continue unabated.
This does not bode well for the future of our industry, nor for our local skateboarding communities. Not well at all. If we reach a critical mass of failed skate retailers nationwide, the results could be absolutely catastrophic. Our beloved pastime could literally die on the vine, right in front of our eyes; by many accounts, this is already well underway. And it could take years, decades perhaps, to rebuild the critical industry infrastructure that is the network of B&Ms. If it ever fully recovers at all.
I personally challenge IASC and their member brands to take up this initiative, and to do so posthaste. To be truly effective, this initiative would have to have five parts. They include:
Acknowledging the B&M Retailer as Irreplaceable, Critical Industry Infrastructure
This is the root of a philosophy. The philosophy being that the B&M Retailer, as the glue that holds local skate scenes together, and actively engages with, supports, and advocates for those skate scenes, plays a role that no other part of our industry is capable of effectively addressing.
The B&M is, quite literally, the front line of our industry’s aims and goals. They are the ones that throw local events. They are the ones that put on local
contests. They are the foot soldiers that organize skaters, and fight local government to build skateparks. They are the ones that look out for the interests of skaters at the grassroots level. Without the B&M, none of this would happen; only a strong, all-inclusive local skateboard club could do any of these things with real effectiveness. Those don’t really exist yet (although they might well come to prominence in the near future, as more B&Ms falter and fail). For all practical intents and purposes, only the B&M is in the position to do any of the above.
Acknowledging the B&M Retailer as Irreplaceable, Critical Industry Infrastructure… even in a simple, publicly accessible press release… would do wonders toward helping the industry, and our consumer base, to focus effectively on this important issue.
Endorsing And Implementing Strong MSRP Pricing Structures
This one has been a long, long time coming. It is garnering greater acceptance across the industry. But until we have a critical mass embracing this premise, and engaging in a practical paradigm, then we will not have real progress on the B&M battlefront.
Sustainable business is the key here. By definition, any business that is not fiscally sustainable will not be sustained. Endorsing and Implementing Strong MSRP [Manufacturers Suggested Retail Pricing] Pricing Structures will go a long, long way toward sustainability.
Self-Policing DTC MSRP Standards
“Direct-To-Consumer” is the big buzzword in the skateboarding business right now. Many brands… both relative newcomers, along with their big legacy brand brothers… are actively engaging in a DTC paradigm. This is a clear, present, and immediate danger to the B&M Retailer, because they are suddenly finding themselves battling the brands on the pricing front.
Brands, be warned: this is probably the #1 complaint that I heard out of shop owners this summer, and they are beyond fucking pissed about it. If you want to sell direct-to-consumer, then fine. But at least subscribe to your own MSRPs while you’re doing it, so that the B&M can stand a fighting chance of surviving.
Promoting Livable Retail Margins
Let’s face facts: skate shops don’t make money. Hardgoods are loss leaders. Shoes and footwear are spread so thick over the landscape that shoe brands look like the sluts of the skate industry. Distribution is not only overly redundant, it’s damn near duplicitous. We’ve already discussed DTC, and its impact on shops. We probably have a bad case of oversupply and underdemand on our hands, exacerbating the toxic stew of unsustainability. And then, the few sales that are left to be gleaned out of all this chaos in the marketplace make worse-than-shit margins for the retailers.
This is another chink in the armor of the skate shop paradigm. Without money to reinvest in grassroots marketing and promotion efforts, how are we supposed to reinvest in grassroots marketing and promotion efforts? You tell me, because I don’t have the first fucking clue.
Skateshop Exclusive Product
Of all the topics I’ve addressed in this essay, this one might well be the most immediate, and the most effective, thing we could ever do as an industry. The snowboard industry showed us the way forward eons ago; I’m quite amazed that the skate industry didn’t pay closer attention to this one.
It’s really pretty simple, in principle. Some products can be found for sale on the mass market, and some can’t. Some products are earmarked specifically for the core retailer, and simply cannot be found anywhere else. In the snowboard world, these tend to be the premium-priced and/or most sought-after products; the “logo-branded, pricepoint” products are the ones that can be found anywhere and everywhere, including the core retailer.
The premium products are the margin and foot traffic generators. They drive business to the core retailer, and get the consumers spending their money on the coolest, hottest shit. But while the customer is there buying that special-release, high-technology, pro-model deck that is only available at the core, brick-and-mortar retailer, the core retailer has a unique opportunity to upsell them their favorite bindings, boots, jackets, pants, beanies, and gloves along the way.
That architected opportunity… yes, these are opportunities created by intentional design, crafted by the snowboard industry… also allows the core retailer to engage with that snowboarder on a much more human level, and bring them into the broader snowboard community. They get the chance to make positive human connections, increase active participation, spread the stoke, and enrich the experience along the way. In doing so, they also become the front lines of consumer engagement and encouragement. Business is business, it’s true. But you still can’t put a price on genuine enthusiasm.
Snowboard companies recognize the value in that. And that’s why they earmark the upper-left-hand-corner of their product envelopes specifically for the core, brick-and-mortar retailer, and the core, brick-and-mortar retailer only. Because they recognize the immensely valuable contribution that the B&M makes toward the snowboard industry, the snowboard culture, and the snowboard community as a whole.
Here at Everything Skateboarding, we are not afraid to lead. Somebody has to do it. Somebody has to recognize what’s going on, and where these things are gonna get us. Somebody has to see the handwriting on the wall, and do something to steer the dialogue in a meaningful way. That being said, we encourage IASC (along with BRA) to step up to the plate; engage with manufacturers, brands, marketers, promoters, distributors, retailers, and the buying public; and do something tangible to move the ball forward, and make these things happen. There is not a single moment to lose. Every day we wait, we lose another core retailer to the market mayhem. The future of our pastime is hanging in the balance, just waiting on somebody, somewhere, to take swift and decisive action.
We’re here to ask, and ask in all sincerity: when is this madness going to stop? Where and when will we draw the line in the sand? And when are we going to find the fortitude and the resolve, as an industry, to do something about it…?
IASC, you are in the best position to take up this fight. I sincerely hope that you choose to do it sooner than later. Best regards, as always-