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Retail Extreme sports industry booms as economy lags

Retail: ASR Conference Attendees Say Sales Remain at Steady Pace

Other sectors of the economy may be flagging, but one area, which prides itself on catering to “cool” people, is pretty hot right now.

Surfing, snowboarding and skateboard-related businesses from throughout the United States, as well as Canada, Japan and elsewhere came to the Action Sports Retailer trade show Sept. 6-8 in San Diego. Exhibitors connected with action sports were optimistic about the future of the industry.

Laurence La Haye is one of those. Although he comes from a long line of shoemakers, he left behind the more staid world of men’s dress shoes to concentrate on the youth market.

Now, he’s the brand manager of NSS, or Nice Skate Shoes, and the soon-to-be-launched EVOS, or Evolution of Skate. Both San Diego companies are subsidiaries of Irvine-based American Sporting Goods.

It’s easy for La Haye to explain why he concentrates on the skate market.

“There’s nothing new in brown or black shoes,” he said. “This is more appealing to me than dress shoes. There’s girls involved, the beach, the sun , it’s a lot more fun.”

But there’s more to it than that. More and more young people are getting into skating , and that’s the market La Haye is after.

“There’s a growing concern that fewer kids are getting into Little League or Pop Warner. But this sport is extreme, so it attracts a ‘cooler’ kid. And as the business grows, it attracts more kids who are individuals,” he said.

Skateboarding has now been recognized as an Olympic sport, and there are all sorts of “extreme” sports on cable channels, La Haye added. As skateboarding gets more exposure, more children will want to participate, and the industry will see a snowballing effect, he said.

La Haye has already positioned himself for the next wave , marketing to skaters who have grown up and have children of their own. His line of infant and youth skate shoes are an alternative to the leather Stride-Rite shoes of yesteryear, which nobody wears anymore, he said.

Haydee Trump, marketing coordinator for Clive, agreed. The Vista-based company markets backpacks to skateboarders, surfers and snowboarders.

The backpacks have specific features for each sport , straps to hold skateboards and snowboards in place, or a “wet-dry bag” on the surfer’s backpack to keep wet and dry items separate, she said.

Trump said action sports, particularly skating, are a growth industry. Already, a Clive backpack is scheduled to appear in Vogue, while MTV is airing a show about skaters.

“Kids really like the image , unconventional, just kind of doing it your own way. And a sense of freedom,” she said. “Snowboarding, surfing and skateboarding are pretty much individual sports, so your individual image has a certain degree of importance.”

Greater success for the skateboarding industry means greater success for Clive. When youngsters see a popular skateboarder like Bucky Lasek sporting the Clive logo on his helmet, T-shirt or skateboard, that definitely influences their buying decisions, Trump said.

San Diego-based skateboard manufacturer Illenium is another company that relies on product placement. The company sponsors skaters like Christian Brox and Shaggy Palmer, and the Illenium logo is visible on the board when they skate, said Kerry McDonough, spokesman for Illenium.

McDonough also predicts good times ahead for the skating industry.

“This is going to be like the NFL. We’re watching it grow,” he said. “It’s on Fox, and in mainstream America, we’re seeing more and more good skate parks. Other kids are getting into it,” he said.

Meanwhile, La Jolla-based Marpessa Inc., doing business as Salinas, has found itself a small but profitable niche in the beach industry. It imports Salinas bikinis from Brazil into the United States and Europe, said sales representative Celeste Adams.

Salinas is the No. 1 brand of beach wear in Brazil, and Adams hopes to duplicate that success here. Already, Salinas has been adopted by stars such as Madonna and Britney Spears and featured in fashion magazines such as Jane and Vogue, she said.

Adams added that a lot of modern fashion stems from surfing and the beach, and Salinas is a part of a trend to bring a beach consciousness into the U.S. mainstream.

“Those people who are attracted to the beach lifestyle is where our customer base comes from,” she said. “I think the economy is doing just fine for our marketplace.”


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