Retail Profiles: Atlanta, Georgia’s Stratosphere

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466 Moreland Ave.
Atlanta, Georgia

Stratosphere Skateboards has been a part of the Atlanta, Georgia skate scene since 1988, when owner and former pro skater Thomas Taylor decided to start his own shop not far from the house he grew up in.  Taylor saw the need for a store dedicated solely to skaters and at age 19 – in between skating the ramp he built in his backyard and collecting sponsors – he opened Stratosphere and hosted some of the first contests in the state, making a name for the shop and gaining a loyal following in the community.

Today, after it's third change of address, Stratosphere continues to give back to the skate community by contributing to local skate parks like The Foundation and helping build ramps and host skate shows at the annual Skateraid benefit festival in Decatur.

Taylor talked to TransWorld recently from his shop's new location, a 1,750-square-foot space only 9 addresses from the previous one. Stratosphere has been at the new location since February and has had a positive response so far from companies and shop regulars. Here's what he had to say about what's happening at Stratosphere.

TWB: Have you been in the same location since 1988?
TT: We just moved to this new one on the first of February. We’d been in the other building around the corner from here that most people went to, we were in that one from 1994 until now – about 8 weeks ago. Now we are next to the biggest buildings in the neighborhood, and we’ve got the parking and all that stuff.

Is the new place bigger?
It’s way bigger than the last place, but it’s not like crazy huge. We have a place to display all our shoes which we couldn't do before in the other store. Everyone whose come here seems pretty stoked, and pretty impressed as far as we’ve only had this much time to put it together. It’s getting better all the time.Everyone seems to be hyped. All the companies are flipping out because our window signage is viewed by so many more cars now.

How many square feet is the new building?
In real square footage it’s probably about 1,750.

Do you have an online store?
Our online store, you can only buy branded product from our store, you can't buy shoes. Because kids only want to buy boards and we wanted to work our way into it. So instead of offering everything on our walls of the store which we wouldn’t even have in stock all the time, we would try to put up stuff we knew we’d have in stock to start off with. So we’re marketing our branded board product first and then going from there. Even if we had the stuff in stock to put up pages and pages of things, we’re still without people running that part of the site – we still need that department. We’ll see what happens if it works out fine we’ll bring on some more people. We have a whole other area for that so that's one thing we do have is space to do it.

How did you decide to open your own shop?
I didn't know what I wanted to take it school, and there wasn’t a store just for skate. My friends and I had been traveling around and I just thought a lot of stores we saw were surf this and sunshine that and we were like what about a skateboard store only – what’s the deal? So we found a lease not far from my house and went for it. At that parking lot we ended up throwing some of the first street contest that went down in the state. There had been one or two of them but they were really rare, so we got into that and our lease basically got approached by our landlord and he wanted to renegotiate it because we were causing so much static in the parking lot. At the time I was already spending some time a couple miles over here (Little Five) a few miles away so when we got the chance to leave we did but I learned a lot from that store that's for sure and we did some crazy shit there.

How did you make the transition from being so involved in contests and skating all the time to running your own store?
I had someone running the store when I still trying to make some money out of it [skating]. At that time you could be in the top ten or the top 20 and no one would even know, back in 1990-199,1 it just didn’t matter because vert was so dead. I mean the industry followed it but there was no money getting made. So the little bit of money you were making really meant something to you or you were just hooked. For me, I had a job also.

I was still skating all the time, and taking photos here and there for whatever magazine. I built a ramp in a warehouse and a vert ramp, and then some other setups, too – some pools to skate. So all the time of being a young father I was skating but still working every day. In the long run, it all turned out for the best. I ended up having a son who is a skateboarder also. I mean, to skate with your son is something pretty cool.  There’s not very many father/sons who are doing what we’re doing. I would have traded all that back then to have what I got now.

Speaking of your son, your shop sponsors a skate team right?
We have a pretty progressive team, that’s for sure. My son is on it, of course, and we have David Clark, Kevin Radley, Jeremiah Babb, Pat McClain, Peyton Bartlett, Kurt Crocker,  Graham Bickerstaff, and Chandler Woods…and a few more. We have twelve people on the team.

What shop is your closest competition in the area?
It would have to be a real skate shop, so I would say Ruin. They are right on the edge of the perimeter and they hold stock like I hold. When you go in there you actually see a real shop.

Skating is changing. There are tons of kids going their own way doing their own thing. You know even if I don't like someone I will still say if their product is going the right way, because I'll have to carry it eventually anyway, because I'm a skate shop. I mean, I don't have to carry it but that's just how I am – if people are beating my door down for it, I will carry it.

What product categories are top-sellers for the shop?
We are selling a ton of safety equipment, but it’s probably equal to apparel. But nothing is really holding a candle to what we do with hardgoods or shoes. We could name the few lines that we don’t have but they are so few. I would say Globe, Osiris, Element and Gravis and that’s it. We pretty much have everything else or we try. If it’s not working we let it sit for a moment. Stuff that may come through for next season but we have leftovers now, because it just wasn’t strong enough to carry over. We could buy double or more of what we bought of another brand – like more Adidas or more Vans.

Nike seems to be running in the top, but I mean with the power of Adidas sales and with Vans it can vary. Because we are on an allocated thing with Nike some times, we’ll end up with more of their styles on the wall. If I had that with Vans and Adidas I could probably carry more styles or just more colors of the same style and who knows, it might be equal down the line for those three brands. We also have tons of Podium stuff, Circa and Fallen and all that.

What’s the single best-selling brand over the past six months at the shop?
Overall, I’d probably say Nike. My display with their stuff is pretty extensive. But we do all the other brands. If phone calls were going off the hook for Sole Tech stuff – any of their brands –  or any other stuff in the industry, then as much as I’m answering phone calls about Nike and Adidas stuff I would easily want to flip the script and try to back the company if they had been there all along in skating. You know, I probably wouldn't have this store if I hadn't tried to work so hard with companies that were coming into skateboarding that were new, like Nike and Adidas. I still had accounts with all these other brands but I knew it was going to sell more shoes and broaden my customer base if I went for it. And for me, at the time looking around my store compared to now, that was a really good thing to do. Some people say its not hardcore but if its enabling you to buy a chain or more of the products you believe in…I mean there are just some brands out there that I don’t have to buy but I buy anyways because I want to keep supporting that company.