Chain-store shelves these days are filled with colorful complete skateboards, featuring Spider-Man, Rugrats, and even Scooby-Doo. And they’re priced at a fraction of what a ‘core skate shop would charge. Frustrating, considering it’s not likely the stark disparity in quality between the two boards will be obvious to a first-time buyer.
The difference lies within the two varying demographics, and ‘core shops, for the most part, adhere to the ‘core ethic of supporting skater-run skateboard companies and the pros they sponsor. Chain stores, on the other hand, carry the less expensive, generic skateboards with images of popular cartoon dogs.
Chain stores supply the potential newcomer-the curious kid who wants to try skateboarding. But what these stores, and most parents, don’t consider or perhaps realize is that if the board is a piece of crap, it could turn the kid off of skateboarding altogether.
Andy Macdonald has recently licensed his likeness and created Andy Mac Skateboards. He designed products that will be sold in chain stores, and his intention is for these boards to serve as a conduit for the first-timer looking to become a ‘core skateboarder.
The idea came about when Macdonald first noticed the quality of the skateboards being sold in chain stores. He felt the boards were so bad that they were turning kids away from skating. When asked about the quality of a generic chain-store skateboard, Macdonald responds: “It’s rubbish. It’s a toy skateboard-literally. It’s got PVC wheels and bearings that don’t even roll. I was getting discouraged, so I started talking to George (Powell) about it, and that’s the idea behind Andy Mac-a board that’s going to give them a good first skateboard experience.”
Macdonald’s boards are geared toward the first-time skater. His intention is to have his boards serve as a gateway to a “real” board. Macdonald explains, “The idea is rather than having little Joey buy a Spider-Man board and then be bummed on skateboarding because it doesn’t roll, he goes and gets an Andy Mac board at a sporting-goods store, has a good experience with his first skateboard, gets into skating, and is psyched because his board actually works. Then as he gets into skating, (he) graduates to an even higher level board and goes to the skate shop.”I felt like there was a need to bridge to gap between rubbish toy skateboards and 120-dollar pro skateboards,” says Macdonald, whose completes are significantly more expensive than the other chain-store boards, but still much less than a complete from a ‘core shop.
Of course, in order to provide such a low-priced complete, some quality must be sacrificed. Macdonald explains, “It has to be (sacrificed) somewhat because of the pricepoint. It works both ways-because of the quantities you can make a quality skateboard for a lot cheaper. My boards retail for about 60 bucks for a complete.”Quality may be sacrificed, but not to any drastic degree. In fully endorsing the Andy Mac line, Macdonald skates the boards adorned with his name. “The way I see it, if it’s good enough for me to ride in a pro contest, it’s good enough for little Joey to ride. I’m going to put it through a lot more use than Joey is,” he says.
Macdonald’s intention is to show first-timers more about skating. To help facilitate this, the Andy Mac completes will include a DVD full of information. “When my board first comes out,” Macdonald says, “it’s going to come with a free DVD (that) has trick tips, and there’s other footage to introduce a first-time skateboarder to skateboarding.”
Macdonald hopes the Andy Mac complete, coupled with the instructional DVD, will bring kids into the “inner circle” of skateboarding: “Hopefully they’ll get psyched on skateboarding and through that they’ll buy skateboarding magazines-just like I did.” And Macdonald isn’t venturing into completely unknown territory.
A year ago, ex-Bones Brigadier Mike McGill introduced a signature line of complete skateboards, safety gear, clothing, and shoes to chain stores. When asked about the line, McGill replies, “I was able to actually design the stuff to go in the stores at an affordable price.”
Like Macdonald, McGill agrees the boards won’t be of the same caliber as those at ‘core shops, but he maintains they surpass the current quality of chain-store skateboards: “I think my stuff and Andy Macdonald’s stuff is better than the boards that have been on the shelves for years-it’s been really crappy stuff. We have actually made some really decent products for people to buy.”
McGill also believes that in time chain-store skateboards will draw more skaters into ‘core shops. McGill owns two ‘core shops himself-one in Encinitas, California and another in New Port Richey, Florida. Asked what demographic his boards cater to, McGill replies, “Those kids who are buying our stuff are the first-timers who are getting into skateboarding, and then they move on to shops like mine, get the better bearings, get the better wheels, and upgrade from there.”
Although Macdonald’s and McGill’s boards aren’t exclusive to chain stores, they have left some ‘core shops feeling slighted. Frank Langone, owner of Springfield, Massachusetts’ Theory, feels by putting quality completes in chain stores, Macdonald is bypassing the ‘core retailers altogether: “Especially for those parents who only want to spend 60 bucks on a complete for their kid. They’re never going to come in here and spend 120 bucks.
Langone feels in a time when the skateboarding industry is tightening its belt, disposable income is low all around. “I see kids dropping out of skateboarding right now, which is pretty crazy,” he says. Fewer kids are buying boards, and quality boards in chain stores are only making it tougher for ‘core shops to stay afloat. Langone adds, “I think it’s ridiculous because it’s just going to hurt us even more-that’s what’s going to happen.”
Heidi Goldman, manager of Humidity skate shop in New Orleans, Louisiana, sees a parallel to the skate-shoe market: “We’ve already had problems with pro shoes showing up in outlet stores, and I’m sure if the boards showed up at chain stores, they would be sold way cheaper than we can even buy them for at wholesale.” Goldman has already seen the effects to some extent. Some sporting-goods stores have been carrying quality skateboards for years, and while the prices are more comparable to the ‘core shops, these sporting-goods stores have made skateboards much more accessible. “At Champs or Sports Authority you can pick up Powells and World Industries. And even if a kid gets their first board as a crappy board, they know they’re buying it ’cause their parents only want to spend 25 to 50 dollars.”
Ken Lewis is the owner of Hanger Eighteen skate shop in San Diego, California. He feels that the chain-store skateboards have been around for years and were always low-quality, but still served as a gateway to “real” skateboards. “There’s always going to be one (chain-store skateboard). Variflex boards were shit, and we knew they were shit. You’re in the store with Mom, it costs 26 bucks-you bought it, you were skating, you went to school, and all the kids would laugh at you ’cause they had some super-sick-looking Santa Cruz board-then you went to the skate shop.”
Lewis feels quality boards in chain stores will only serve to keep customers out of the ‘core shops: “If you walk into Wal-Mart, you see an Andy Macdonald board that looks exactly like something on my wall.”
McGill doesn’t feel chain-store skateboards directly hurt skate shops. He says the problem is oversaturation: “I think what’s hurting regular retail skateboard shops right now isn’t the mass-market stuff. It’s oversaturation by the companies themselves.”
Skateboards have been sold in chain stores since the 70s. Variflex, Nash, and Valtera all offered lower-quality boards for less than the cost of a ‘core-shop complete. And it’s taken three decades for an affordable, quality skateboard to become available in a mainstream chain store.
But ‘core shops will always have a
distinct advantage over the chain stores. Skateboarders-‘core skateboarders-are a niche market that is incredibly loyal.And while chain stores may be planting the seeds for tomorrow’s crop of skateboarders, those who stick to it will sooner or later find themselves in ‘core shops-where quality, know-how, and credibility are superior.