The meaning of action sports broadens, as does the show.
There was a smile on just about everyone’s face. The place was packed, reps were writing like mad, and the ASR staff were visibly at their wits’ ends dealing with exhibitors, buyers, and those who had no business there at all. Everybody wanted in, it seemed, but the San Diego Convention Center’s expansion wasn’t complete, and the place just isn’t big enough for every Tom, Dick, and Scooter with a whirly-wheeled gimmick.
But it’s big enough for many of them. According to ASR Trade Show Director Court Overin, over 20,000 buyers piled into the show, 2,000 more than last year, and 1,570 booth spaces were carved out of the main hall and various satellite rooms to accommodate as many vendors as possible. Skateboarding had a lot of company this time around.
Not only did the surplus of scooter dealers fill the space usually reserved for the International Association Of Skateboard Companies, whose meeting room was moved around the corner and down the hall, but visitors to ASR were ambushed by a lobby display for a wheel-in-the-heel shoe gadget that gives Soapers something to laugh at. Vying for the most ridiculous new product was a company whose LED-imbedded scooter and in-line wheels blink when spun. As if the Razor craze wasn’t annoying enough.
Maybe the influx of international buyers, who according to Overin now make up about a quarter of the total, has attracted so broad a range of whirlygig hockers and whatchamacallit makers. Or maybe skateboarding’s international and pan-cultural appeal has become a magnet for them all. Whatever the cause, ASR plans to utilize most of the expanded San Diego Convention Center next year to accommodate as many as 1,800 booth spaces and even more bodies to dodge through the aisles.
On the brighter side, skateboard company after skateboard company, and pretty much all the shoe brands, were amazed at the volumes they were doing. In contrast to years past, when buyers used the trade shows to preview lines and as an excuse to vacation in Southern California, sales reps were busy Friday, Saturday, and Sunday–there was no visible downtime this time around.
The only complaint I heard was from companies that couldn’t manufacture enough stuff. Paul Schmitt said he’s been running his PS Stix wood shop on 24-hour shifts, seven days a week. Creative Urethanes is also gearing up for increased production by fully automating its wheel factory. And when a single issue of TransWorld SKATEboarding pushes 400 pages, it’s pretty clear that skateboarding is going off, even if the manufacturers and magazine staffs are losing sleep over it.
When companies are focused on fulfilling orders, though, they have little time to innovate. Not that skateboarding requires huge leaps in product technology every six months, but it’s nice to see one or two companies introducing something potentially revolutionary. When you don’t have to try too hard to sell what you’ve got, though, there’s little incentive to take a chance on something new. So most of the really exciting stuff at ASR happened at the corporate parties. Vans and Thrasher sponsored a Motorhead show, for gosh sakes! Art lovers wandered over to the ModArt exhibit, and the hip-hop-at-heart bounced around to the beats of DJs Capone N Noreaga at the Etnies party.
The booths grew, too. Sole Technology erected its half-million-dollar padded white fortress, DC’s tower stretched its spinning marquee toward the rafters, and Vans constructed a two-story 4,000-square-foot convention center within the convention center, complete with private meeting rooms and multiple flat-screen television monitors. It may as well have been Vans’ seventh skatepark.
Out on the convention-center plaza the Big Daddy-built ASR street course entertained the lunch crowd. Other neighboring attractions included the ASR Vert Ramp, the Girl Three On Three Basketball Tournament, and teams of kids zipping around on the latest distractions on wheels. At least Ryan Sheckler was busy on the street course straightening everyone’s priorities.
One regular feature of the ASR shows are the seminars conducted by Angelo Ponzi of Board-Trac (board-trac.com), which produces syndicated market-research studies that track the lifestyles and purchasing habits of teens and young adults who participate in or are influenced by board sports. Board-Trac has generated a wealth of data over the past few years, and in his presentations, Ponzi discussed some of the most recent Board-Trac findings.
The two seminars took place on Friday and Saturday in a meeting room upstairs and away from the noise of the main hall. Friday’s state-of-retailing meeting discussed shops’ buying decisions and their motivations, while Saturday’s session focused on consumers’ attitudes. Ponzi also discussed more generally how a business identifies its focus, its place among competitors, and how it defines its customer. Having answered those questions, detailed information like that available in the Board-Trac studies is much more meaningful.
While most successful skateboard entrepreneurs make critical decisions based on intuition more often than on research, the Board-Trac studies do offer some interesting comparative data. In the current study, for example, 72 percent of all the individuals who identified themselves as snowboarders reported that they also skate; of those who identified themselves as surfers, 55 percent skate. And of those who identified themselves as skateboarders, 93 percent are male–no surprise there.
Ponzi spent a good amount of time discussing Internet use. Of the skateboarders Board-Trac surveyed, ten percent reported that they typically order skateboard hardgoods from printed catalogs. Only three percent said they typically order hardgoods online, while 23 percent have done so at least once. Sixty-nine percent of skaters who browse the Internet check out sites from companies related to their sport, which is more than for snowboarders or surfers. But skaters spend less time online than the other two groups.
The other notable sideshow event was the skatepark meeting organized by Heidi Lemmon of the Skatepark Association of the USA (spausa.org). Attending were several skatepark builders, Jim Fitzpatrick of IASC (skateboardiasc.org), Paul Schmitt of PS Stix manufacturing, and at least one private-skatepark operator–Marty Ramos from Kona Skatepark in Jacksonville, Florida. The conversation began with a discussion of public skateparks and the effect they’ve had on the sport and its industry. Fitzpatrick mentioned that IASC was founded five years ago to promote the sport, and it began by lobbying for the passage of California Assembly Bill AB1296. This law paved the way for many of California’s public skateparks, which in turn encouraged other states to build parks, whether or not they had a similar law. AB1296 being IASC’s initial victory, its goal now is to protect the right to skate on the street, which is being banned by cities that use the excuse of their skateparks to justify their actions.
Skatepark insurance was also discussed at length. Policy broker Karen Oxman emphasized that the insurance industry relies entirely on statistical data in deciding the risk associated with any business, and that SPAUSA is in a good position to generate some reliable information that could help skateparks get more affordable coverage.
While most of the attendees have benefited in some way from the public-skatepark boom, Ramos alerted the group to the fact that they also have their drawbacks. He argued that private parks play a vital role in developing young skaters by maintaining safe, supervised environments where parents are comfortable leaving their kids. Private skateparks also host events–demos and clinics–that involve the local communities and generate interest in the sport. At a time when most sectors of the industry are experiencing
record profits, private skateparks are still struggling to keep their doors open. They need help, he said, and building free public parks next door isn’t the answer.
One of the goals of the meeting was to discuss ways to improve the quality of skateparks. While some terrible parks have been built in the last few years, Lemmon wants to provide contractors with minimum standards and instructions that will help them better understand what they’re building. Schmitt suggested that the guidelines be limited to design and dimensions, as every builder has unique construction techniques. While the specific recommendations weren’t decided at the meeting, Lemmon will collect input from the builders to arrive at a set of agreeable skatepark-design standards.
Meanwhile, the activity downstairs suggested that the current skateboarding boom shows little sign of letting up. With companies engrossed in order fulfillment, few have the surplus staff to attend to the questions of quality skateparks and skateboarding’s future. With organizations like SPAUSA and IASC to take on careless contractors and the political establishment, they don’t have to. It’ll be enough of a challenge supplying current demand.
And just imagine what’s gonna happen once all those scooter kids realize they don’t need handlebars.