Editorial: The Skateboard Industry

Industries are comprised of the individuals businesses within the supply chain - manufacturers, distributors, retailers, media, brands, etc.

For decades, the skateboard industry (much like other industries) operated like a well oiled machine with very little disruption (pre-internet). The companies at the top, stayed relatively at the top with minor shifts and changes here and there. The last big disruption came with Steve Rocco and all the chaos that ensued via World Industries (late 80’s/early 90’s). Outside of that, the industry maintained a relative status quo which consisted of...

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Skate Teams - skate companies have always pulled together teams to represent their brands. These teams were/are sent to perform demos/autograph signings at supporting retailers across the US and abroad, all with the intent of selling professionally endorsed products to aspiring skaters across the globe. Individual pros needed the brands to get them coverage in the media and the brands needed the pros to be in the ads wearing their goods.

The Media (aka skate mags) were there to capture it all and served as the sole source of what was happening in the industry and culture at large. New styles, tricks, music, scenes, brands, pros, gossip, etc were all covered monthly. Anxious skaters checked the mailbox/newsstand like clockwork, waiting to see what was new for the month. The skate companies and the skate media worked hand in hand, covering demos, tours, video releases and so on. Eventually this came to include video media as well. Skate brands supplied the advertising dollars to keep the mags running.

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Trades Shows existed as a central place to pull together the industry under one roof typically twice a year. This was a place where retailers, brands, pros, manufacturers, media and those on the peripheral were all able to congregate in person to talk shop, place orders, meet & greet and conduct business at large. The primary goal however was for retailers to place seasonal orders from the brands in advance (and at a discount), so they knew how much inventory to produce for a season.

Distributors were pivotal in the growth of the industry and their support cannot be understated. They would purchase bulk inventory from brands at a discount with the intent of supporting sales and shipping on behalf of the skateboard companies, thus helping increase the overall footprint of brands. This also includes international distributors.

Retailers (aka Skate shops) were at the forefront of it all. The skate shop was (is) sacred ground; the right of passage for any skateboarder was being accepted at their local shop. It was the place where you had to go to buy your gear, period, end of story (unless you were fortunate enough to live on the coast where pros sold gear out of their trunk). The brands that the shop chose to sell dictated what was cool and acceptable at any given moment.

Skate Shoe Brands, which were really a phenomenon of the mid 90’s and 2000’s (with the exception of Vans, Etnies and Airwalk) grew in size and power and were able for the first time to provide very comfortable livings for the pros and definitely helped keep the advertising dollars flowing to the skate mags. The rule of thumb was that if you had a pro shoe deal you were essentially set financially. That still holds true, but the big checks are now coming from non-skate (a.ka. non-endemic) brands Adidas, New Balance, Converse, Nike.

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U.S. Manufacturers have always been important to the overall industry. For decades US brands were manufactured in the US. Due to cheap overseas labor and materials cost most manufacturing left the U.S. taking the jobs with it. This included everything from screen printing to hard goods manufacturing, etc.

Contests - The biggest change is the transition from homegrown events (ie Venice street jams) to mega, super produced, heavily sponsored, televised events (ie X Games, Street League, Olympics?).

Massive changes over past few years have brought about:

  • Skate shops closing their doors en masse brought on by the pressures of online sales and by the growth of mall chains (ie Tilly’s, Zumiez, PacSun). Which ultimately leads to less of a need for trade shows.
  • The media is all but gone with the exception of Thrasher as Transworld shut down in March of 2019.
  • With the decline in retail sales, Distributors for the most part are all gone and definitely showing signs of slowing down.
  • Trade shows are dwindling. Agenda (the main show for skate) is all but dead and other shows are showing a steep decline in attendance year over year by both retailers and brands. Plus with the internet styles are changing rapidly and stores are unwilling to place orders 6-8 months in advance.
  • Skate shoe brands are all but gone, squeezed out by much larger publicly traded brands such as NB, Adidas, Nike, Converse, and DC (Quicksilver)
  • Manufacturing in the US is at an all time low (for all industries).

All of this brings us to the natural question of is this good or bad? Maybe it’s not either. I’d venture to say it’s more sad but not bad. Skateboarders have always been resilient creatures. In the past when the industry was down skateboarders kept on skating and when the industry was up, skateboarders kept on skating. The point being, that although it’s nice to be able to make a living or to even become wealthy off of skateboarding, it’s not essential to skateboarding, and therefore has nothing to do with skateboarding. Same goes for all the arts. It’s great to be a well known painter or musician, but painting and music are not reliant on income. However, being a viable investment bank or a fortune 100 Oil & Gas company is reliant on income. There in-lies the difference; one exists for profit, one exists for fun.

What’s great about skateboarding is that it’s never been about the industry, it’s always been about the culture - making friends, finding spots and pushing the boundaries.

Ultimately what the internet has done has democratized the industry. It’s no longer a top down issue where the biggest companies dictate the rules. The power is now in the palm of every individual skateboarders hand. You get to choose what’s rad with every follow, like, view and purchase. Dare I say, you are now the industry?

The days of old have come and gone and we’re not holding on to the past. Our goal at Artform is to keep you looking fresh as we all roll into the future.

 

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