In a market where global sporting giants compete against homegrown challenger brands for the consumer spending of millennials, be wary of conspicuous commercial success in the skateboarding industry.
“It’s a hard game to play,” says Tom Brown, the 38-year-old co-owner of Welcome Skate Store in Leeds. “It’s not just about shifting units. You can’t be seen to be too successful because it goes against your legitimacy.”
The market is one of the most discerning in retail. Coveted brands like Supreme sell out in seconds. But beware the vagaries of fashion and taste.
“You can’t be uber cool in the mainstream for long because it seems to kick you out,” says Mr Brown.
He is finalising details for Welcome’s fifth birthday party in August, which will take place at Whitelocks and promises a pub quiz, video messages from global industry stars and nostalgia for older skateboarders with grown-up jobs.
Mr Brown moved from Cumbria to Leeds at 19 and after university became a youth worker, working at Connexions in Leeds and the Youth Association in Wakefield.
He and friend Sam Barratt had long discussed starting a skate shop together and decided to go ahead after finding a small space beneath Crash Records.
They brought in impresario Ash Kollakowski as a co-owner and hired some staff to run the shop.
The business grew over the next 18 months and the owners started to look for larger premises. Mr Brown said: “We wanted to be in Thorntons Arcade because it has a history of skate shops, streetwear shops and independent niche retail start-ups.”
They moved to the new store in 2012. Welcome has displayed a knack for marketing, physical as well as digital.
The company produced a short run of T-shirts featuring the legend, ‘Don’t Mess With Yorkshire’ which became sought-after items, particularly among Leeds United’s band of travelling supporters. Welcome brought out a Tour de France version with added cycling reference.
It has worked on collaborations with other retailers, including a series of comic-related boards, T-shirts and accessories for OK Comics and a photography exhibition and branded products with Tall Boys Beer Market. Both operate stores in Thorntons Arcade.
Mr Brown maintains that Welcome is one of the top five “core” skate stores in Britain. Levis and Converse chose the store to launch new ranges in the UK.
Mr Brown hopes to grow Welcome’s online business and improve its search engine rankings and website design and usability.
He wants the company to continue to act as a hub for the Yorkshire skateboarding scene by putting on video premieres and events and generating quality original content for its social media channels.
Mr Brown describes it as “treading delicately along a fine line”.
Waves of popularity
The surf-inspired sport of skateboarding has been through waves of popularity since hitting the sidewalks of the 1960s.
Nike was the first major brand to recognise the potential of the market when it launched a range of skateboarding shoes in 2002.
It was followed by Adidas, Converse and New Balance.
European brands such as Palace and Polar are becoming more popular in the UK as they are seen as more relevant.