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Shop Clowns

Good help is hard to find in the world of skateboard retail. From online shops to the true independent store owners, who can you trust?


If you're new to the skate scene or an aging old schooler looking to get back into the swing of things - how do you discern scumbags from legit retailers? You have to use the instincts that have gotten you this far in life. You know how to look out for your best interests in a variety of situations. Shopping for skate equipment is no different.

Online, you can assume that outside of being well stocked and offering good customer service, most online retailers won't care for you in the way an independent shop will. Mall and Corporate stores only care about profit margins and making sales.


Online Retailers
Web-based operations that take your credit card info and ship product to your door. If they get your order wrong, pray that they have decent customer service practices.
Mall Sports Stores
Those trendy looking "lifestyle shops" in the mall that employ industry-knowledge-starved kids who are better at playing loud music than answering your questions.
The Corporate Store
Similar to the Mall Store, except they are not in the mall and rely on a centralized purchasing agent (who knows nothing about skateboards) and stocks the store with whatever the distributor cons him/her into buying. Often they have several retail locations. These guys are sneaky, because they look like an independent shop until you see all the crazy crap they stock... like all 4 models of the Indo Board and a half-dozen different non-branded 50mm wheels with an absence of branded (Spitfire, for instance) wheels.
Surf Shops (devoid of sk8 product)
Look out for lavish Hawaiian themes, tiki trinkets and way too many sandals & expensive sun glasses. These are the guys who'd rather be surfing than working and they probably don't know much about the two Sector 9 longboards in the corner (unless you simply want to pay cash for one of ‘em).


Independent Sk8 Shops
These guys usually have a single store or location and put their hearts into running it properly and building up a base of loyal customers through superior product, knowledge and service.

I always try to support the local independent shop and you should too. They'll treat you right and actually offer helpful advice. They are very careful about the type and quantity of product and know all the details of each line they carry. You'll find them to be more like a friend than a business.

Even after identifying an indy shop, keep your guard up. Remember... good help is hard to find. Explore your local area and get a feel for the types of skate shops nearby. Over time you'll ferret out the really good ones and have many successful retail experiences.

A shop that truly sucks

If you're wondering why I wrote this article, you might think I'm trying to assist you in finding the best possible retail experience. However true this is, I also want to bitch about the shop I visited last weekend. Ready? Ok.

I drive to a shop in Hyannis, MA (Cape Cod) - primarily a surf shop. The vast size of the shop, complete with a gigantic overhead of similar items, instantly gave it a Corporate feel. It was not in a mall, but certainly lacked the care that any independent owner gives his shop. Expensive (and bright) halogen accent lighting over the endless cases of expensive sun glasses sealed its fate - CORPORATE.

They seemed to have a fair number of decks on the wall, but then I saw the skate kiosk. The tiny case that housed all the wheels, trucks, DVDs and an obscene amount of curb wax. Ugh.

I decide to throw caution to the wind and buy the new Kayo Corp DVD. A kid comes over to help me. I inquire about the price and am told $28 - easily $5 over all the pricing I've seen. When he sees me balk, he dives into the following sales pitch - assuming that I'm a complete moron.

Me: That seems kind of expensive.
Idiot Clerk: Skate videos are different from Hollywood movies. They only make about a hundred copies, so they cost more.
Me: Looks like you have ten copies on the shelf. How'd a shop on Cape Cod manage to get 10% of the total supply?
Idiot Clerk: Well, maybe they make around one thousand copies.
Me: Still, wouldn't they have to sell each one for over $300 to make it worth doing?
Idiot Clerk: I don't know.
Me: This flick is hot. I'll bet online retailers are banging out more 100 copies a day.
Idiot Clerk: Yeah, probably.
Me: How many copies have you sold today?
Idiot Clerk: None, yet.
(it was 4:00pm and I left the shop)

Once a clerk talks down to you or seems to think you're stupid - leave. I'm always tempted to call the manager and let him know how lame his counter-help really is, but then there's karma and that whole hassle.

Incidentally, I visited another surf shop in Orleans, MA (The Pumphouse) and they were cool as hell. I'm definitely going back there for my next longboard.


Freakonomics book cover

Having recently read Steven D. Levitt's book, "Freakonomics", lets take an economic glance at the shop-clown situation. The book relates a similar situation with real estate agents and the commissions they get. Think about how everyone feels they need a ‘professional' to sell their home - much like you may want to speak with a professional when inquiring about new sk8 gear. Not too many shops can afford to offer commissions to their retail help, but the model is similar in terms of motivation.

Do retail clerks have any interest in really helping customers? If they get a commission perhaps they will try to boost sales, but if they are simply paid a flat rate, there only motivation is their love of skateboarding. The Freakonomic view says that commissions motivate sellers to push product faster to boost their income with less regard for the buyer getting a fair deal. Hmmm... sounds familiar - talk crap, make the sale and move on to the next one.

The more time a clerk spends blabbing with you, the less time he/she has to sell to others. Taking the time to answer all your questions doesn't make economic sense - in such situations.

Let the buyer beware... and support indy shops that treat you well.

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