The mere mention of Costa Rica conjures up images of untouched beaches pitching warm curling waves while monkeys howl from the nearby jungle canopy.
Surely, not skateboarding.
In this popular American vacation destination and surfer paradise, skateboarding actually thrives-but if you spend your time on the beaches or in the rain forests, you’d never know it.
In the capital city of San Jose, Rodrigo Beeche has run his shop Tico Skate since 1998. “We’re just about the only ‘core shop in Costa Rica,” says Beeche. “All the other shops are surf and skate, or surf, skate, and ‘Blades.”
Beeche cut his teeth in the skate-shop business when he lived and attended school in San Diego, California for four years. During that time he worked at the popular skate shop Soul Grind and also helped Hangar 18 Owner Ken Lewis build a successful shop. Now 26 years old, Beeche describes the thrill of owning and operating a shop of his own: “This has been my dream all my life, just being a part of skateboarding, doing something for it-talking to pros and being a part of it.”
Costa Rica’s tropical climate offers six months of rain and six months of summer. As a result of the rain, hardgood sales typically dip around September and October. “We’re talking about tropical rain, so there’s not a whole lot of street skating,” Beeche explains. “There’re a few local skateparks, but the floor is ceramic, so the boards don’t get torn up as much.”
Before Beeche opened up Tico Skate, he also helped his brother run a surf shop in Costa Rica. This, coupled with his skate-shop experience in San Diego, gave him confidence that a ‘core shop in Costa Rica could actually work. “I had a lot of faith in it,” explains Beeche. “I opened up in a really good time of year-the end of October. So December came around and it was a super good month. I was able to turn around my inventory in two months. That was a really good sign.”
Beeche’s knowledge of the skate industry and his knack for getting the local skaters involved has made Tico Skate an integral part of the San Jose scene. “I keep super-current on videos and all that. Usually it’s (the shop) the hang-out spot because we have our own team,” he says. “I have an am team and a pro team. The ams are from fourteen to seventeen. I’ve got four kids on the am team, and they bring all their friends out here and hang out, watch a video, and then go skateboarding.
“We’ve been supporting all the local magazines and video people, all the kids who are running around with cameras,” says Beeche. “We just put out a shop video, Pandemonium.”
In addition to advertising in local magazine Flow, and at the Chepesent skatepark, Tico Skate also does demos and contests at local high schools. Usually the principal or the skaters at the school will want to organize something, and Beeche comes through with promo product for raffles and prizes.
While the shop was originally financed by Beeche’s parents, now Beeche is in full financial control. Four times a year Beeche has to do all his accounting for the IRS.
On the day-to-day basis, Beeche keeps careful tabs on his cash flow and has the aid of technology to track the shop’s progress. “Toward the end of the month, our computer gives us the whole inventory and the stuff that we’ve been selling including discounts and margins,” explains Beeche. “But usually you have to keep an eye on the decks and the shoes.”
However, Beeche maintains his employees are still the most reliable source on the shop’s business: “The key thing is the guys who work here, because they’ll tell me, ‘Hey, this is selling, this isn’t selling.’ The people who work here on the floor, they’re like my main factor right now.”
And right now, just like it is in the States, skateboarding is hot in Costa Rica. “I’d say as a fashion statement, especially for kids between fifteen or eighteen, it’s (skate clothing) the cool thing to wear right now,” explains Beeche. “I’m pretty sure if we were down at the beach it would be surfing, but since we’re in the city it’s more urban, it’s more streetwear. That’s been our key factor in selling this type of product.”
Tico Skate hasn’t been without its share of problems. A couple years back, Beeche got burned in a stint of overzealous buying: “Skateboarding was growing so much that it got to where I purchased 200 decks at one point, and we only sold like 40 of them,” he says. “Loading up on inventory, even with shoes, you always think everything is going to sell, and it’s not quite like that. You gotta start eyeing the product and seeing what you’re gonna buy.”
This past year, business dipped so low that Beeche actually considered closing the shop. “August through October were really bad months,” he says. “Compared to sales last year-I’m talking like 60-percent less-like night and day. Sales just kind of stalled.” But with savvy marketing, Beeche and his employees were able to jump-start sales and keep Tico Skate in business. “We talked to the guys on the floor and started promoting and doing sales incentives, like when we sell a deck, we’re giving away the risers, spacers, and bolts,” explains Beeche. “Doing those types of incentives and doing demos, it definitely has helped us out.”
When asked if he’d get into the skate-shop business again knowing the highs and lows, Beeche answers, “I would, definitely. There’s a lot more competition now, but I would.”
Beeche explains that there’s more on the horizon than just running his shop: “Now I’m planning on going into distribution, so there’re other outlets, not only in retail. Like magazines, videos-you’re always going to find something new in this industry.” One of Beeche’s longtime friends is in the distribution business, and Beeche hopes to work alongside him. “Ernesto from La Isla. We grew up together in the same town,” says Beeche. “He’s mostly doing shoes, so I’d be looking into doing softgoods-just complement each other.”