Skateboard hardgoods are far from “business as usual” these days. For big picture perspective and hot product categories, read our 2017 Skateboard Hardgoods Trend Report. By SOURCE Skateboard Editor, Dirk Vogel.
The skateboard hardgoods segment is undergoing the biggest period of change since the early 1990s. The recent demise of well-established board brands – including European mainstays Cliché Skateboards – and a string of bankruptcies among independent skate shops across Europe are symptoms of larger trends. Behind the scenes, the skate hardware category is under pressure from rapidly shifting currency exchange rates, as well as disruptive business and distribution models.
These disruptive models are exemplified by a new breed of hardware companies. ReVive Skateboards, an Ohio-based brand founded by Andy Schrock, controls its own distribution and invests zero dollars into traditional magazine advertising. Instead, the company – also home of Force Wheels and AmGrip – runs all marketing online. So what’s the big deal? It’s that ReVive’s YouTube vids have generated over 387 million views(!) and a following of 1.1 million subscribers, dwarfing any established skate brand while growing sales at a fast clip. Equally disruptive, some U.S. skate brands are manufacturing their boards in Europe under license, increasing price competitiveness by up to 20%.
The largest board brands in the industry are reading the signs of the times. “Things are changing continuously and more rapidly than ever. It’s not necessarily all about new brands Vs established brands. It seems to be about being good at what you do on the front end in creating demand and the back end in running a solid business that people can rely on,” said Bod Boyle, President of Dwindle Distribution (Almost, enjoi, Blind, Tensor, etc.), adding: “I think the main thing we see is something that has always been in skating: constant progression. Whether it’s brand trend, graphic trends, riding trends, everything.”
The European market: Prices and participation
A quick survey reveals a tense competitive environment. “The market is still very price-sensitive and although most US brands sell [decks] for £55 to £60 the biggest volume of sales is in the £45 to £50 market,” said Chris Allen, Director at Shiner Distribution in the UK. Most brands and distributors in this report named underpriced decks as the main problem right now. “You see a lot of decks at €49 and below. But does anyone know where and from what that €39 deck is being made – or does anyone care?,” asks Jörg Ludewig, Co-owner of Urban Supplies distribution in Wiesbaden, Germany, adding: “Branded decks backed by reliable and well-known factories are usually between €59 and €65, with technical construction decks reaching up to €79 and €85.”
On a positive note, the European market seems to be bucking the trend of declining participation currently rampant in the United States. “Participation in street is as strong as before and always will be. Park has seen a good increase as there are now more facilities. Vert skating is good in areas where there is a vert ramp but these are still few and far between,” said Chris at Shiner. In terms of percentages, Franz Josef Holler at Fresco distribution in Italy sees, “street and park is dominating with 95% – including bowl and miniramp. And maybe 5% is vert. Most kids that skate at parks and reach a certain level also skate street.” Speaking of kids, Bod Boyle at Dwindle noted: “Interestingly we are seeing that our youth completes in smaller sizes continue to grow, year on year.”
As for riding styles, the biggest trend in Europe revolves around the “ride everything” ethos. “Most skaters at the moment ride all type of spots: skatepark, DIY, street, pipe. It’s a generation of complete riders, so they need a polyvalent set up. Between 8 and 8.5 [inch] board sizing, 54 mm wheels, medium trucks,” said Vincent Legoux, Skateboard Team Manager for HOFF Distribution. At HLC Distribution (Jart Skateboards, Iron Trucks), Marketing & Communication Manager Borja Iriarte is on the same page: “Everything counts, any spots is good enough. The boards are super functional and more people use wider boards to skate street and trannies.” Jamie Smith from Enuff Skateboards also reported that, “trends in boards and trucks are leaning to be slightly wider with wheels that accommodate most terrains.”
And speaking of trends, let’s get straight to the 6 Trends Changing Skateboard Hardgoods in 2017:
- Decks: Wider and shaped. A few years back, decks went from 7.5 inch toothpicks to wider, 8-inch rides. But the shift continues: “There is a constant increase in the deck sizing. The main range is now 8 to 8.25 inches. We still sell some seven-point-something decks, but this is slimming down in favour of 8.3 inches and above,” said Jörg at Urban Supplies. In the process, classic popsicle shapes are getting an update with, “wider, slightly longer wheelbases and lengths of board with fuller noses and tails,” said Bod Boyle at Dwindle. Vincent at HOFF notes an interesting trend towards, “1990s decks remastered with longer noses. And some guys are also putting on rails now.” Speaking of remastered, Madrid Skateboards brought back a line of early 1980s pro models – hello, Claus Grabke! – with widths up to 10 inches.
