Black Sheep is home to one of the most renowned skate shop teams in Europe. They have just won Vans Shop Riot (UK) for the fifth time, are two time European champions and are booming in success as their brand new store has just opened in the Northern Quarter of Manchester.
Could you please give us a brief history of your store; including when it was started, who started it, who the owners and key players are.
Black Sheep started inside Central Skatepark (RIP) seven years ago by myself (Paul Harrison) and Tez Robinson, and we are still the owners. None of that could have happened without the Black Sheep Family involved throughout those years. That includes Eddie Belvedere, Rob Smith, Reiss Johnson, Oliver Tyreman, Nick Stansfield, Stu Reynolds, Stu Sofield, Will Linford, Harry Lintell and many more. After Central Skatepark closed, we moved into a listed building which hadn’t had much love over the last 50 years. It’s taken eight months of complete renovation but we are so pleased with all the hard work and effort that has gone into the shop, it really has made it all worthwhile.
What percentage of your sales are from online business compared to your brick-and-mortar sales?
The online percentage is increasing and the appetite for online is not slowing down. I would say we are 65% online and 35% in store, so online is incredibly important. That said, we certainly take pride in our bricks and mortar; we’ve spent 25 years working in retail, so we understand the importance of the physical store and its relationship with our local customers, and those who want to put faces to the names.
What are five products you couldn’t live without right now?
Black Sheep apparel and decks. Own brand is really important to us because we’re always building on the name. After that, it’s the usual suspects that make you a skate shop – like Bones Reds and raw Indy trucks.
Did your store’s sales increase or decrease over last year? To what do you attribute your gain or loss in sales?
Sales have been pretty even on the previous year and that’s with a major relocation! I am really happy we have managed this, given the disruption to our day-to-day operations. I have no doubt that now we can focus on some really positive moves forward such as some key web development and getting a push on our own brand product.
What makes your store different and in what ways does your store excel beyond your competition?
We are always looking years ahead with who and what we want to be. It can be frustrating at times with so much to achieve but working hard means we get there. We don’t want to take over the world but we want to be the best we can be. I think the constant strive to better everything about our business is what separates us from others.
How do you stay in touch with the wants and needs of your customers?
Me and Tez are getting on a bit now! But we used to be the kid who is our customer today. It’s important to remember how we felt, what we understood and wanted, but not come across all knowing. By having a daily involvement with younger people, be it staff, sponsored riders or friends, we get constant feedback about what today’s customers needs and wants are.
What kind of advice can you give other independent retailers who are trying to compete against the big box megastores?
My opinion is, if a business does not give back and support skateboarding proportionally to the money it makes from it, then it has no place within skateboarding.
I think skateboarding is still niche. The perception of money in skateboarding comes from its Californian imagery and “OTHER STUFF”. But talk to any hardware company and it’s a different story. Hopefully big box mega-stores will realise there is no money in hardware and stop selling it; leaving it to the independents that actually cared about it in the first place. My advice is don’t panic, just weather the storm, care about what you do, and support your locals.
Does your store sponsor athletes, competitions, etc? If so, what are the benefits to the store and to the boardsports community?
Yes and more yes! The skaters we support are what make the Black Sheep 100%. The team we sponsor give back tenfold, with local videos, social media, and even international press for winning competitions like the Vans Shop Riot. The fact that we also make some really good friends along the way is a huge bonus.