Industry Insider is a Transworld Business column featuring the views and opinions of, you guessed it, members of the action sports industry. This week's installment doubles as a Friday Free For All, a feature that allows you to do the same. Please refer to our comment policy before you post. If you'd like to share your thoughts, opinions, initiatives, or other industry related tidbits, drop us a line at email@example.com.
Words by AJ Kohn, President and CEO, One Skateboards
What does this "core" word mean? Just like me, I’m sure that you hear it all the time. But, just like any other word, it can be translated, used, and even abused in various ways. Does it even mean anything anymore? Or, like so many other industry "buzz" words, has it been over used to the point that it’s true meaning has been diminished to the point of nothingness?
Being an avid skateboarder of close to 20 years- as well as being a small company owner, community activist, and grass roots skateboard advocate- this is a word that resonates deep within me. To me, it means strength through adversity, creatively rising above it all, while simultaneously staying true to ones’ values and principles. Stuff that we commonly call our “roots”.
In recent times, many core shops have been finding themselves in competition with retail outlets that are not "core," but have the buying power and advertising dollars to attract “core” customers, as well as major [“core”] brands. Both of which used to be found exclusively in core retailers.
I talk to shops all the time. And they constantly tell me sad, sad stories of how they are getting a severe beating from the hands of these “core,” corporate retail chains. But, comparatively few can articulate to me what they’re actually doing to combat the problem. In many cases, I can see that they’re actually enabling the problem by doing nothing at all.
Let’s face some cold, hard truths here: Many of the brands that shops currently carry have turned their back on the core retailer. To make matters worse, they then actively sell their wares to all of the same, un-core retailers that are killing the core shops! Perhaps it’s the masochistic nature of skateboarding to keep coming back for more, or maybe it’s the misplaced idolization of these brands, but – for whatever reason – these shops still think that they need to have these brands on their skate shop wall.
Here’s my counterpoint: Shops don't need every brand that their competitors carry- or even, the most popular brands in the marketplace – to be successful. Indeed, there’s still a strong case to be made for the timeless concepts of diversification and differentiation. Ask any cut-rate stock market investor what they do when 20th century economy turns sour, and the markets head downhill. The two most common (and successful) strategies are to look for new markets, and new opportunities within those markets. This is why diversification and differentiation are so important, now more than ever.
One of our best core customers is State of Confusion Skate Shop in Maryland. They only sell 4-5 brands at any time, One Skateboard Co. being one of them. They regularly sell out of our boards. Why, you ask? Because they believe in what our brand, and the people running it, stand for. They believe in the product. But most importantly, they view One as a means to achieve a balance between differentiation, and diversification. The kids get psyched on it (kids thrive on anything new and different), and the shop reaps the benefits. Another customer, Ambler Skate Shop (Right outside of Philadelphia, PA) is home of the legendary Toxic Skateboards. They’ve been in business for over 25 years, and they are doing the same things, with similar results. Both of these shops are always trying new things, and in return, giving back to the community that supports them. Without support from shops like this, One Skateboards would cease to exist. We appreciate their continued support, because it’s that very support that allows us to offer cutting edge products and philosophies to even more truly core skate shops.
The shops that are the most successful have a good sense of themselves, constantly pushing what they can do. They are truly innovators: always studying, tweaking, and re-adjusting their business models to reflect the constant changes in fashion and function that skateboarding fosters. They also tend to give back to their local communities, and generally have a really solid private label program. The ones that have been complacent don't give back, and are trying always to “keep up with the Joneses" (I.e.: Zumiez, Active, etc.) all seem to suffer, to a greater or lesser degree. Look around you: the suffering is everywhere these days.
Just because you have a fully stocked skate shop, doesn't mean that people will come. It has to represent more, and be more, then what they can get conveniently at a mall. Remember: they can always buy the most popular brands at the mall. Or online. Or at that other shop up the street. So why should those customers come to you? What are you doing, that everyone else in the world isn’t?
True core brands rely heavily on the road as their medium of communication and promotion. And they make very real and lasting impressions on the communities, and the shops that they visit. They are closer to what makes skateboarding great, than the mega-dollar corporate brands. And most, if not all of us, are out there, skating with the kids on a daily basis. This boots-in-the-trenches perspective gives us a finger on the pulse of what is working, and what's not. This flexibility and ability to change helps produce better quality products, and helps us better service our shops. For my part, I consider the shops that we work with true friends, as opposed to merely being purchasers of a product. I take their successes – or their failures – personally. Of course, I want to see them succeed, because their success is my success. I am sure many other smaller companies would agree with that sentiment.
Core shops have always been, and should continue to be, “destination stations” if you will. Places where a comfortable and exciting atmosphere prevails. A place where all types of skaters from different backgrounds converge, to check out new products that can't be found anywhere else. A place where they can identify with, and meet up with other skaters. A place that helps them to do what they all love doing: skateboarding.
Of course, there are other core brands that I would highly recommend to any truly core skate shop. The list includes brands like 5Boro, Substance, Affiliate, Null, Hoodlum, Character, Cleveland, and Funhouse, to name a few. There are many other companies (besides us) that have been doing “all the right things” by supporting true skateboarding, and truly core skate shops. Support the people who support you. Support core brands, and they will support you!