BY: PATRICK MALONEY
When we first started up I was broke, frustrated, and confused. It was the best time ever. At one point my business partner at the time wandered away with a box of boards, sold them, and moved to the other side of the country without telling me anything. Looking back at it now, it’s pretty hilarious and re-assures why I loved that guy.
Starting your own board company isn’t that hard—you just have to be prepared to make hardly any money from it (unless you’re a well-loved pro or your company is Palace). Do it, why not, right? All you need is a minimum of a couple thousand bucks and a general idea of what your company is or would like to be.
I owned Panther Starship skateboards based in Toronto, Ontario. We were (or maybe still are?) operating for a solid four years which doesn’t seem like a whole lot, but I feel accomplished lasting even that long. We never went out of business per say, as we just sort of drifted apart as our occupations began to develop and the idea of a seven day weekend selling skateboards and skateboarding all day unfortunately diminished. It was a great experience that made me a lot of friends (and even a few enemies), made people think I did a lot more than I actually did, and learned a lot about entrepreneurship.
Here’s some things I’ve learned from trial and error throughout the years that may or may not come in handy if you do decide to enter the bizarre and confusing world of skateboarding.
You’re going to get a lot of awkward moments where people ask you to be on the team. They might even hate you for denying them and take it personally because they think that you’re saying they’re not good enough when really it’s not like that…but sometimes that’s exactly the case.
When we put together our team I really just put on any of my close friends who ripped. I even for some stupid reason put myself on even though I’m not even close to being as good as anyone else on the team. Looking back now that probably bummed out some people for good reason.
What a lot of people don’t understand is that sponsoring someone is really saying you’re investing in them. For example just assume you give one team member 3 boards a month. A board at cost is give or take $25. $25×3=$75 a month in boards alone for one person and that isn’t including shirts, stickers, our signature drilldo, or whatever else you’re throwing in that package. Making a profit in your first year is tough and putting together a big team doesn’t help.
When picking the team there’s a few things you have to keep in mind. One of those things is how well this person operates on and off a board. What I’m saying is you could have a big bag of shiny delicious looking apples and it looks appealing to your customers. Then you take that bag and drop a giant steaming shit right directly in the middle of those apples. What I mean by that is you could have the product but it won’t matter if it’s being endorsed by shit. You could sponsor Johnny Handrail who is out getting footage on a daily basis but then at night can’t handle his alcohol and says things that would only be acceptable around Mel Gibson.
Another thing, although not completely necessary, is if they are getting coverage. It does help a bit if they’re out getting photos with your logo displayed all over it. Give him a few beers as photo incentive unless they’re the person I just mentioned.
Don’t name it anything that could rhyme with a penis. Go ahead and name it something like “The Block” with the slogan “The Block is hot”—can you really expect people not to rhyme it with cock? Or you could just deliberately name your company The Cock—whatever works.
I got the name Panther Starship from a fake band I started with friends like 10 years ago. We would tell girls our band was playing a show and that we were an experimental synth Jamaican steel drum band. Needless to say, it worked every time when picking up. When the time came down to name our company we went with that because we couldn’t come up with anything else. The only problem was soon a band came out called Cobra Starship and people started to wonder if they inspired our name. The answer is simply no because that band is shit and I wonder what kind of awful person actually listens to them.
After you get the name, scribble down a logo (which also shouldn’t look like a penis—or should it…?), and you’re set. Getting sued would only be fun if you were on Judge George Brown and even then his sassiness could be against you. So yeah, don’t steal people’s logos.
Before we even get into what to look for when picking a manufacturer for your boards, just go with Generator who makes DLX and Kayo boards. I’m not an over the top DLX fanboy and I can still honestly tell you you’re going to have a hard time selling your boards to anyone over the age of 18 if you tell them it isn’t DLX wood. I’m not saying it’s the best—it could be or it couldn’t be—but from previous experience I feel that this is the biggest piece of advice I could possibly give. So skip any other brand and just establish a solid relationship with Generator (you’re welcome for the business guys!).
When it comes to sizes just ask around what your friends are riding. It most likely won’t go as low as 7.8 or any higher than 8.5 but from experience 8 and 8.25 sold the best. I made the mistake of ordering 7.5’s once just as this new trend of wider is better went rolling right through. Always a great look when you’re trying to get an older demographic and kids are taking off their Element bam boards to throw yours on.
The graphic will define your company. Find an artist who will accept a reasonable amount of pay (if any), who can meet deadlines and won’t half ass his work. Order as many as you can afford and try to put out something new at least once a year or season. Just for the love of God don’t put a skateboard on a skateboard graphic. It’s no different then the guy who goes to a concert wearing the band’s t-shirt. It’s like c’mon, we get it.
The Promotional Product
To make your operation look a little more legit you’re going to need shirts and stickers. You could just do what everyone else is doing and scribble something down with marker, rip off a beer logo, or get some sort of well-known photographer to take a black and white photo and slap it on there. If you only make one and charge $75 for it and some idiot is guaranteed to buy it.
Try to market it away from bros because they ruin everything so I suggest staying away from all-over-print, skulls, and anything to do with weed. Stickers are and always will be awesome. I don’t understand why we all get boners for stickers but it’s a phenomenon that will be around forever, like Ja Rule.
Putting out a video or at least a promo is a good idea to raise awareness but if the video sucks I don’t think sales are going to be skyrocketing anytime soon. Also I wouldn’t count on making a profit on DVD sales of your video either. If porn is downloaded for free nowadays I don’t know why skateboarding wouldn’t be either. Both involve tail slides and sometimes a back disaster.
If you’re going to put out an ad try to at least throw some creativity and originality into it. I feel that just throwing together a sequence or picture and the logo doesn’t cut it anymore for new companies. I really wish we went through with this one ad idea of a wizard shaving a chunk out of his pubes saying that our boards had magic pube ply technology. I’m sure we’d all be driving Bentleys after that one.
It may seem like a good idea to put your boards in every shop possible, and sometimes it can be, but exclusivity can be a key factor in your company’s success. Personally, I wouldn’t want my boards in a shop that has its board wall right next to a bunch of snowboards and longboards. Why? Because they suck. If the people at the counter don’t know who Julien Stranger is it’s for the best to pack your stuff up and move along.
One time I was asked if the graphic was a sticker because the silk screen went over the mounting holes. Do you really want an asshole like that selling your boards? Keep your product in local shops and don’t go overkill by flooding it with too much product. Remember it’s natural instinct to want something that no one else has, hence why stupid people line up for days to get some rare overpriced sneakers. Keeping a limited edition to your product can be the difference between someone picking your board over someone else’s, because they think it might be their last chance to get it. Meanwhile you could just be bullshitting everyone with a marketing tactic. Karl Welzein said it best with “in the end we’re all ‘only for a limited time’, you guys.”
On the other hand, you could also try doing the opposite of whatever I just said in this article… Actually, that might work best.
Sources: existskatestore.com, skateboardermag.com, boardrockers.com, worldssl.net, jenkemmag.com, westboundboarder.com