Do As I Say Not As I Do

Theories are just that, theories. I gave a lot of thought to the current state of the skate shoe industry and have no ill will towards any shoe company big or small. Business is business and this is an idea of how things might have come about. Maybe think it over before you automatically dismiss any fault in how things went down. Again this is a theory based on what I saw as an employee of DC, a skate shop buyer, and a life long skateboarder. Thanks for reading.

There’s a lot of talk about supporting skater owned shoe companies. That seems like common knowledge. These are the brands that started it all. A movement took place that allowed other brands to come in and buy some real-estate on the shoe wall. They are feeling the heat from Nike SB, Adidas, Converse, and the soon to be released New Balance skate brand of shoes. These brands are considered outsiders to our tight knit skater owned industry. None of these big brands started in skateboarding. They did however see expansion and growth by offering products to skateboarders. They wanted to increase revenue by expanding their respective brands. Which apparently seems to be a foreign idea from skater owned brands, or is it?

Between 1997- 1998 a major skate shoe brand made a big decision to start selling shoes to what is called “the majors”. New shoe companies were taking up more and more room on the limited space of the skate shop’s shoe walls. This company was DC Shoe Co and the first “major” was Copeland’s Sports. The same decision to sell to Pac Sun and Macy’s was not far behind. DC wrote the book on selling to the “majors” and was soon followed by Sole Tech (Etnies, Emerica, and ES), then Adio, Vans, and so on. Because these brands wanted to increase their revenue they sold to non skater owned companies.

Small skater owned shops who helped grow these brands cried foul. How could these brands that started in mom and pop shops sell out and cross over to the chain stores? Now instead of prospective skate shoe buyers shopping where skate shoes originated (skate shops), skate parents could make the convenient drive to the mall and buy skater shoes for the whole family. No more bothersome trips to that small shop with the weird music. Elevator music, escalators, and a food court is much more comforting.

Could it be around this time when skate shoes were exploding with mainstream popularity that the big shoe companies noticed kids weren’t wearing Jordan’s anymore? When your annual sales are dipping you look to see what’s trending and make that move. At this same time the skater owned brands kept growing larger and larger with more Journeys, Zumiez, and mail order giants. The blowback was the “core” shops as they were called, who lost more and more business. Although the skater owned brands would throw out a core shoe here and there to make the shops somewhat desirable to skaters, parents found skate shoes more and more accessible the “majors”. Whole families were now wearing shoes that they were complaining about their kids destroying too soon only a few years ago.

The mainstream was all about skate shoes and the big sporting companies took notice. These skate brands were taking away sales from sport shoe companies on their shores, sports stores and “life style” stores. With all of these skater owned brands expanding out of actual skate shops, how would the big brands not take notice? Why wouldn’t Nike, Adidas, or Puma want a piece of the action that was taking away from their sales? Did the skater owned brands get too big for their britches and bring the evil outsiders on themselves? Did a bigger fish smell the blood from these dying shops and react?

Why wouldn’t these shops take in these new larger brands given their sense of betrayal? Why not welcome in non skate brands when the very skate brands these small shop supported reached out to non skate shops? Suddenly the small skater owned shops who welcomed the Swooshes or 3 stripes were the bad guys. How dare they turn to a sporting brand for profit! It’s not acceptable for shops to bring in outside brands. What does skateboarding have to do with other sports? Shops were selling out to major sports brands, how unheard of is that? 10 years before that is exactly what the skater owned companies did and it didn’t matter what the small shops thought because the shoe companies were killing it. Shops soon saw their goods in the mall, at Ross, and discounted online. Gigantic demos for Zumiez in grand fashion have replaced the old school US tours that supported shops who carried the skate brands. Huge prebooks and big checks made it easier to ignore the cries of selling out. Similar to Professional skaters quitting smaller shoe brands for bigger checks and future security, money talks.

Now with everything coming full circle, the shops are the bad guys for having the big brands on their shoe walls. You know, these sports brands. It’s no surprise at all that shops aren’t feeling a form of nostalgic guilt after seeing how these small companies outgrew them. The “these 3 shoes are our skate shop only models” didn’t sit well I guess. In retrospect picking a select group of shoes for a certain type of shop could have been swayed to the majors. The original shops who helped grow these brands were burnt by companies expanding into the mainstream and mall/sport shops. Now that the shoe is on the other foot, it’s not a good idea to make a profit from outside resources. It’s very possible that greed eventually attracted these outsiders to our neck of the wood because we reached too far beyond our own village. Did our light shine so bright we pointed it in the wrong direction? -ERL

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