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The Top Three Lessons Learned at IASC Skate Summit 2016

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Skate Summit 2016 brings industry together to talk retail landscape, participation, the Olympics, and what’s next

IASC hosted its annual Skate Summit this year in Orange County, California, gathering a group of industry execs to discuss what’s next. The discussion ranged from an aging skateboarding population, to skateboarding’s inclusion in future Olympic Games. One constant theme was how to increase participation, specifically with youth, as many retailers openly admitted they have seen a decline in young skaters at their shops.

Over the two-day event, TransWorld Business and IASC unveiled the State Of Skate 2016, an in-depth compilation of data from a series of retailer and manufacturer surveys, as well as a targeted consumer survey taken by TransWorld SKATE’s audience. A panel lead by Women’s Skateboard Alliance (WSA) Founders Kim Woozy, YuLin Oliver, Lisa Whitaker, and Mimi Knoop took the stage to discuss how to get more women involved in the sport, and a retailer roundtable with Colorado’s 303 Boardshop, South Carolina’s BlueTile, and Active Ride Shop addressed changing retail dynamics.  With that, we’d like to take a minute and present a few key takeaways we gleaned last week as the skate industry converged on Anaheim.

Skate Summit 2016
Jamie Thomas, Fallen founder, discusses the rise and fall of the brand, and how planning for “a rainy day” could have helped the brand’s longevity once the 2008 economic downturn hit.
  1. “Get comfortable with being uncomfortable”Key note speaker Amy Jo Martinsuecwwcdvwbzbwtdexszswuva brought this up in her talk on day two, as she discussed the ways we as an industry can innovate and think outside the box. It’s not uncommon for most companies to experience “Innovation Allergies,” and certainly skateboarding has had its fair share of those over the years. Martin suggested that industries begin humanizing brands by taking on social media with its employees individual voices instead of trying to separate our personal handles from our professional brands. This goes against what most people have been taught—as was reflected by the majority of industry members in the room, who raised their hands when asked “how many of you separate your personal lives and your professional lives when it comes to social media?” This point was also vividly illustrated by a candid Jamie Thomas during the “The Long View: Comparing Today’s Marketplace with Trends of the Past” panel discussion. The founder of now defunct footwear brand Fallen broke down the rise and fall of the brand. Ultimately, Thomas and his staff  were riding the wave of success in the late 90s and early 2000’s, having hit a comfort zone, only to be faced with upheaval once sales started to plummet aggressively after the 2008 economic melt down. “The landscape was changing vastly with athletic footwear brands entering the scene,” Thomas explains. “We were having a hard time reinventing ourselves and filling a void.” For those brands who are in the “middle” in terms of market position, Thomas encouraged them that: “This is it; this is the time to reinvent yourself.” In fact, in the current landscape, brands won’t have a choice but to go outside their comfort zone and differentiate in order to stay alive and relevant.

    Skate Summit 2016
    303 Boardshop Owner Sam Schuman breaks down the power of product segmentation for specialty stores.
  2. What’s different is what’s selling”303 Boardshop’s Sam Schuman perhaps put it the most succinctly: “There’s no way to tell a story to a customer unless you have something different,” he said during the retail panel. “Give shops a different colorway or style that’s no where else, not even online.” This is a message that we’ve all heard before, but now more than ever, retailers seemed to be opening up and expressing the real challenges faced in an ever-changing economy that’s being constantly sped up by the global nature of social media. The topic of exclusive product for specialty shops was framed up in several discussions across the event. Hand in hand with that sentiment, emerging brands in the space were called out as doing the best with limited distribution and “bringing back the raw, youth element of just bringing skateboarding back to the streets,” according to David Toole, owner of BlueTile.  In another brand focused discussion, Per Welinder, founder of Birdhouse, Flip, and JSLV, pointed out that we are moving from a consumer to a creator economy, as more small businesses are focusing on small-batch, artisan product offerings.

    Skate Summit 2016
    The Olympic discussion was headed up by International Skateboarding Federation President Gary Ream.
  3. “Skateboarding is going global…and that’s not a bad thing” — As we ramp up to the Olympics, we are already seeing the global counter culture of skateboarding being adopted by influencer nations such as Japan, similar to the rise of global snowboarding popularity, pre-Olympic era. Discussions at Skate Summit centered around how the sport could potentially gain international participation. While some believe that skateboarding in the Olympics will diminish the core counter-culture, Active’s Futagaki argued that there is no current “counter-culture” around skateboarding in the U.S.— the culture around skateboarding has really morphed into the status quo. Internationally, however, in countries like Japan, skateboarding participation is now becoming what it once was for us in its heyday. Arguably, the spotlight on a growing global audience, with larger corporations (i.e. Mastercard, McDonalds) stepping into the space around the Olympics, could lead to the polarization effect with core brands. These core brands could gain even more traction with a younger demographic of skateboarders who want to be a part of why brands do what they do, and not necessarily what products they make. In her keynote, Martin explained that for the next generation of consumers, “It’s not about buying what you do, but why you are doing it. The goal is to connect with people who believe what you believe.” This is something skateboarders have always been good at. Whether you are proponent or adversary of the Olympics, skateboarding post Tokyo 2020 will likely provide a landscape that caters to the core and casual skateboarder with completely different approaches, leaving a ton of space for brands new and old to innovate and shake things up.