How do skate shops support their scenes?
Last June I was flown out to New York with four of Vans Europe’s main core retailers for the wear test of AVE’s new shoe. The idea was of course to skate around in the shoe but also to chat about what constitutes a ‘core’ shop and why some of them devote so much time and energy to stuff that isn’t directly selling skateboard products. Joining me to melt around the city for a few days were Yaw Kyeremeh from Stuttgart’s Arrow and Beast, Ricardo from Barcelona’s Rufus, Matt Warder from London’s Slam City Skates and Benny Komala from Amsterdam’s Ben-G. What I discovered was four very different approaches to supporting the scene, sometimes influenced by factors I wouldn’t have considered before having these conversations about how and why they ‘give back’.
Ricardo Dani – Rufus
When and where did the shop open?
It was in 2009 and at MACBA, just 200 metres from where we are now. We turned ten in April and plan on celebrating our anniversary in September with a party inside the museum. Since we’ve opened the concept has always remained exactly the same: support the square and its locals.
And how do you go about this? Has your approach changed at all over the last ten years?
For me Barcelona is the best city in Europe for skateboarding but the problem we’re facing is that is that it’s getting really dirty… People that visit trash the place and ruin it for the people that live in the city. These days one of our main focuses is the cohabitation between the skaters and the other users of the space, particularly the local residents. We work directly with the museum and the council to try and change the way people treat the space with flyers, banners, etc. instructing people not to leave their empty cans lying around, not to piss in corners of the plaza…
Yeah… and the city is really tired of all this. Imagine two hundred, three hundred skaters using the space every day? If we want it to last another ten years we’re going to have to change people’s mentalities.
And we’re all not alone: Julio from FTC is on the same page and we have meetings with him about all this stuff., because it’s all of our duties to help our community.
Skaters hate rules, we all do, we want to skate wherever we want and do whatever we want but we need to be respectful of our neighbours or this very special place we have won’t be around for much longer. We’ve been instructing people to stop skating the plaza at 10pm (which isn’t too hard really), to walk down Joachim Costa (road behind MACBA) in the evenings rather than charge down it… That sort of thing. Because people actually live here, sleep here and have to get up for work here.
And is it working?
It’s starting to… People have sprayed some of the ‘rules’ on the floor, it feels like things are changing a bit…
There’s more skaters in Barcelona than any other city in Europe, which is of course great for business, but it also means that our responsibility is greater; we need to support more and be properly invested in the life of the plaza.
Because for you guys to exist you need people skating the plaza!
Another thing I wanted to discuss with you guys is hooking up kids with boards… For you guys to do that in a way that’s proportionate to the size of the scene must be tough.
Yeah I mean when we started we had Titi, Tuukka, etc. The team kind of changes because some people leave Barcelona or find it harder to make time for skating, which allows us to help new people, but anyone we’ve helped in the past always remains part of the family and we’ll always be happy to help them.
How many boards do you give out on average a month?
We have 15 people and they get two boards each so 30 boards a month. Imagine over 10 years ha ha…
So you’ve given out about 3,600 boards since you’ve opened ha ha.
Yeah and then ten boards a month in Milan ha ha; we’ve just opened another shop there.
That’s a lot of potential board sales you didn’t make…
Yeah but as I said given the size of the scene that’s the scale of the support we need to show. What’s the point of having ten people on the team who already get everything for free from brands direct? Where’s the actual support there? And it’s not just boards, it’s clothing, trucks, etc.
And is your approach the same with the Milan shop?
Yeah absolutely. Just support the scene, the kids that skate the train station, organise shoe launches, events, parties, etc. Milan was in desperate need of a core shop that was willing to do all this… It just made sense! It’s such an incredible city for skating even outside of the plaza too, every day there’s new spots popping up…
Yaw Kyeremeh – Arrow and Beast
You guys have always produced a lot of solid video content, can you tell me little bit about that? Is that just pure marketing or are there other reasons for doing this?
