Favorite Local Spot to Skate?
(CU Boulder) Campus
Most Infamous Customer?
We have a customer, Luke that attacked our store one night with a Samurai Sword. Everybody knows him in Boulder He frequently walks around town looking like a ninja.
Song to describe your shop?
Toxic Shadows by Lucifer's Friend.
Meta Skateboards has been a core skate shop in Boulder, Colorado, for 13 years. The shop, which hails from humble beginnings, have now moved to a new location on the bustling marketplace of Boulder which is Pearl Street.
TransWorld Business had a chance to talk to owners Sam Hines and John Brandow about what changes the new location would bring to Meta and how they plan to keep the same energy they had on Boulder’s University Hill. The shop has seen some changes in their customer traffic, which is continuing to expand; don’t worry they still have a stack of free decks for kids who can’t afford to get a skateboard themselves yet, or a start up dad who wants to learn the basics before he gets a deck of his own. Although their customer demographic may be changing, they are still focusing on selling hard goods and menswear. Brandow and HInes see the local skate scene as “flourishing” and with a new film, “The Holy Crail,” and a kick-ass skate team, they are taking Pearl by storm. We checked in with them recently to hear more on the shop and where the skateboard industry in Boulder is headed.
Preview the trailer for Meta’s most recent skate film “The Holy Crail” here:
How has your customer base changed with your new location on Pearl St?
JB: Customer base I don't think has really changed that much because our core customer has been the same for 13 years. So our core customer is still there and we've seen a little bit of growth in the core customer, but the biggest growth we've seen has just been in the day-to-day walk ins and families, like local families that never came to the hill before. We can tell who's on spring break by Monday afternoon we can tell who's on spring break. It's like oh the store's filled with Germans, Germans are on Spring Break this week. Our biggest growth has been in "that customer" who never made it to the hill before. Tourists and Boulderites who just never had a reason to go to the hill.
SH: We also feel that the Hill is just not the same market place that it used to be.
JB: Yeah there's like what 4 retailers left that aren't food left up there?
SH: It used to be a really cool bohemian place and people would go there to be a part of other people and 13 years ago there was 12 bars on the hill. Now there's 3. There just isn't a local community left to the hill, and The Hill used to have a strong little community that wasn't just students.
What brands have you seen grow at this location recently?
JB: HUF. HUF has been having its day anyway, and we did carry it at the Hill location but on Pearl there is more of the "sneaker head" scene, fashion guy that we didn't have coming up to the hill because again, what reason would he have to go there? It's been great.
Have you changed what brands you are buying?
JB: We have just done deeper runs in carrying the same product we've always carried. That was a thing right from the get go, We want to move but we want to stay Meta. That means from the stuff we carry all the way through to like… everything.
SH: Yeah we still want to be a skate shop, we don't want to become a clothing boutique or a sneaker boutique. We number one want to be a skate shop and as you can see we've dedicated half of our store to hard goods. Hard goods and skateboarding is still to us the most important part of skateboarding. It is good to move some shoes and some hats and some pants, cause it helps your margins out, but in the long run I think the ultimate health of the skate shop revolves around how much hard goods they can move because that's really your base, the people who are actually skateboarding. If you can sell more hardgoods you are growing your own base, and it is important to have a positive influence on your base so that people want to come back and that people want to keep skateboarding. You can't cool guy everybody in and out the door because you want to retain customers. We want to encourage participation and not be like, how much money from this percentage of participation. It's to grow the percentage of participation. We always have free decks here to grow that participation. Whether it's the poor homeless kids or a richer start up 45 year old or the tech community who wants to get their first longboard, its about supplying something for everybody.
How would you describe the local skate scene and Boulder Colorado Now?
SH: Flourishing. From longboards to street skating it's a really strong community
JB: Yeah tons of rippers. It's a bit of a downfall sometimes because we don't have the coolest skatepark in Colorado here on the other hand its kind of awesome because we're growing this street skate scene. The kids are going out and trying to find spots where they can skate. They don't want to go to the park because the parks lame. It's a bummer for us sometimes because we don't have the kids coming from out of town or sometimes when kids get are car they just go to Arvada or Eerie or wherever… But the younger local scene here they're growing up finding there own spots and that's what we think skateboarding is. It seems like overall the skate scene now is like oh there's a new skate park lets just open up a shop 2 blocks away you know and those kids are just going to end up 10 years from now with that skate park crutch.
SH: It's pretty cool because were building the back bone for the future of street skating. Like until you try and film a street skating part you don't realize how much harder it is than riding in a park. Or what tricks are really difficult at certain spots. So it fosters a whole generation of kids who really understand what it takes to get in to street skating more. It is kind of hard to talk about.
Have you two been in business together since the beginning?
Sam: No, I brought John in 4 Years ago. Terry and Freddy started on the Hill 13 years ago and I took it over from Terry and Freddy 10 years ago on the Hill.
What made you decide to own the business?
Sam: It was really a community based decision because they were either going to close it or put it in the hands of someone who they thought would do a really good job with it and I think I was lucky enough that they thought I would do a good job with it. Essentially they loaned me the money to buy it from them. I paid them off over the course of several years. Several Years. It was one of those things where at the time I was 23 or 24 and at the time it seemed like a good decision but I really wish I could have gone to some kind of business school or something. I definitely learned everything the hard way. I'm still learning everything the hard way.
What has been your biggest challenge as business owners?
JB: Moving Here
SH: The biggest thing is handling your credit managing your dollars and then if you want to expand, figuring out financing and money. I think that you can throw a lot of money at a lot of different things and that might work. I don't think skateboarding is really that way. I think you kind of have to build your way and grow your roots and become kind of an umbrella over the skateboard community where you can expand. We just figured it out the hard way of money and credit scores and stuff trying to move to the new location. That stuff really matters. To really drive that home, watch that stuff because it always matters in whatever you're doing whether you are trying to get a loan or sign a lease acquiring the money to move to a bigger location is a very challenging thing.
