After stumbling upon the impassioned writings about skateboarding on the Swollen website, TransWorld Business caught up with Spencer White out of Baltimore, Maryland to talk candidly about his one man show at Swollen Skateboards, how commercialism is ruining the dirty rotten heart of skateboarding, and “kids these days . . . ”
Tell us a little bit about Swollen Skateboards, how long you’ve been around, what retailers you supply to, and who your customers are:
Swollen has been around as an internet marketplace since 2007. The majority of our business is direct via our website www.swollenskateboards.com. We do have a presence locally in Maryland in many of the local skate shops like Charm City, Stalefish Board Shop, Wavedancer, and Pit Crew. They have been our biggest help in pushing the Swollen name. We’ve also gotten into some stores in New Jersey, Maine, and Florida.
Getting our stuff in skate shops is not the easiest thing to do. With big name distributors not willing to chance things on brands that are new and not solid for their sales, it’s nearly impossible to get mainstream fast. Skate shops don’t usually have the loot to kick out to buy brands that may sit on their shelf longer than others at premium prices, and who can blame them? When trying to get the Swollen word out, it does presents an issue.
Our product launches and Swollen Girls have popped up in a few skate mags, adult mags, endless blogs, and websites, but still the big guys don’t want to chance it. Skate shop owners want the ability to go to a website, order inventory, and charge it on their Visa for the month. Not being a part of that distribution network takes the small guys right out of the equation.
Our customers buy direct worldwide – Japan to Australia. The majority of customers are girls, which was one of my original intentions in building the brand.
What was your background prior to starting the Swollen movement?
Prior to Swollen Skateboards I dabbled a bit in the adult internet world. I produced, filmed, and edited several full length import car and motorcycle DVD’s. I also was, and still am, a carpenter. I have always had an interest in girls, photography, art, and filming. I grew up as a skater from the age of eight and it has always been my passion and an endless thought in the back of my mind.
What is the story behind the Swollen name?
Swollen is what happens to your head when you pull off a trick for the first time. Swollen is what happens to your knee or elbow when you slam. Swollen is what happens to you when you see a hot chick. Swollen is what happens to your fist when you break someone’s face for talking trash. Swollen is what happens to a girls chest and ego when they get big pornstar implants. Swollen is what happens to your blood pressure when you’re skating away from Johny Law. Swollen is what you want to do to your girlfriend but she just won’t let you. Swollen is what happens to your heart when that same girl breaks it. Swollen is the feeling you get while you’re getting inked and pierced. Swollen is that feeling you get at the end of the day when you had a perfect game of skate!
[disclaimer: Swollen Skateboards does not endorse, support, or promote any illegal skating, tagging, running from the law or trespassing whatsoever.]
What influenced the business model you run the company on?
I guess Zorlac and Alva are my biggest influences if I were to tell you that a company influenced me, but on the business side of things we are still struggling with that answer.
I really had no plan, I financed the company with my own money and knew that I just wanted to do what I wanted to do, if people liked it then I would make some money, if not, I still had a skate company that was built in the name of keeping the hardcore alive!
What is your breakdown of inventory?
Our inventory is mostly women’s apparel, followed by hard goods, and a few accessories. Hardgoods are hard to keep up on, lots of investment for little return. It’s where our heart is, just not our pockets.
What brands would you most like to collaborate or partner with and why?
I have no interest in partnering with any other brand. I don’t think there is a single brand out there like Swollen, thus the need for us to evolve. There is not one skate brand out there today that is “new” that really interests me. I dig the old school stuff, the stuff I grew up on, the rotten, dirty, hardcore lifestyle clothing and underground skate companies. The brands that made skateboarding …skateboarding.
What has been the single best-selling product category over the past six months?
How big is your staff? How have the difficulties of this economy affected the way you run/hire your staff?
I am the staff. The economy slammed Swollen hard, I think it is picking up momentum again finally though. If people are out of work, and have no money, of course it’s going to hurt everyone around, especially when the things you sell are not a necessity to living. I have no need to hire anyone else at the moment, any artwork that I need done is sub contracted or done by close friends. I take care of everything else, at times things are a bit hectic but that’s life.
Are you altering the way Swollen runs for 2011? If so, how?
I am not going to alter anything, our fans love who we are, what we are and what we represent . . . I just want to keep it rolling. I have plans on adding some new wood, some new gear and just doing things how I do them. Of course I am sure we will double our Swollen Girl population easily by 2012.
Do you have a team? What do you look for in a rider representing your company?
Currently no team riders, although in the past few years I have had up to four at a time riding for us. We have not had a rider that is willing to stick it out and worth keeping on board since the beginning of Swollen.
Kids these days seem to want one thing when it comes to any sort of sponsorship . . . free stuff free stuff. Forget the loyalty, throw a few boards at them and you hear about them selling them to friends. Throw not enough wood their way, they talk crap.
I guess if I could get it up and going enough to take a team on road I would, but at this point, non-loyal skaters looking for free goods and contributing nothing back to the brand are not my biggest concern. Skating is what this is all about, I am done with the free crap game for a bit. When I was 13 and a skate shop threw some stickers at me I was all about getting the word out and proud that they took the initiative to help me out. Things just are not like that anymore. I think the commercial aspect of skating has gotten to the sport. Swollen is about roots, hardcore skaters with hardcore dreams, not about pleasing the masses.
What kind of relationship do you have with the Baltimore community? Do you give back or sponsor any local events/organizations?
Baltimore, Maryland is just as important to Swollen as anything. It’s what I know, it’s where my thoughts initiated and came from. It’s where I made friends and foes, its the streets I shredded on. It means a lot to me and influences Swollen in every way, even in company colors and artwork.
At what point do you consider yourself successful?
I considered myself successful after the first girls skate shirt sold and I sold my first Swollen Deck. If there was one other person out there that appreciated what I was about, where I was going with my company and what I represented – than I was psyched. I knew the hardcore still remained and I never had any doubts about our success.
The skate industry needs to see a change. Big names with no soul, skaters with no character, and generic skills just don’t cut it where I come from. To each his own, but lets get back to hardcore. Its all a money racket at this point, big competitions sponsored by sugar drink companies and big, mall brand, generic clothing companies . . . how the hell can we compete with that?
What was the brand’s biggest obstacle in 2010?
Our biggest obstacle in 2010 would be showing the world that we are indeed a real skate company. Just because we are represented by an army of worldwide skater chicks, deemed Official Swollen Girls, doesn’t mean we are just a “modeling” company. Swollen is, and always will be, a skate company.
Looking back to when you first started the company, what do you wish you knew then that you know now?
Wow, that’s a crazy hard question to answer. Well obviously I wish I knew that some of decks wouldn’t go over to well with the moms of the world, but then again I really don’t care because they were the decks I wanted to produce. I have had many ups and downs with Swollen but I have had fun the whole ride, meeting cool people around the world and seeing the faces of Swollen fans. It’s a great feeling to know that people like what you do, and support you, to know that people will go to extreme measures just to be a part of what they believe in.
I created Swollen Skateboards for the lovers of hardcore and to keep the hardcore skating lifestyle alive. I created Swollen for skater chicks, skate loving chicks and skater’s moms worldwide. I have thoroughly enjoyed every second. I have no regrets.
If you have something to say, good or bad, I would love to hear it.
Email me at: email@example.com.
Swollen Skateboards USA