That in part comes from the fact that we share an office with the guys from Beast distribution which is great for chatting and coming up with ideas for that stuff… Then we’re lucky to have great filmers who want to be involved in what we do, like Kamil Krzesniak or Torstan Frank (usually when it comes to stuff relating to adidas riders, which we have quite a few of)… Also on top of everything we do at home, a little while back we started doing these annual tours… At first we didn’t really know what to expect, it was sort of just a holiday for the crew but it turned out to produce a really good clip every time. Then friends like Rodrigo TX or Benny Fairfax started joining and it evolved into something we focus on more and more…
As you said we do all this to create content, send to it mags, get visibility, show we’re active etc but there’s other reasons as well. An obvious one is that we simply enjoy it. We started out as friends and when you work together you don’t necessarily get to hang out in the way you’d like to or as much as you’d want.
There’s more to it though… Showing kids their city being skated is super important and having guys from their city they can look up to is super important. And being from a small city like Stuttgart makes this extra important. It’s not LA, London or Berlin, growing up skating here can give people the feeling that there’s a ceiling. That’s why it’s essential for kids to have that platform so they can be like ‘this is what I could grow into’. We need to show them that it’s possible to one day ride for the team or be associated with the team and that that can lead to more… Like Paddy (Patrick Zentgraf): he grew up close to Stuttgart, lived there for a long time, has been on the team forever and is now travelling all over the world for skating. We want kids to aspire to this, to think that skating for the team could help them get visibility and who knows one day catch the attention of someone like Primitive or something. Basically for skateshops to serve the needs of the locals they kind of need to make them a part of the business, make them a part of selling the products.
Obviously doing all this stuff is super expensive… Do you feel like doing it actually has an impact on sales?
Definitely. Like some of the skaters we have a relationship with, that have been on trips with us or spend time in the city, their products sell way better than other pros. We sold a lot of Benny Fairfax boards after he came on tour with us because that association existed, same with Rodrigo boards and shoes.
It works both ways though. For instance when we went to Barcelona we didn’t just skate the city without connecting with anyone: we spent time with the FTC dudes and even ended up working on an FTC x Arrow and Beast collab.
You mentioned the distribution earlier. I guess working with them on bringing big teams to Stuttgart also plays a role in all this…
That’s another important point yes. Skateshops need to be established to the point where they put their city on the map when big skate teams go on tour. For example the next Thrasher has an article about the FA tour and the comments they’ve made about Stuttgart are super flattering. Lucas had a lot of his part in Away Days filmed there… The Wayward Wheels team came, Primitive, Thrasher on their Thrash and Burn trip… And it’s a small town and without the business side of it, without a shop that can sell their products, visiting wouldn’t have direct benefits for these brands. That’s why the distribution companies help pay for some stuff on the trips… I don’t know if all these teams would come without this. If the shop in Stuttgart doesn’t sell Spitfire, why would the distributor send the team there?
Another aspect of all this is that every city has their own vibe. Coming from Ghana, I moved to Germany when I was 7 and getting to know different cultures through skateboarding has had a huge impact on how I live and how I see the world. Skate shops are a huge part of this, you need to be able to walk into a skate shop with your board and be reminded that we’re all one big family. When I went to Osaka I went to Supreme because it’s the only shop I knew, and because I had my board and they could tell that I just wanted to skate they took care of me. If you just want to have some beers and skate, you’ll be welcome everywhere and we want to make sure we provide that for Stuttgart in a way that reflects the city’s vibe. We want to enable skaters to get a feel for where we’re based without them having to pull up trip adviser or yelp basically. When I get to a city I always go to the skate shop to ask where to eat, not to eat etc and I know they’ll know someone at the bar, at the hostel…
Matt Warder – Slam City Skates
It seems like recently for Slam the focus has been on putting out longform content like interviews with Jake Harris or Long Live South Bank, rather than events or team stuff. Why this route and how does this sort of thing also contribute to keeping the scene strong?
We’re lucky enough to be in a position where we have all these contacts and have access to all these people… It would be silly not to use that to our benefit. There’s not many shops that would be able to talk to people at say Palace for instance… We just want to create content that’s ours, so we stand out from other shops.
And yeah I do think doing an interview with say Jake Harris does contribute to the scene in it’s own way… Interviews like his are the sort of thing that inspire kids to get out there and push themselves creatively and I’m sure Jake read interviews with filmers or skaters growing up that had that effect on him too.
