The IASC Skate Industry Conference

The International Association of Skateboard Company’s conference week was, as usual, well attended by the people you want to see there. That’s a lot of what makes it worth attending for me. I enjoyed the Hall of Fame awards. It was great to see and hear some of these people I’ve only read about. I left before the bitter end, but heard that there was no hotel bowling or arrests this year. Oh well.

There wasn’t a presentation I didn’t learn something from, but I’ve highlighted some below where something they said struck a particular chord with me.

Transworld Business’ Mike Lewis started the conference with a review of data Transworld had collected on skating. Two things stood out for me. The first was the graph that showed the decline in skate participation in recent years in spite of the growth of longboarding. While the data is a bit controversial, the trend is clear. Partly, it’s the result of demographics, and the good news is that those demographics are starting to turn around. There’s a group of kids moving into the age at which kids take up skating. 
 
The success of long boards was highlighted by the presence at the conference of Concrete Wave publisher Michael Brooke, and by the appointment to the IASC Board of Directors of Sector 9 cofounder Steve Lake. Seems to me that long board representation at IASC is overdue.
 
Longboarding has succeeded not only because it appeals to a broader demographic, but because it’s been nonjudgmental about how you should have fun on a skateboard and its participants are very interested in new technology. I wrote about this after I visited the Interbike show and compared the bike industry to longboarding.
 
The second thing that stood out in Mike’s presentation was one of the answers to the question, “What’s selling?” One comment was “Anything longboarding!!”
 
From what I hear, that’s probably true. But there’s always a market top.  For any industry. The sheer exuberance of that statement reminded me a bit of the projections of the DOW going to 30,000 or the attitude of the 300 or so snowboard hard goods companies at the SIA show in 1995.
 
It’s not time to cut back on longboards as either a retailer or brand. But there will be a time when growth will at least slow and I doubt its five years away. So watch your inventory, control your distribution, maintain a strong balance sheet and keep innovating. That way, when the downturn does come, whenever that is, your company will be in a position to benefit from your competitors’ troubles.
 
SIA President David Ingemie discussed how SIA helps its members with a particular emphasis on quality research. An important part of David’s message was not to ignore the research because you don’t like what it concludes. Research, for all its flaws, is always better than anecdotal evidence. Just because you don’t believe it doesn’t mean it’s wrong.
 
University of Utah Economist Dr. Peter Philips kept us entertained and focused even while he gave us some sobering economic news. I’d seen it before, but the highlight of his presentation for me was the chart that shows employment decline and recovery in all recessions since the Great Depression. The message was that employment in the Great Recession has declined further and is taking longer to recover than any recession since World War II. Not news we want, but something we need to be aware of.
 
That, by the way, is how it’s always been in recessions caused by too much debt.
 
He also reminded everybody of the inevitability of the business cycle, and urged us to keep innovating as a way to push that cycle out as much as it can be.
 
The last speaker at the conference was Oliver Percovich, the founder of Skateistan in Afghanistan. The story of the five years he’s spent so far (he’s committed to ten) using skateboarding to give kids in Kabul, Afghanistan some fun, hope, education, and opportunity kind of makes whatever problems we in the skateboard industry think we have pale in significance. The industry has supported his program and I am sure it will continue to do so as he expands into other countries.  

 

 

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