It’s with a heavy heart that I’ve decided to close down Crooked Skate Supply Co. Everyone told me it would be impossible to survive but I guess I wanted to prove them wrong – unfortunately they were right. I’ll leave the website up until such time as the domain name or hosting expires (it’s still paid up for around 8 months I think). I’ll also look to archive these blogs posts somewhere so they are still accessible. The main thing I want to achieve with this entry however is to offer some advice and lessons learned over the last year in case you too are thinking of starting something similar.
So to start with some background – the idea behind Crooked Skate was to setup online with relatively low overheads to test the water.
Some of the benefits I thought we could offer included:
- Independent from chain stores (locally owned and operated)
- Hand selected products tested and approved by actual skateboarders
- Supporting New Zealand brands
- Personal customer service (we’ve had 0 delays, 0 incorrect packages, 0 lost packages, 0 complaints, lots of free stickers, lots of happy customers)
- Free delivery in my local region
The idea was always that if we were successful we could eventually setup our own full blown retail store near our local skate spot (like we had in the old days - the dream). At the time we established there were no skate shops on the Kapiti Coast or in the neighbouring Porirua region for that matter.
So some might say we had a niche.
Initially through detailed research we found some really good suppliers and things were going great for a while. There are three main aspects of supply that eventually strained these relationships to the point that we couldn’t continue with them:
Quantities – for a few of our suppliers we weren’t ordering enough for them to want to continue supplying us. We were being pushed towards order a shipping container of stock which was far beyond our financial means. Once we indicated this wasn’t going to happen and explained why, eventually our orders were turned away.
Just to note - this was never an issue with Revive, Braille, Dook or Strange Life.
Distance – I think distance is a bit of a logistical headache for some overseas suppliers. We got the feeling we were a lower priority over main shipping routes. The only option they would provide us with was expensive airmail via DHL, etc.
Combine these two factors and you quickly become a not very desirable customer with the common denominator of course being money.
Stock availability - the other issue with overseas suppliers was a lot of them didn’t have the stock they advertised. Often the size or colours we wanted were not available and sometimes we had to send ten or twelve e-mails back and forth over several weeks just to agree on what the final order looked like. I think due to us purchasing lower quantities we were being sold whatever was ‘left over’ on the shop floor.
Personal time, expenses, profit
I was running this business in my own time outside of my fulltime job so didn’t require it in order to make a living (thank f… for that). No matter how much something like this is a hobby though; there’s always that line where the sheer effort starts to outweigh the personal time and expense being consumed.
A lot of people don’t appreciate the sheer number of expenses that are up against a small business like this. Yes, selling online is cheaper compared to running a physical store and I’m not being ungrateful towards my valued customers but there are a lot of frustrating expenses that add little value (just clipping the ticket) and mistakes sometimes creep in that cost money.
Here are a few scenarios to give you a flavour:
I get some decks from a supplier in Auckland. The cost of getting decks down to me adds $7 to the cost of each deck. I can only sell the boards for a certain market price and can’t charge the customer for the freight in getting it to me. Effectively the $7 is dead money which comes out of my profit. Nothing that can be done about that and no disrespect to the supplier, it's just life - the postal system, but frustrating from my perspective effectively loosing $7 a deck, then add auction fees, etc, etc.
If I buy from overseas the products are usually cheaper but the freight is more expensive and there are payment transaction fees to concede. For a small order transaction fees are usually somewhere in the region of USD$30. None of my suppliers will let me transfer the money directly to them with XE or similar (which costs a lot less). They will however accept the dodgy untraceable sites which I refuse to risk.
I wrap an item (no postage or handling fees charged) and head to the post office in my lunch time. The price of post bags has gone up .50 cents and the sized bag I usually use no longer fits cos I went mad with bubble wrap so things arrive in one piece. Yes, I could go back to customer and ask for more money or compromise wrapping, but I’m there now and don’t want to cause them a delay, so I take the hit. I then have to go home and spend the evening updating freight prices across various websites.
The auction site I primarily use (there’s only really one option in NZ) decides in their wisdom, to apply their auction fee not only to the item’s final value price, but also to the postage component! That’s right my auction fee is now calculated partly on how much I charge for postage – of which I don’t make any profit and have no control!