JB:: This all boils to down to Myself and Sam. There's no big evil person behind this whatever, it's us and whatever we can scrap together to make things happen. In skateboarding a lot nowadays you have to start with a mountain to make a molehill instead of the other way around. So everyone gets these huge financial backers to come in behind them and those guys don't have the patience to build. Where we're at now is because of 13 years of shit. Yeah its one of those things where you try to come in up top but lets be honest you really only have one place to go from there. Except when you have guys that want to see growth. But there is no growth if you start at the pinnacle of what a shop can do and then you have angry investors behind you saying We want more growth! But the reality is a skate shop can only do what a skate shop can do.
Imagine if you opened a store and all you sold was baseballs you don't cross in to football or swimming or any other stuff, all you sell is bats gloves and balls. Skateboarding is kind of an anomalie in that, well we don't even do snow.
SH: Yeah that is a good thing to point out is that We don't do snow. And we were kind of the first shop in Colorado to be like we don't do snow, we want to only do skate. We've been only skate since the time we started because that's what we wanted to do. It's a lot easier to get a bigger market share if you through snowboarding in there because everybody can learn how to snowboard. You know, my grandma was snowboarding.
JB: Not to take anything away from the pros but the reality is it is more accessible. It's definitely more expensive but it's more accessible. Skateboarding is different. I was just at the skatepark with a bunch of kids and they all say well I like scooters and that's because it's super easy! Its skateboarding with training wheels I get it that you get on your scooter and your already doing your tail whip thing. With skateboarding we have had kids that have been coming to skate camp for 4 years and they still can't Ollie.
SH: I would like to see more female involvement. Such a small percentage of girls actually skateboard.
Do you see yourself evolving to sell more female product?
John: No. I think that is something where we put our foot down right at the start. Our strict rule is that if it doesn't have a team, we don't carry it. We have to think about the skateboard community and not just boulder but as a whole too. There are not that many people looking out for skateboarding's best interests anymore but we feel like leading by example or whatever it is, if it doesn't have a team and doesn't directly give back to the skateboard community we don't have it. Since we're on Pearl St. we can carry Sanuk and we can carry Levi's and all this girls stuff the reps just come pouring in because you're on Pearl St. And the looks on their faces when were like yeah no… We're doing great as we are and we can be confident that everything we sell in here is giving back to skateboarding.
What involvement do you guys have with skateboarding outside of retail?
JB: I do some skate lessons with a little local group here, Sam does skate videos. At the end of the month were premiering our 7th skate video at the Boulder Theater. The premieres are a huge deal. We have people calling us to figure out hotels and everything.
SH: The last premiere we had there were 620 people there
John: It's a big evening.
How do you film the videos, and how does that work?
Sam: I am the primary filmer but on this one we've delegated a lot more than we have in the past because I've been dealing with the move and I have become much more hands on with the book work and all that so I haven't had all the time that I usually would in the past but I probably filmed about 70 to 90 percent of our last six videos and 60 percent of this video. I would say I'm out filming 2-3 days a week.
How are you choosing who will be in the video?
SH: They're old friends and kids that skate for us that we have known for a long time. For example there is this kid Max who has been shopping here since he was 6, and his family, the whole Garson family have been one of our biggest supporters.
JB:: Our newest team rider is actually his little brother
SH: Will Garson. Its more than just Ok here's a discount… we know your family, we know you. If someone has filmed like 3 video parts with me I've probably spent upwards of 120 days filming those guys or even 200 days. It's a lot of work
Is the video based in Colorado?
SH: Yeah a lot of it is based in Colorado
JB: But this video has the most travelling of any Meta video probably. That's why Sam didn't film as much of this one because the guys were going on road trips and are gone for extended periods of time on skate trips.
SH: I would love to do it but I don't have time since we've been busy with the move.
How many people are on the Skate Team for Meta?
SH: People that are on the A Team about 10, and then we kind of have the lifer team. I have been making these videos for seven years and we have really good friends who are like 40 years old and are just really good friends with the shop who will be part of the team forever. So its like there are 10 main dudes and probably 50 just lifers, friends.
JB: We like to support the local skate scene I mean we do have some guys from Denver that ride for the shop and what not but they come to Boulder all the time and are a huge part of the Colorado skate scene. But we have kids that come in that are amazing and they say check out my sponsor me video but its like wow your great but you are a total tool and its like we don't do that. Sometimes we have kids that are amazing off the bat but they don't really gel with everyone and fit with what we're doing …you have be like well find another shop to ride for. There are enough shops looking to sponsor anybody who's good.
SH We try to push a family and a community commitment on all parts of our Team. If were really busy on a Saturday there's a good chance some of our team dudes are in here ringing people up. We want the health of the skate community to be extremely fuitful and in turn see our support and want to support us. It's a way of always being selfless and giving back to the community. We don't just want to preach it but also we want to practice it and reward those who practice it.
SH: The Thing is with John and I, even back up on the hill its never been about the money If it was we wouldn't still be around.
JB: Yeah we definetly would have pulled the plug a long time ago
SH: It's literally about being part of something that we love and if we have to do that on someone elses terms I don't think we want to be a part of that. People mean more when you treat each customer as a person and an individual instead of just a dollar sign.
JB:: I hope that our passion for it exudes into the customer and they leave even here more stoked than they were on skateboarding before. There is nothing better than selling someone a new setup and they start pushing it even before they're out the door.