In the town of Bozeman, Montana, the likelihood of finding a ‘core skate shop is pretty slim.
World Boards first opened its doors in 1993 in Bozeman, where the majority of the population is more concerned with huntin’ and ranchin’ than skateboarding and snowboarding.
Jay Moore is the owner of World boards-a ‘core skate and snow shop is a remodeled house with 1,700 square feet of retail space spread throughout four hardwood-floored rooms and a basement. “One of the most unique things about the shop is that we have more storage area than we have retail floor space,” he says. “So we can have plenty of room out on the floor, but still a suitable stock of merchandise.”
The summer of 2002 was spent renovating a 425-square-foot room, which now houses snowboards and snow-related softgoods. Skate goods are displayed toward the front of the store, with wheels, trucks and hardware in the display case and an impressive shoe wall in the west room. Skateboarding accounts for 30 percent of business, with snowboarding accounting for the other 70 percent.
With a population of 31,520, Bozeman is a small town. Even smaller when you consider that the total population includes 11,760 Montana State University students. Bozeman occupies the Gallatin Valley, which is encircled by mountain ranges and a short distance of two ski resorts. The majority of skateboarders who shop at World Boards also spend their winters snowboarding.
Shop Owner Jay “Stoker” Moore traces his roots back to Eagle Rock, California outside of L.A. He and his brother Jim started skating in 1970 with the standard roller-skate wheels nailed onto a two-by-four. Moore lived skateboarding for the next twenty years, skating the Santa Monica schools, Kenter Banks, the “Mini-Wallos” ditch in Glendive (named after Wallos ditch in Hawai’i) and building his own skate ramps, including the 32-foot-wide legendary Eagle Rock vert ramp in his backyard, which was the site of early pro contests, ramp jams, history making-and also featured in Vision’s first movie, SkateVision.
Moore married his wife Laurie and moved to Bozeman in 1987 after a recon trip there to visit the in-laws awarded an unexpected epic snowboarding day at the then-untapped local resort, Bridger Bowl. After six years of seasonal carpentry jobs and snowboard instructing, Moore and former business partner Ian Ford made the move to start World Boards.
A lot has changed in the local skate scene during the almost ten years since World Boards first opened its doors, and Jay has been the Wizard of Oz behind the curtain for all of it. For starters there is now a skateboard scene in Bozeman. Moore’s philosophy has been to grow the scene along with the shop.With years of expertise in ramp building, Moore has made a habit of building and giving away ramps scattered throughout Bozeman. The total is up to about six, including a vert ramp to, as he puts it, “keep the scene going.” Moore also was instrumental in starting the first and only 4-H skateboard club, which now claims 140 twelve- to fifteen-year-old members locally.
World Boards hosts local contests and also organizes and funds the Vans Warped Tour qualifiers, which venued at the local Team Paine-built concrete skatepark, which Moore helped to co-design, fundraise, and petition for. The shop also tries to bring in demos like the most recent Supernaut demo, but Moore finds that most teams are unwilling to travel to this remote location. World Boards sponsors three skate teams separated into the A-team, including Chris Murphy, Matt Barton, Elliott Lindsay, and Jeremy Adamich; the B-team; and the Development Team for a few little kids who get twenty percent off their purchases and yes, free stickers.
All of this dedication to promoting skateboarding has paid off in customer loyalty (best embodied by the number of World Boards stickers on cars throughout town) and annual increased sales for the shop. His customers cover the whole range, including parents who appreciate the helpful, well-informed sales staff and the “low on bro” atmosphere where you’re more likely to hear jazz than intimidating Blink-Bizkit rock.
The only competition in town is the Zumiez at the Gallatin Valley Mall, which opened two years ago. Jay would like to see more of the mall-follower/skate-lifestyle folks who Zumiez attracts coming into his shop. He hopes that by continuing to ask customers what they want and how his shop can keep improving, he’ll start to bring those other customers in. On weekends, customers arrive from towns all over southwest Montana, driving as long as two hours from Helena, Billings, Butte, and over the pass from Livingston. He figures that about half of his Saturday shoppers are from out of town. World Boards is unique among skate shops in that it is closed on Sundays.
