Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Future Sucks: Skateboard Retail

The very first blog post that I ever wrote was about an imaginary therapy session between a psychiatrist and the skateboard industry. The premise was probably a little weird and lofty for some people, but the point still stands that the skateboard industry is changing, and for better or worse, it is largely as a result of pressure from us, the consumers.

For those of you that haven't heard, one of the most beloved skate shops in the world, Metro Skateshop, is closing. This makes me contemplate what it will mean in the future to buy skateboarding goods. It seems that more and more, people are opting out of going to a local shop and instead choosing to order things online. This isn't a matter of large corporations crushing the little guys either, as CCS stores (A division of Footlocker) are also beginning to close. Instead, the issue seems to be that people just prefer to buy their skateboarding goods online. I've bought things online a few times in the past, and at the risk of sounding like a crotchety old man, I am going to discuss why this change is going to ruin everything if we let it. The reasons are as follows:

1. The reason everyone talks about- Supporting local shops supports your local skate scene.
This reason is stated most often when discussing the closing of skate shops. The fact of the matter is, small, skater-owned shops are more likely to do 2 things that companies run by other people will not do. They sponsor local skateboarders and they provide a place to organize.
What I mean by "a place to organize" is that skate shop owners can be in touch with local skateboarders and are more equipped to provide things for their local skateboarding community- whether that's by helping create skate spots and parks or scheduling demos, contests, and events, or even occasionally getting petitions together to fight whatever local bans on skateboarding or skate spots that there may be. Or maybe your local skateshop does none of those things, and it's just a safe haven where people sit around, watch skate videos, and complain about cops-that's still something that online stores don't offer. Also, sponsoring local skateboarders might not sound particularly important, but without it, I feel like a lot of young, talented skaters will have to work much harder to gain recognition, and having a team allows for local demos and shop videos, which help inspire other skaters. The relationship between local skaters and their local shop/team is mutually beneficial.

2. The reason everyone knows but willingly ignores anyway- You don't always get what you want when you order skateboard supplies online.

If we were talking about, say, a toothbrush, this reason wouldn't really apply. When you buy a toothbrush, you're mostly just going on faith that nobody at the factory dunked it in the toilet and choosing how firm you want your bristles to be.
This isn't so with skateboards or other hard goods. Skateboarding involves so much personal preference and style that simply isn't addressed at online stores. People like certain board shapes and concaves over others. The item that I least like buying online is shoes. I can tell a lot about how a shoe will perform just by holding it and playing with it in my hands- I can bend it back and forth to get a sense of how the board feel will be. I can feel how grippy the sole is. I can feel how well padded the heel and toes are. I can study the stitching and get a feel for where and when the shoe is likely to get holes. All this before I even try them on. By the time I leave the store, me and my shoes have spent quality time getting to know each other. The difference is comparable to finally asking out that cute girl in your physics class versus a 32 year old chain smoker showing up at your door and saying, "I'm from the escort service."
Not to mention, the skateshop owners care just as much about their products as you do. They are studying the stuff when they get in and getting feedback to see what works for their customers and what doesn't. They are storing the decks and griptape in temperature controlled rooms so that there is no chance of heat and humidity ruining griptape and softening the decks. The shop adds another layer of quality control that I'm not sure you can get from the minimum wage worker in Texas sweating his face off in a warehouse.
Finally, I think people underestimate the benefit of having a knowledgeable salesman present when buying skate gear. People who have been skateboarding for a long time forget that there was a time when you had no idea what the differences between a high truck and a low truck were, or what kind of bearings you should get, or what kind of board shapes feel good. Not only can we get questions answered before we buy, but I've actually been allowed to leave a skate shop so that I could try out my new setup to make sure that everything was working as it should before I took it home. In a time where decks are often 60 dollars each, I have to ask (and it's far worse in some other countries)- do you really want to give all of that up just for the sake of convenience and saving a little bit of money?

3. The reason that nobody talks about- It's really not any more cheap or convenient most of the time, when you think about it.

Shopping online always appears to be cheaper, and sometimes it is. But usually, shipping costs cover most of the cost difference between what the online price is vs. what one would pay at a skate shop (and mind you, as I mentioned before, the skate shop offers better quality control).
But for the sake of argument, let's say you're a really good shopper and you always manage to pay way under what an actual skate shop would pay for it. Scientists study your shopping methods, because your ability to find exactly what you need while paying half the retail price is unmatched. Congratulations! But suppose you're skating some set of stairs one fine day, and your deck snaps. The session is pretty much over, so you go home and immediately shop for new decks. After spending probably about an hour or two on the computer, you have finally found a board for a good deal, that is your favorite brand and size, and you've entered your address and credit card information. Great. You still can't skate for at least 5 business days while you wait for your new deck to come. If you're like me, you immediately get the 'skateboard jones' and start obsessively watching skate videos in hopes of that replacing your deep desire to skate. The alternative is to spend even more time always ordering boards before you need them, and then as you're current deck gets razor tail and softer by the day, you have to look at your brand new skate deck sitting in your room and say "no, I will set you up when I can no longer skate my current one, because I don't have the money/sponsorship required to switch out a deck every 2 weeks". That sort of sucks. With a skate shop, the scenario plays out like this:
-Deck breaks
-You walk/drive/find a ride to the skate shop
-Choose your new deck
-Buy it
-You or the shopkeeper set it up
-Go skate
-You look at a clock and realize that only an hour has passed
This whole process is beautifully simple and effective, and yet every day, many of us are choosing not to participate in it.

Thank you for tolerating my rant.

1 comment:

  1. Nice Post! Thanks for sharing your valuable view.