On Saturday, April 24, 2010, Shane Wallace invited a few people to Rancho Cucamonga, California for the soft-launch opening of OK Skate’s first retail showroom. It was a chance to show everyone what he and the OK Skate crew have been working on for the past six months.
Located on a frontage street near Interstate 15 just North of Interstate 10, the warehouse/ office/ showroom combo is in that strange zone between the Eastern edge of Los Angeles sprawl and the Western front of the Inland Empire. The business park that houses OK Skate is a few blocks from the nearest retail center, but signs on the upstairs windows are visible from the southbound lanes of the freeway. Commuters who continue further south can’t help but notice the large Active Ride Shop warehouse on the opposite side of the 15. The location is likely no accident, though Shane says it was chosen based on “area demographics.”
OK Skate marks Wallace’s return to retail after the Active Ride Shop bankruptcy and subsequent sale pulled the rug out from under much of the industry last March. Between greeting friends at the door, putting final tweaks on the POS system, and watching kids skate the showroom’s mini ramp, Shane had time to sneak upstairs to his office above the shop for a short interview to discuss what OK Skate is, how it came about, and what they have planned for the future.
Follow the jump for photos and the entire interview.
[Editors’ Note April 30, 2010: After reading the interview for the first time online, Shane had a few things to add. We have placed those comments at the end of the interview.]
What is OKSkate? How did it come about? What are your plans for the future?
Just through the last year of trying to be okay, you know, you start to look back on stuff from your youth and your childhood and what made you happy. And it’s really the simple things. So OK is kind of like a concept to present some simple things that make people happy. And skateboards and clothes and footwear seem to do that sometimes, so that’s what we’re focused on.
Naturally, we were looking for a cool domain name or a cool way to go along with OK and we had a few other ideas, and we still have a few other ideas to roll out with the word OK. But OK Skate was kind of like what it is. OK Skate. It’s kind of fun. You know, if you’re going to be in this world right now, you’ve got to make things a little bit fun. So that’s where OK was birthed from. It’s a word that is commonly used in an “I’m OK–You’re Ok” kind of concept. That hopefully everyone can take that mentality and make it through this mess we call life.
Are you coming at this as a retailer for the new millennium? Is it an online retailer? Is it brick and mortar?
It’s kind of what I think every retailer should focus on. It’s a multi-channel mindset and we’ll see what happens from there. I really think our strengths internally are on the Web. We have a long heritage going back to the 1940s with my partner Jim. His father being one of the greatest retailers ever in American’ history: Mervin Morris. Jim Morris being a founder of Ross department stores which has one of the largest market caps in retail today. And the history that I have in the action sports industry with Active. So, naturally retail will fall into place but our core strength is the Web. We have a good Web mindset and a good Web team to really focus on Web retail and obviously brand. It’ll be a different brand. It won’t be a typical retailer’s brand that we plan to launch. It will be a little more special and thought out and we’ll see where it grows to be.
What are you doing differently this time? What did you learn? I’m sure there’s a huge list.
There is a big learning curve. OK Skate will start much like my Father did with Active—with one location at a time. He started with one store and grew it to be one of the best retail organizations. I learned a lot through the process. I learned more through the failure of Active than through the successes. I learned that you have to know your strengths and you can’t try to do everything or be everything to everyone in all aspects of your business. You have to know your business. You can’t just ride on laurels of the past and go “Oh cool, it’s working and it’s always going to work.” Because when the climate changes and you’re not ready for it, you get stung.
This time I have a really great group of people around me. Out of the 11 people that currently work for the company there are three MBAs and a CPA. We didn’t have one of those when we built Active. To have that type of support for me is really what’s needed. I don’t have any financial education or IT education and we have that staff here to support that.
And then really living within reality at all times—knowing that we’re in a tough environment and things could get tougher and things could get better. Really being focused on the environment and not anything in the past or even the future. I think running a business now is really a day-to-day process and just living within your luxuries or your lack of luxuries and making it work.
That’s a lot of what I think I learned from the Active debacle. It’s a trust thing. There are a lot of things that happened along the way. You can only trust people so far—and trust their word and what’s happening. Everything’s not always what it seems to be. And learning from being in the shoes of someone who hit the bottom you know, and going, “Whoa, it sucks down here,” and knowing that there are a lot of people at the bottom and then going, “Wow, it really doesn’t suck down here.” You can work your way back and you can work really hard to regain a business, a position, or whatever it shall be, if you put your mind to it.
This group at OK has done an awesome job of going look, “We’re going to start a business really quick.” Whether it’s from launching a facebook page and having 1,700 followers in less than 30 days to running a few campaigns through different Websites or banner advertisements, Google Adwords, and having the ability to gain tens of thousands of email addresses in a short window. There are so many things that you can say that, “Okay, I knew this before,” but now you actually put it into practice and make it work. It’s a bit of learning.