Paperwork is the biggest nightmare for Moore: “I was up until 5:30 this morning catching up on paperwork that had been stacking up during the remodel this summer.” As for his role at the shop, Moore points out that yesterday he was the carpenter/painter, today he’s the manager, and tomorrow he’ll be the electrician. Moore has gutted and rebuilt every square foot of space in the shop, including custom-crafting each display.
“I want to be involved in the grassroots part of the shop. I love being on the floor selling stuff, talking to customers,” says Moore. “That’s the fun part, but if we open ourselves up to having this large variety of brands and goods like we do, I end up handcuffing myself and making things harder with all the paperwork.
“I’m also making an effort to delegate more. I try my hardest not to do something if someone else can do it. When I’m not working, I spend time with my family. I wish I had more time to go roll around and grind at the park, but I skated six days a week for twenty years of my life.”
In addition to being a shop owner, Moore also travels during the winter as a World Cup snowboard judge.
Moore prides himself on consistently predicting and acting on trends before they’re ever in the magazines by keeping close contact with industry leaders and old friends like Steve Douglas from Element, Paul Schmidt, Lance Mountain, and Tony Hawk. “People come into the shop, and I can see them thinking, What does this 39-year old guy in Montana know about skateboarding?” says Moore. “Unlike some of the shops in California, we get rep visits about twice a year. Other than that, we’re basically on an island out here, so I have to make an effort to keep in contact.”
As far as inventory goes, the shop places a huge emphasis on skate shoes, with an entire wall of the shop displaying brands like Etnies, Emerica, éS, Gravis, Savier, DC, and Vans. “Every rep who comes in here’s jaw drops when they see our shoe wall,” says Moore. World Boards carries apparel brands including Matix, Fourstar, Droors, Volcom, Independent, and also Copia, which Moore says is turning out to be one of the biggest sellers this season.
Since skateboarding has taken off in the last few years, Moore remarks dryly that he has been “selling a lot more decks for a lot less money.” A deck with free griptape sells for 40 bucks. Moore pleads to the industry to help the small shops like his make margins on decks. “It’s so infuriating” he says, “kids come in with catalogs or Zumiez prices and want us to match it. It’s not fair, but we don’t have a choice.” World Boards also sells a shop brand called Main Street, which retails for $37.95 with griptape.
As far as ordering goes, Moore never repeats a board and tries to include offbeat and small brands like Expedition One, Supernaut, and Lib Technologies, along with the standards like Girl, Chocolate, Zoo York, Zero, and Element. He also makes sure to not order too much on prebooks, “because then you’re locked in and don’t have the dollars to throw around for COD fill-ins or quickships to buy more of the unexpected fast sellers.” Adds Moore, “As a small business, I’m at an advantage, I can pick up the phone and order some boards and get the newest wet-paint graphic in three d
ays because I’m able to be flexible, unlike larger stores that are locked into buying groups. I also keep turning over inventory and keep it fresh.”
Moore addresses the local market by scanning closeouts and bringing in off-price shoes and apparel along with his regular order: “This allows me to offer, for example éS Kostons, that I get for fifteen dollars to my customer for 30 dollars-everyone wins. The key is to be sparing and focused with closeouts. World Boards also stocks a large number of longboards by Arbor, Sector 9, and Surf One to stoke out the college kids.
In the future Moore dreams of building an indoor skatepark with the shop in front to provide twelve months of skateboarding pleasure in Bozeman. For Moore, the bottom line is to “keep it real.” Moore says, “We want our customer base to be people who are skateboarding for the sake of skateboarding-the physical act of rolling around.
“As a business we have to stock items that sell the lifestyle, but our goal is to educate our customers and keep our integrity away from the facade of the skate-lifestyle industry.” Moore sells bumper stickers and patches that espouse this ideology, including an “Anti-Frontside-Indy” campaign sticker, and “I’m a Pro Skateboarder and I Vote.”
With new skateparks sprouting as fast as wheat, including a Dreamland park in the works in Dillon and plans for new parks in Missoula and Livingston, skate business will likely continue to boom at World Boards.