Also doing stuff for the scene isn’t quite as straightforward as organising an event and giving out free stuff anymore, particularly for a huge scene like London. London’s like ten different scenes, not one. This past Go Skateboarding Day was the first time we did something like this in a little while and it went down really well, over 300 people came down, we had tons of product to give out and it was a great way to bring people together… But the reality of skating in London is that everyone is friends with someone who’s sponsored or works for a brand so getting free stuff isn’t a thing in the way that it was when I grew up skating. The days when you’d get given a pair of shoes two sizes two big and be stoked are long gone… People don’t really care that much in London anymore. This is probably going to sound quite harsh but a lot of skaters in London are quite ungrateful because everything is just handed to them on a plate. Go two hours outside of the city and people are still stoked to receive a sheet of Grizzly Grip. So it’s hard, we’re still a relatively small independent business in the grand scheme of things and everyone expects so much from a skateshop…
With all this in mind, how have you guys approached ‘supporting the scene’ then?
I’m quite involved in coming up with ideas for the Slam product and one thing I’ve been trying to do is involve people within the skate scene. Jeremy Jones for instance has done a lot of our new t-shirt graphics. We’re also doing a couple of guest boards again featuring the work of artists who are active in the scene, one is by Leo McDonald, the other is Rich De Courcy. Skate shops are in a unique position and being able to offer a platform for guys like Rich or Leo, enabling them to get their work out there is great way for us to show support. And then you can host launch events around that stuff… Like we’re going to have an in house exhibition with their work when the boards drops. Everyone’s always hyped to see their mates’ work on a board… It makes what we do relatable and ties it all together.
That’s the sort of thing I want to be doing: using the fact that we’re so well known to help people get their work out there. We want to do stuff with some photographers soon… And hopefully it’ll become a regular thing!
Benny Komala – Ben G
Can you tell me a little bit about the regular BYOB sessions you guys organise?
I don’t remember exactly when this started… Maybe five years ago? But basically it was at a time when there was no indoor park in Amsterdam, not really anything going on so me and Peter from Pop decided to do something at Olympia… Olympia is a skatepark but nobody really skates the skatepark, people skate the flatground right next to it and this flatbar we put there. Anyway so we got the opportunity to build a fews obstacles there with some help from Converse and Peter spoke to the person in charge of the space who agreed to let us keep the obstacles behind this fence and bring them out every Wednesday… And yeah that’s it: it turned into our regular BYOB session basically.
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Amsterdam definitely feels (from the outside) like one of those scenes where there’s always been loads of skaters but until relatively recently not so much ‘organised’ stuff happening.
Yeah definitely. I moved there when I was like 18, so in like ’96 or ’97 I think and you had the museum ramps where everyone would always meet. Obviously there was no cellphones or anything back then so you’d just go to this metal mini and vert to link people and then take it from there. But more recently everyone had just been scattered throughout the city since every neighbourhood has it’s own shitty skatepark, so we decided to use Olympia to every now and then bring everyone together. It’s just an easy nice thing to do…
What about the new indoor skatepark? You’re involved in that right?
Yeah… And that’s a bit more work ha ha. Skatepark NOORD is owned by Wieger, Me, Micheal Groenwegen (who built the obstacles at République and this skatepark) and Eelco Koning.
No way?! Didn’t realise it was privately owned? Talk about doing something for the scene ha ha…
Yeah, we got some money to build it but now we’re on our own and the rent is crazy high so it’s a bit tricky. Especially in summer when it’s super good weather and we still have to pay all the staff and stuff… But whatever, it’s something that had to happen, there hadn’t been an indoor skatepark in Amsterdam for like seven years or something and we get the same winters as London you know? It’ll probably never make money but fuck it it’s not about that.
It must be tough balancing the shop and that, especially since the others are probably pretty busy too.
Yeah but luckily we’ve got a really good bar manager.
Yeah there’s a bar in there and I guess bar manager is his official title but he basically runs the whole thing, we couldn’t do it without him.
A skatepark run by the bar manager ha ha, love it. Cheers Benny!
Despite each having their own approach, let’s keep in mind that these are four of the most established shops in Europe; there’s hundreds of other (often much smaller) Skater Owned Shops, all working just as hard to support their communities and for who doing so might look very different. We all know that the core shops are an integral part of skateboarding’s ecosystem; let’s make sure we do our bit too.