Tim Reardon has taken an alternative sport and turned it into a legitimate -- and successful -- business. But with smarter consumers demanding better, more trendy product and fellow retailers coming out of the woodwork, it's not going to get any easier.
Reardon, 27, grew up skateboarding and has been retailing gear and footwear since 1994 as co-owner of Frederick, Md.-based Pitcrew. Currently, 11 shoe brands make up 45 percent of the Pitcrew's total product mix, including core skate labels DC Shoe Co., Emerica, Etnies and Vans. Pitcrew also sells the requisite best skateboard helmets, of course, as well as snowboards, apparel and accessories.
Reardon said that today may just be the most opportune time ever for the skateboarding industry. "Right now, you have people who grew up skateboarding, who are having kids who participate in skateboarding," he said. "On the whole, if you've got skate shoes , you're selling them."
The catch is, everyone is selling them. From independents like Pitcrew, to large chains such as Journey's and Gadzooks, to catalogues geared exclusively to the skate kid. Reardon has managed to grow his business in spite of increasing competition because of his attention to detail. As a skater, he knows who his customer is, and understands that the main difference between his skate generation, and the skate generation of today, is that they know exactly what they want.
"Kids are a lot more fickle, because they are more educated," said Reardon. "Before, we dictated to them and now they're dictating to us."
In addition, as a rep for DC Shoe Co., a position he has held for nearly 10 years, he is able to stay in close contact with both sides of the industry -- the vendor as well as other retailers like himself -- to gain a wide perspective on the skate business as a whole. "Being a rep, I'm able to constantly talk to 125 other stores to see what works for them," explained Reardon. "And, I always try to keep in contact with the sales managers from all of the companies because they tend to have a better focus on what's happening around the U.S. versus just my area."
Reardon's constant vigilance about the business of skateboarding has paid off. Over the past eight years, Reardon and his partner Malcolm Bryan have overseen the expansion of the Pitcrew from a 400-square-foot shop to the 3,200-square-foot skate emporium it is today, relocating twice because they outgrew their previous spaces.
And, keeping true to his skateboarding roots, Reardon has decorated the 16-foot-high walls of the current store with vintage skateboards and photographs, as well as autographed boards from Reardon's pro-skater friends. --
FN: What footwear trends will be prevalent for spring 2003?
TR: A lot of pro models are coming down in price. They are stripping a lot of features out of pro models, and when you strip enough bells and whistles out of it, you can't charge $89 for it. I don't want to take high-line shoes and bring them down to this price point, because it trains our customer to go after a much lower price point. I think it's a bad move. But, overall, the shoes are getting cleaner looking.
FN: What's your current bestseller?
TR: DC is my No. 1 brand for several different reasons. They offer a very broad spectrum of styles, so they cover a lot of different customers, and they also offer really good prices so I can make good money selling their product. My No. 2 brand would be Emerica because they have amazing skaters and they have very good marketing. Next is Etnies because they are very mainstream so I catch a lot of my second-tier customers with their product.
FN: What spring/summer 2002 product have you sold out of?
TR: DC's AVATAR and Manteca are really good price points -- $59 to $69 -- and are currently sold out from the company and the only stock we have is what we have left. Also, the Reynolds from Emerica, which retails for $83, [sells well]. We sell out to the piece whenever we get it in.
FN: What has been the slowest-moving shoe for you this summer?
TR: The brand that has slowed the most for me is s. But, there are so many shoes out there right now that if you do a good job of purchasing, I feel as if you can really sell just about anything in this marketplace.
FN: Describe your best skateboarding shoes.
TR: Right now, we probably have the broadest customer [base] we've ever had, from age five to, literally, 45. The ball park customers are 12 to 20, but a lot of people who used to skate are getting back into it right now and kids are skating at a much younger age than they ever have.
Plus, we're seeing more on the East Coast now, where skate shoes are becoming much more of a fashion staple. We get a lot of customers from outside the skate world coming in for shoes because they can see our shoe display through the big bay windows at the front of the store.
FN: What influences the skate customer to buy?
TR: Definitely pro skaters, as well as other kids who skate. There are a lot of pretty good skaters in this area and the kids who skate are influenced by those guys. Also, the stuff the kids see in videos and magazines.
And, skate brands like Etnies do a great deal of cross-marketing through other sports, such as motocross, that really helps to bring the customer into the store.
FN: What challenges do you face when catering to today's customers?
TR: One of the hardest things is advertising to them. Direct mail and our website are our only two real forms of reaching them other than the in-store promotions we do, where we bring pros in for demos. We constantly are looking for ways to lure our customers back.
