The news that Sector 9 was purchased by Bravo Corporation has sent a huge shockwave through the skate industry. There has been a great deal of speculation. After all, Bravo sells to big retailers and it doesn’t seem that difficult to assume all kinds of things. Through an interesting set of circumstances, I found myself yesterday emailing with Mark Heineken, Chief Brand Officer at Bravo.
After taking some time to think about things, I emailed Mark this morning and asked him if he’d be interested in answering some questions. So that is exactly what I did.
While our conversation covered many topics, I felt it important to answer one key question: what shelves are Sector 9 going to wind up on?
Bravo’s main focus is with the entry-level skater. When you take a look at where most young kids purchase their first skateboard, it’s usually like places like Walmart or Target. They are a young and they come in with their mom or dad in tow. And in most cases, the skateboard has a branded image on it and is at a pretty low price.
The price is low because in most cases the parents aren’t sure they want to invest the money in something that will be used a few times and forgotten about. In the mass market most young kids just want a skateboard that looks cool and has reasonably good quality. This is where Bravo does a huge amount of business. “Once kids get older, we lose them to the specialty shops” explains Mark. “The main reason we bought Sector 9 is that we can’t grow in the mass market category anymore.” Mark explained that it makes no sense to trade dollars from one brand to another in the mass market.
So, there you have it. Direct from the horses mouth: Sector 9 will stick to the distribution model they currently have.
From Transworld Business July 1, 2008
Billabong International Limited Chief Executive Officer Derek O’Neill said Sector 9 operated in the specialty boardsports channel with a unique product offering.
“Sector 9’s products, primarily its longboards, really differentiate it from other brands in the boardsports channel and have appeal to surfers, skateboarders and the broader youth market,” said Mr O’Neill. “The company has not only proved the viability of the longboard segment, it has experienced sustained growth over the past decade and has become synonymous with the California boardsport lifestyle.”
From Transworld Business June 28, 2016
“Our priority as a company has been lifting the performance of our three biggest global brands in Billabong, RVCA and Element, while simplifying the business wherever possible. This transaction is part of that simplification and is consistent with our stated strategy,” said Billabong CEO Neil Fiske.
“Sector 9 is a unique brand in the specialty segment of longboard skate hardware,” said Mr. Fiske. “We are confident the brand will continue to meet the needs of its customers under its new owners.” California-based Bravo Sports has a number of skate-focused brands within its existing portfolio including Pro Tec, Kryptonics, Ten-Eighty, and Maple.
I remember that day in July like it was yesterday. EIGHT years ago!
The fact is so much has happened since Billabong purchased Sector 9, it’s really hard to fathom where to begin. Just after the purchase, we entered a complete meltdown of the banking system. The crash of 2008 didn’t really affect the pace of longboarding however. It kept rolling right on. Three years later, in March of 2011, Concrete Wave hosted the worlds first longboard convention at the Longboard Loft in Manhattan.
There have been a number of people affected by Sector 9 over the years. The fact is that they were the first to market in a skate world dominated by street skateboarding. First they were ignored, then they were laughed at, then people started to take notice and then, well, things got complicated. Throughout it all, I’ve had a front row seat and documenting the changes within skateboarding. So while shop-eat-surf.com and Transworld give you the business perspective, I wanted to express things from a different viewpoint.
In light of this, I wanted to pause for a moment and say that Concrete Wave prides itself on one key message. It’s a message that was summed up beautifully by a truly remarkable skater by the name of Noel Korman. Noel’s mantra was “high fives and positive vibes.” His spirit of inclusion and pure stoke was infectious. This is how I want to deal with the news of Sector 9 now changing hands.
In keeping with the spirit of Noel, I am going to focus on five key things that Sector 9 accomplished. The five founders of Sector 9 are Dennis Telfer Steve Lake, Tal O’Farrell, Dave Klimkiewicz and EG Frantantaro. I dedicate this column to them. Thank you.
FIVE KEY THINGS SECTOR 9 DID
Number 1 – they built a category
One of the biggest contributions Sector 9 made to skateboarding was to open it up to more than just street skateboarding. They worked hard spreading the gospel and for those of us who remember those early days, they were indeed magical.
Number 2 – they created a great way to merchandise skateboards
The company introduced the concept of a rack of longboards so that customers could view them up close. Pure genius.
Number 3 – Sector 9 supported a huge amount of events, magazines, demos, contests, etc etc
If you add up all the money Sector 9 spent on marketing, it’s millions of dollars. This generated huge interest and demand.
Number 4 – Sector 9 delivered great advertising and imagery
Back in the day, Sector 9 came up with some truly creative advertising that was funny, captivating and very cool. They set the bar in terms of quality imagery as well (marketing and packaging and beyond)
Number 5 (and most importantly) – they are hugely responsible for inspiring a number of other companies and people.