If I sell through my website I avoid auction fees, but have to pay a similar transaction processing fee. Don’t forget my website costs me to keep online. Annually it’s about $70 a year for hosting and $20 a year for the domain. There’s a fairly large time expense in maintaining and updating it for even the smallest change (quantities, changes in postage, etc.)
There are the usual expenses that every NZ business has to pay which people conveniently forget about when they look at your prices compared to what things cost overseas. I’m talking about import duties, GST and of course income tax. I wish people would think of this when I have a deck advertised for $90 (which is $120 in the chain stores) and they ask me if I’ll take $50! It’s like they think I want to lose money! :-) Half the time the site they’re comparing me with is in US Dollars + duty + shipping + GST on both!
I’m not very good at promoting my brand - I’ll admit that.
I’m not a fan of social media; in fact I pretty much loathe it (FB, Insta, etc), but I bit the bullet and created accounts across various platforms. I’ve had product posts that have attracted 300+ views but resulted in zero sales. Actually, I’m not aware of seeing a single sale from 3 months of social media promotion. That’s a lot of time consumed in building pages, promoting and sharing posts for no financial benefit and negligible brand awareness.
I have given decks away locally for charity promotions and received what I consider a fair amount of advertising in return. I don’t believe however that the advertising has translated into sales. I’ve had no local sales through my website. The vast majority of my sales are still through the auction sites which I don’t promote in any way.
Google ‘my business’ has resulted in a lot of page views via Google Maps (around 600 views and 500 searches) but no evidence of this resulting in sales. Someone kindly flagged my store as being ‘closed down’ when they couldn’t find it! Google insists on a physical address – so I used my wife’s business for this. I assume this created the confusion even though I did specify ‘online sales only’.
I display locally at another non-skateboard related store. More along the lines of when you go to a café and they have artwork on the wall for sale. This has resulted in at least three sales and has probably been the most successful form of local promotion. Part of this is that the amount of people locally that are likely to see my brand and want to purchase skateboarding products is very small. It’s a small area population wise and the majority of kids are into scooters right now.
As I alluded to at the outset of this section, I do admit I could have done more in the promotional space. If people don’t know you’re there, then they can’t buy off you!
Stock selection, stale stock
Skateboarders are fickle. They have their brand loyalty and stick to it. That’s not a criticism by the way; I was the same when I was younger. I mostly only skated Alien Workshop decks for example, unless there were none to choose from, then I had to pick something random.
When you have a limited budget to purchase for your shop you have to choose wisely, but even the best product purchases won’t get it right more than 70% of the time (my estimate). Everyone has different tastes and ideas about what’s cool. I’m in my early 40’s so my tastes will be different from that of an 18 year old.
What this results in is stock that won’t shift. Stock that won’t shift prevents you from buying more stock. People observe that you have stock that hasn’t sold and that deters them from buying it. You end up with stale stock and nothing ‘fresh’ on your site since people last visited.
I think there’s a barrier to buying things skateboarding related online – particularly decks. Back when I was younger I’d never have done it! I never brought decks based on the graphics. I’d get them down off the wall and feel them, stand on them, check the kick height, look down the length of them at the concave, etc. Buying a 2D graphic off a website wouldn’t have been near enough for me to make a decision. I assume there are others like me out there?
As a solution I tried to supplement the promotional pictures (which look very professional) on my website with actual pictures of the product but felt it looked less professional and also probably didn’t do enough for those who really wanted to understand the product. It’s hard to convey the quality of say Dook decks (as an example) in mere pictures, even though I feel that they are the best quality available for the price.
I never really considered this, but some people seem to only skate over summer. Sales have steadily declined in the run up to winter. This probably wouldn’t be so noticeable in a country with reasonable all year round climate or indoor skate parks. We have neither of those here.
NZ has a small population and I get the feeling skateboarding is once again heading into decline. The parks are full of scooter kids with skateboarders at a ratio of around 1 in 30. Additionally the auction sites have allowed overseas sellers (mostly from the UK and Australia) which have flooded the sites with boards further reducing the size of the market for local sellers.
I think I’ve captured most of what I wanted to call out here. I’m nearly at 4 pages in Word so time to call it quits. Hopefully some of this is helpful to someone for something! :-)
I’d like to take this chance to thank all of the people who purchased from us. It was sweet but short. I’m glad we made some skaters happy.
Happy skateboarding! :-)