With close to 300 skate shops; a domestic chain store that has over 30 locations; a long, cold winter; and a total land area that’s slightly smaller than Montana, Germany is a bit of an anomaly. And one skate shop that does all right is Parano.
In The Beginning
Parano skate shop was founded in 1998 by longtime skateboarder Marc Bultmann in Oldenburg, a fairly large town in Northwestern Germany. Four years later, Bultmann expanded his business into neighboring Aurich, where he put his largest shop inside the Playground Skate Hall (indoor skatepark). According to Bultmann, Aurich holds “the biggest and best skate hall in Germany.” A close proximity to a skate hall proves to be an excellent strategy, especially during the harsh winter months. One year later, he expanded once again into nearby Varel, the smallest of the three towns.
For Bultmann, the decision to start up a skate shop was a long time in the making: “A friend and I thought about a time when we would open shops together-he makes BMX and I make skateboarding.” For Bultmann and friend Jan Rosskamp, dream became reality. “Now my friend Jan has his own BMX shop, but we work together-today he is one of the most important people in the BMX scene of Germany.”
Parano’s clientele incorporates a very broad spectrum-it’s tough to discriminate when customers are few. Of course, the vast majority are German, but there are some traveling skateboarders who check out the shop. Bultmann explains how skateboarding’s popularity has helped business: “Most of my typical customers are skaters or people who like the look.” Skaters, or even pseudo-skaters know to visit Parano for skateboards and clothing, and even music and art.
As is the case with many German skate shops, Parano also has a section devoted to Bultmann’s other interests-records and graffiti-a testament to the difficulties of owning a skate shop anywhere. Bultmann does not, however, carry any snow, surf, or inline gear-something many German shops choose to do: “Only skateboarding! I only sell stuff I know about,” he says.
Due to Germany’s climate, Parano’s business is dictated by the seasons. Icy winters limit skating options and increase the demand for warmth. “I sell the most boards in summer and the most clothes in winter,” explains Bultmann. Like most skate shops, Parano’s hardgoods section doesn’t pull in much money, but Bultmann recognizes the need for both hardgoods and softgoods: “You need both, but you must sell mostly apparel and shoes-it’s better for you, with hardgoods you don’t earn so much.”
For Bultmann, the long winters are spent selling clothing and skating indoors wherever possible. “In the wintertime you must go in skate halls-it’s too cold outside! We have a skate hall in Oldenburg, and one of my shops is in the biggest and best skate hall in Germany.”
Due to skateboarding’s ever-increasing popularity in Germany, competition tends to be fierce. But despite hundreds of other skate shops, including a mega chain store, Parano fares well with its modest three stores: “I think in some towns like Munster, Titus (chain store) is big, but in other towns single shops have the same chance.”
Having skated for fourteen years, Bultmann knows the German skate scene well and has watched the skate scenes of the local villages grow for the past several years. He attributes this popularity to a few different factors, number one being the resurgence of skateparks. “In every town you have a skate shop and a skatepark, so the people see that every day and eventually they buy a board.”
Another factor that generated a new, larger crop of German skateboarders is mainstream exposure. “Tony Hawk’s video game is important, I think a few kids play the game and buy a skateboard after,” says Bultmann.
With a population of skaters that are “too many to count” according to Bultmann, German skateboarding has had quite a growth spurt over the past few years. One way to gauge the popularity is by the size of Parano’s shop team: “I have got a big skate team-I have 26 teamriders, they all drive (skate) really good. I search for sponsors for them and drive with them to many competitions and skate shows.” A sponsored skater himself, Bultmann is constantly traveling with his team, which seems to be more like a family: “We drive every year to Barcelona together, every session is cool together.”
Oldenburg, Bultmann’s hometown and the location of the first Parano, has its own sense of camaraderie, perhaps due to the shop itself, which other towns are lacking. Bultmann explains, “Here the skaters are friendly, but I don’t like skating in some towns because they don’t drive (skate) together-they skate against each other, that’s shit!”
In addition to skating with his team and local skaters, Bultmann places emphasis on promoting events in the area, to keep the scene alive and growing: “I sponsor some concerts, demos, and contests-it’s important.”
Watching The Numbers
In addition to the three locations, Parano has branched out into cyberspace, offering an online mail-order service. “I think some stuff you can sell better on the Web than in your own town,” says Bultmann. He has customers who can’t always get to Parano for their gear. “Not every village has a skate shop, and they don’t come to town every week, so they order over the Internet.”
Bultmann further explains that it’s more of a service for those out-of-town customers and doesn’t really generate much revenue. “It’s not really profitable, there are so many others who sell that stuff on the Web.”
Parano has a wide selection of boards, offering several leading U.S. brands, as well as many German companies. “I sell every U.S. brand that you can get on the German market, but I also sell German brands, too, like Hessenmob, Trap, Rollmops Morphium, Cleptomanicx, Cyress, and others. I also sell my own shop boards.”
A stark differentiation in the price of decks leaves blanks as the most popular choice among Parano’s clientele. Boards from U.S. companies are naturally the most expensive, at 79 euros, whereas boards from European companies cost only 59 euros. But at Parano, neither can match the affordability of the 45-euro blanks.
When the time came for Bultmann to open Parano, he found there’s no better bank than his own family: “I have got a good mother, she gave me the money,” he says. “I have a really cool mother!” And when it comes to business, Bultmann keeps a keen eye on all three of his shops and their records. “I work in the shops every day-selling, banking-I must do everything, but I have some sellers who work for me.” When things become too daunting, though, Bultmann knows when to call in a specialist. “Every three months I have a tax consultant look at the records-it’s really better that way.”
Bultmann’s business sense and practices have allowed him to grow his business into three towns and has so far managed to dominate the markets therein: “I’m number one in providing equipment of the towns where a Parano shop is.”
Despite Parano’s success, Bultmann admits he would have chosen a different path were he to start over. Asked if he would open a shop again, Bultmann says, “No-I would never. It’s better when you work for somebody-anybody, then you never are the head for all! Every day there are so many questions!”