So you’re a retailer.
I am a retailer. Unfortunately, that’s what I am. I thought that maybe I wasn’t a retailer after the whole Active situation. It was really hard to find out who I was or what I was. No one likes to be at the top and be at the bottom in the blink of an eye. And that’s kind of what happened. I am a retailer. That’s what I know and what I do. And, I hope to be a retailer that does what I did really well for a long time again. I’m confident that we are on that path to be a very valuable retailer for the marketplace.
I can already see us making an impact in the marketplace with the brands we’re getting behind and the appreciation that they have for us supporting them even with very limited orders and nothing too extensive because they’ve been able to say that they have support from OK and other bigger retailers have already picked them up and today is the first day that we’ve even sold a piece of product. So there is a lot of value in the reputation of our team that we have assembled to go forward with this new venture.
Is there still room for action sport chain stores?
It’s hard to say. I don’t know where the room is for chain stores out there. But where there is room, is for quality businesses that have a very good vision and have a plan. If you have a vision and a plan—and you can stick to both of them—I think that there is room for that in our industry. There is still quite the shaking out of the who is going to make it and who is not, unfortunately, and it’s a painful process. But after the shakeout happens there is going to a lot of room for quality retailers who have a plan and have a vision and can execute.
So tell me how it all came about? You were telling me earlier. . .
During the Active process of trying to refinance the company I met Jim Morris and we just hit it off. He’s an incredible guy. He’s borderline genius in my opinion. He’s just a really smart guy and he’s real loyal and caring—which is so odd in the business world. He’s really, I think, measured by the group of people he has surrounded himself with in his offices in La Jolla and Northern California. I’ve met his people and he has an incredible group of people surrounding him and when I noticed that I said, “I want to be part of that team.” So, after the departure from Active I immediately reconnected with Jim and we formed a partnership. We have a lot of ideas of what we’d like to do. We’d like to be more than just a retailer. We’d like to do some really neat things in the marketplace. And we’re really cautious about taking one-step at a time and getting something working before we see past the next venture.
We formed a partnership in October and we’ve been working on a project since then and today launched the retail portion, which is a small showroom that we are really proud to have onsite. Rather than just being a Web retailer that launches, we want to touch and feel the product and hang out with our customers and be part of the adventure of retail. Part of that adventure is being a retailer that people can actually come up and physically shake your hand and say hello. I love retail and Jim loves retail, and we both decided that being retailers we should have a multi-channel mindset. So today is the first day we launched the retail portion, within the next 30 days we launch the Web portion, and then we’ll start to launch some pieces around the brand that we’re creating. That’s kind of how it started and where we are at today.
You gonna have a team?
We’ve talked about it. If we earn a team then we’ll have a team. We’ve already had discussions with a few high profile athletes that are personal friends that would want to be a part of it. I definitely want to see us earn it, rather than just put a team together and say look here is our manufactured team and we’re going. If the progression of our business warrants or demands or deserves a team then absolutely we’ll do that . . . I hope we have a team.
And just skate for now?
Yeah, we’re really focused on skate. That was something that I thought was really important in this marketplace. To revisit something a question earlier you said is there room in the action sports industry. If you’re focused on what you’re focused on you’ll be successful. If we launched OK Surf we’d probably be successful at OK Surf. If we stayed focused on OK Snowboarding, OK Girl, OK Fashion, or whatever it is—we want to take one step at a time. The love and appreciation I have for the skateboard industry naturally put us on course to start with skateboarding, street fashion, and street culture and that’s what we’re starting with.
Are you feeling any push back? Any Active residual . . .
Yeah, there is some—and well-deserved. Active helped many people throughout the years and was the best at what Active did and when Active fell it hurt a lot of people. No one would deny that—and no one is going hide from that. And it hurts. You know, it hurts to this day to see that people got hurt over it. Heck, our family lost our business of 20 years so we know the pain that others felt by losing money. And it’s unfortunate.
But it’s just real interesting. There are some people who push back. And they have their reasons to push back and it’s something that we have to again earn. There are no expectations or demands that we are making. We have made it very clear that we walk to the back of the line and that’s where we stand and we’ll walk our way back up . . .
[Editors’ Note April 30, 2010]: After reading the interview for the first time on the site Shane Wallace wanted to add two comments:
I’m very proud of the current OK Skate Family and I’m also proud of the team I built with my previous career. I wouldn’t be who I am today without the support of the great people in my past, thank you.
Thank You to all the special vendors that have supported OK. Everyone at OK is very grateful for your support.