FN: How has your customer's buying habits changed since you started your business? TR: Before, we dictated to them and now they're dictating to us. Kids tend to skate more than ever before, so they're going for product a lot quicker. They are a lot more fickle, too, because they're more educated. They're exposed to a lot more product than ever before because of the Internet and mail-order skate catalogues. Because they're fickle, we have to really work harder in purchasing the product for our store.
FN: How has skate product changed?
TR: A guy who grew up skating may not be skating anymore, but [he is] still familiar with skate brands and still wants to wear those brands. The skate companies want to retain those customers so they're now building product that's maturing with the customer. I think as skateboard companies have matured they've also grown a little tired of the atypical skateboard shoes, so they branch out to fashion shoes.
FN: How do you stay current with today's skateboarding trends?
TR: I am constantly watching videos, reading magazines and keeping in touch with our customers and our reps at skateboard and shoe companies. I can tell you that if I hadn't grown up in this world I probably would look at it and go, `There's no way in the world I'll figure this out.' If you haven't lived in skateboarding it's very tough to walk into it because you don't understand the complexities of it. Now, punk rock is the cool thing in skateboarding where a year ago it was hip-hop. Your customer can basically flip on a dime.
FN: How often do you bring in new product?
TR: Every week. We really try to space out our buy so that we constantly have new product coming in because it keeps kids coming back. If a kid sees [a shoe] in a magazine and I don't have it, that means my shop is doing something wrong. I have to be focused on that because the window to purchase is fairly narrow and if you didn't pre-book it, the chances of you getting it by the time the trend hits are super rare. You have to get the crystal ball out and guess.
FN: How do you decide what footwear to buy?
TR: My partner and I try to look at everybody's shoes before we make a definite decision, and we also buy a lot on instinct. We've been doing it for a while and really have a good feel for what sells. Also, being a rep, I'm able to constantly talk to 125 other stores and see what's working for them. I also always try to keep in contact with all the sales managers from all the companies because they tend to have a better focus on what's going on around the U.S. versus just in my area.
We are also buying more from people who are willing to work with us with terms and discounts. For us, it first has to be quality product, but if we can get a good price too, then we tend to do more business with that company. We do a fairly strong business for all the vendors that we carry. I'm a strong believer that if you carry a brand, you should try to represent it completely in your store.
FN: Where do you shop?
TR: I feel that the most important show is the September ASR show in San Diego. We also go to the February ASR show in Long Beach. Local rep shows have become very important to us because in the last two years the buying cycle has gotten shorter than it used to be. As the business has grown, the restraints on the buyer have increased. You have to make your orders in a very timely fashion or you just don't get product anymore.
FN: Do conflicts arise since you are also a DC rep?
TR: No. I sell to stores that are within competitive distance of my own store, but those guys are all really good friends of ours. I think skateboarding is one unique world where that can co-exist.
FN: Who is your retail competition?
TR: There isn't another core store for 30 miles, so most of my competition tends to come from more major retailers like Pacific Sunwear, Journeys and Gadzooks, as well as a couple of sporting retailers that also sell skateboarding gear and products.
FN: How do you compete with them?
TR: I beat them at their own game. Those stores spend a lot of money on marketing and they pay very high rent. But, they're advertising all the brands that I have in my store. At first I didn't want to carry any of those brands, but now I actually purposely buy some of the product they [carry]. When consumers who may never come in my store recognize a brand, it's going to make it easier for them to step into my store.
To us, service is the No. 1 focus. When someone comes to a skate shop, they tend to be on the defensive the moment they walk in the door. We try to make sure people feel comfortable.
FN: Describe your product pricing.
TR: We tend to have very competitive pricing. Our cost structure is a little bit lower so we don't have to make quite as much. And, I try to beat the competition in selections. In addition, we make sure we know the people who work at those stores because they're our biggest proponent. When they don't have a product, they send people our way. I've gained a lot of sales because of our competition. FN: What do you like about today's skateboarding retail environment? TR: When I grew up skateboarding, my parents supported me but they didn't understand it. For the first time ever, you have people who actually participated in skateboarding having kids who do it, so it's a really cool time.
FN: What don't you like about today's skateboarding retail environment?
TR: The overexposure of skateboarding is frustrating. Skateboarders are the only people in the world that want to be accepted until we are -- and then we don't want to be accepted anymore. I get a little bit bummed when I see skate product in a bunch of mall stores, or when I see it at the mass-market level. But, I also understand that that's an opportunity for me as a businessman, to make some money. Skateboarding comes up and goes down and we're on a pretty good upward hill right now. We also still get harassed by cops, so [at least] it's not totally accepted.