I wouldn’t be doing Concrete Wave if it wasn’t for the pintail I purchased back in 1996. I was so inspired by the ride, I started up my own longboard business. While I only managed to sell one complete, it eventually led me to write the book Concrete Wave. Sector 9 brought back a ton of people who left skateboarding and they brought in a huge number of people who never thought they’d enjoy the ride.
I have to admit I was a bit surprised to see a story about Ko Hyojoo the very talented longboarder from Korea at the Vogue website yesterday. Vogue have done stories about skateboarding before but it was unusual that they picked up on Ko. The funny thing about Vogue is that while it painstakingly listed all the clothes and accessories that Ko wears, it failed to mention what kind of skateboard she was riding…or the type or trucks or wheels.
What was perhaps even more surprising was to see another article on skateboarding today (June 28). Entitled “An Ode to Great Skate Hair” the piece kicks off with a photo of Stacy Peralta. Never in the time that the Z Boys were ripping in the pools of California would they ever imagine they’d be featured in Vogue.
I seriously can’t believe we’ve just hit 15 years. I remember purchasing the 10th anniversary of Thrasher Magazine.
This cover features the talents of Mark Short. Mark isn’t just a great portraiture artist, he’s also a very talented slider.
This issue features something that we’ve never been able to accomplish before: we have hit over 20 pages of stories about female skaters.
I truly feel we need to bring more women into skateboarding. I feel as passionate about this as I did when it came to taking on the myopia I saw within skateboarding 20 years ago.
As the summer approaches, you will see some changes with Concrete Wave’s website. I think you will enjoy them.
Meanwhile, take the time to get out at ride.
Joe Raia, the inventor of Softrucks, got in touch with Concrete Wave over a decade ago.
Softrucks was rather a curious item, so some skaters wondered about its benefits. But with so many people trying to practice their ollies, we had a feeling that the product would capture people’s imagination. We recently caught up with Joe to find out how things were going.
How did you come up with the idea for Softrucks?
From 1995 to 2000, I owned a NYC-based design consulting firm specializing in product development, brand identity programs and product and toy invention. During this era, inline skates and scooters were hot categories, and the toy industry was looking for product submissions which fit this category.
The design problem was to develop a product to fit a niche category focusing on the 10 to 20 year old male action sport demographic. Many products were developed and submitted except for one. The process began with taping pink hand balls to a skate deck immediately realizing the concept helped skateboarders master the basics: ollieing. Several prototypes were constructed and tested at city and suburban skateparks with positive feedback and results. After over a year of product and brand development, Softrucks were launched at the X Games and Gravity Games 2002
Were there people along the way who were puzzled by the idea and if so, how did you handle this?
During the development process, we visited and demonstrated Softrucks to the industry’s leading companies. Woodward and Eastern Skateboard Supply both were supportive and encouraged for us to complete the process. Understanding that Softrucks are designed to bridge the gap between those who can skate and those who cannot helped make an elusive sport more inclusive.
We created a category called Skateboard Practice and filled it with a boutique product. Never before had skaters practiced their skating and tricks; they just skate. We introduced the idea of practicing skateboarding tricks anytime, anywhere. Some pushback came from the skaters themselves often hitting us with “What do they do?”, “I need to be rolling to land tricks” and “you’re just corporate America exploiting skateboarding.” The majority of the audience understood and were impressed with the simplicity and cleverness of the product. In 2003, Softrucks was awarded the First Place Brand New Product Award at ISPO Germany.
I see Softrucks as a great way to introduce those people who would never stand on a skateboard. What are your thoughts on this?
Softrucks eliminates the rolling variable so you can feel comfortable and confident standing on a skateboard. It helps reduce the “fear factor” by concentrating the user’s efforts on balance and proper foot placement helping to prevent falling. The magic program is an avenue, introducing people to the joy of the heal-to-toe carving action. The more people getting up and moving and developing better balance and core muscles while feeling the joy of skateboarding is a big positive.
What are some of the success stories you can share with us?
There’s a few specific interactions and reactions I remember. A kid asked me for my autograph for inventing Softrucks because he learned switch flip tricks. Another kid told me that I am his hero because Softrucks were so helpful to his skating and he wasn’t embarrassed anymore. I am the proudest of all the kids who stayed in the sport because of Softrucks and the fathers that get back on a Softrucks board to show some old school tricks to their kids.
Mitchie Brusco is one of our oldest supporters and sponsored team member. Recently Mitchie landed the elusive 1080 in an X Games competition; I’d like to believe Softrucks helped him. Many soldiers use Softrucks when stationed overseas. Bands like Good Charlotte use Softrucks on tour buses and backstage to help feed the skating urge. Softrucks has woven itself into the skate world and is now part of the vernacular.