- Fewer pro model boards. As the number of board companies declines, many riders are finding themselves without board sponsors. (Eric Koston spent over a year as a free agent before recently launching his Numbers Edition brand.) The remaining brands cut budgets and team rosters, which brings down the number of pro-endorsed boards. The new iteration of Alien Workshop carries no pro models, an approach pioneered by early 1990s company ACME. Instead of big name endorsements, brands add value and differentiation to their decks on a product level. “Fancy custom finishes like embossing on graphics, split stained veneers, things that stand out as special finishes,” said Chris Allen at Shiner.
- Technical decks slowly increasing. Tech constructions such as P2, Impact, and the new Flight Board construction from Powell Peralta that retails at €99.99 are slowly but surely gaining acceptance in our price-focused market. “Tech boards have remained consistent in sales and usually represent about 15% of total decks sales,” said Bod Boyle at Dwindle. Borja at HLC is also optimistic: “We are selling our technology decks super good, and our new glue 2XS is the main difference – and one of our best weapons.” But keeping in mind the upsurge among decks aimed at young riders – who inherently weigh less and break less boards – Jamie at Enuff added some perspective: “The cost of these decks often puts them out of reach of younger riders which at this time is our target audience.”
- Wheels: Technology-driven performance. While technology remains a hard sell in boards, customers have come around in the wheel segment. “We have seen the times when a wheel just had to be round and very cheap, now we sell Spitfire F4 wheels in huge numbers and sometimes cannot get enough. The skaters understand that a better – unfortunately also more expensive – wheel gives them a better performance and lasts a lot longer,” said Jörg Ludewig at Urban Supplies. Technology also allows for a previously unattainable riding experience, said Chris at Shiner: “Bones Softslide wheels are a soft wheel that slides the same as a hard wheel which until now has never been possible.” Nils David Gebbers at 24/7 distribution also teased: “Watch out for a new Bones wheel in 2017!”
- Trucks: Lighter and wider
The truck segment remains in the hands of Indy, Thunder, and Venture. But Chris at Shiner said: “Customers are increasingly asking for trucks that are more than a standard truck. Lights with forged baseplates, Hollow lights, Titanium trucks. Also coloured Pro trucks have become more popular. Weight is 350 grams average.” Speaking of lighter trucks, the Tensor series has gained solid traction, said Bod Boyle: “We sell about 50% aluminium Vs 50% Mag Lights. The magnesiums are quite expensive compared to the industry standard aluminium trucks, it’s rewarding to see that people are willing to pay the extra for something that will perform significantly better.” Borja at HLC also sees customers opening up to home-grown options such as, “Iron trucks, the first European brand to manufacture trucks here.” In terms of widths, Jamie at Enuff noted: “With the upward trend in wider board sales wider truck sales have followed suit.”
- Accessories: The full package. Decks remain an expression of personal style and riders are putting a lot of love into sticker jobs and griptape art. “We are seeing grip tape trends! Coloured and clear grip really came back around this past year,” said Bod at Dwindle. At Element, Romy Bertrand also confirmed a major trend towards, “clear grip.” As the perfect way to keep clear grip clean, Borja at HLC recommended: “The must-have skate accessories will be the MOSAIC grippe cleaner, it works perfectly.” Jamie at Enuff summed it up: “A good skate tool and a block of wax are all the essential accessories you ever need for a good skate sessions with your mates.” And with a bit of tongue-in-cheek, Jörg Ludewig asked: “Are Thrasher T-shirts an accessory? At least they are a must have!” Concluding our trend report, Nils at 24/7 had a piece of advice on how retailers can make skate hardgoods great again: “Be diverse, be unique, don’t set up your wall and give 60 to 70 of your 90 slots to rubbish, cheap, big logo shop boards and wack-ass brands!” Amen to that.