Our November issue delves deep into the archives of Sector 9, a company founded by four twenty somethings out of a backyard in Southern California. Nearly 18 years later, the crew continues to immerse themselves in the every day lifestyle that drove them to found the skateboard brand and continues to build on the heritage it has created in its warehouse headquarters just outside of downtown San Diego.
TransWorld Business stopped by to get the grand tour and chat with founders Steve Lake, EG Fratantaro, Dennis Telfer, and Dave Klimkiewicz. Sit back as they take you for a stroll down memory lane, depicting exactly how they went from a small, grassroots start-up back in the early 90s, to helping longboards become one of the most successful categories in the action sports market today. From its early marketing tactics to its acquisition by Billabong, get the Sector 9 story right here.
How did Sector 9 get its start?
Lake: It started in the backyard—in Denis’ backyard— until we got evicted.
Telfer: [There was] a dispute over a payment, he didn’t really want us to leave. In the end he wanted us to stay.
EG: Dennis’ house was the epicenter, right around North Bird Rock. [There was] a mini ramp, ping pong, pool table, the bigggest beer recycling center. It had a shaping bay, and five or six guys living there on La Jolla Boulevard, two houses off from where the businesses end. The house still looks the same.
Telfer: I had a snowboard skateboard that I got from a guy. It was an old Sims snowboard, about four feet. It had the nose cut off and had a big crazy kicktail on it, and big wheels. It rode really well— super fun. And it got stolen one day.
Lake: While he was riding that board, we [Lake and Klimkiewicz] were out riding the hills in La Jolla on our regular boards that we would ride on the mini ramp – pretty much nightly – it was a pretty big crew of us and this guy was riding his snowboard which was pretty much like butter on the pavement.
Telfer: So that got stolen and my roommate had an old board he made in wood shop in 7th or 8th grade. I used that as inspiration to make a board from scraps I had laying around, leftover from the mini ramp. I cut those up with the shaping tools and glassed them. Had enough for two— someone wanted to buy the other one and that was it.
Lake: It was pretty apparent when you see someone riding in the neighborhood, no one was going as fast on their tiny wheels, so when we’d ride by super fast it was kind of a head turner back then, you see that more now days but not back then.Whenever you go anywhere riding one everyone would always ask where you got it and where they could get one.
Telfer: I was over his house one night after that drinking beers and shooting pool, and tossed the idea around and it was a handshake over a beer and pool. And here we are. Who would of thought?
Lake: We started making them in the backyard for people and charging $25 a piece. We started making them for friends, then friends’ friends and then friends’ friends’ friends and it just started snowballing and before we knew it, we were in my garage making ten or twenty boards at a time, which with our archaic tools back then that was a pretty big feat. At the time, we were still in college doing this most of the time, and then graduating college and trying to figure out what the next step is. Next thing we we are sneaking into the ASR trade show and making some fake business cards, seeing what everyone else is doing and no one was doing anything similar to what we were doing. We decided to make a go of it. Dennis and I talked to my parents to see if they would loan us $10,000, because we thought that was a ton of money to help us start this company. They told us, “Give us a business plan,” so we had to go back – this was pre-computer – so we literally wrote up a busines plan with a typewriter and submitted it to my parents, who grilled us for what felt like an eternity, and eventually agreed to loan us $10,000. We set our sites on next ASR tradeshow and made maybe a dozen samples, with taped off pin striping on skateboards.
We went to our first trade show and by the time we got there we were $2,000 in the hole and out of money. We talked to some guy who wanted to buy 100 boards and pre-paid the order. We took that money, left the trade show, and went and bought the materials to make a couple hundred boards. We took that money and funded the production and shipped all the orders out to everyone COD and that was the seed money that started Sector 9. We moved into a little 1000-square-foot warehouse shortly there after.
EG: There are so many little parts. It would be a thousand page book. We really started not knowing anything. It wasn’t like Steve worked at DC shoes, or Dennis worked at TransWorld, or I worked for anyone, we just kinda learned it as we went along.
Telfer: I worked at Sports Chalet, dude. [Laughs]
EG: I worked at Trader Joes and Steve worked at Chiles. We took our own personal money and invested it in it too, besides the $10,000 that was invested. I specifically remember going to get some Kryptonic wheels with Steve and it was $200. I was like, “Okay I’m pretty much broke until the next paycheck now.” And those wheels went on like eight boards and then we were out of money again. When you look back on it, it’s pretty humbling. I remember walking into shops and them being like “Can we get net 30?” to me. I didn’t even know what net 30 was, dude. It’s crazy, it was pre-internet. Everything was hand written.