SHOPTalk PROFILE WOODY’S HALFPIPE Norcross Georgia
SHOP PROFILE - WOODY’S HALFPIPE Located in Norcross, Georgia, just outside of Atlanta, Woody’s has been charging full steam ahead, carrying an absolutely staggering amount of skate product. The shop also is renowned for putting on a number of events. We had a chance to speak with the shop’s owner, John Karg. woodyshalfpipe.com What is your background?
Pretty diverse. I spent 20 years in the Navy and 10 years as a stockbroker, which provided the perfect background for owning a skate shop. I began skating in probably 1969 – steel wheels – all the bad stuff. It was fun but sort of limiting. I put the skateboard away when I discovered motocross and did that as a main activity for a few years. I finally rediscovered skateboarding while living in the San Francisco and San Diego areas. Simply put, I am far better at selling skateboards than I am at riding them.
Tony Hall of Brook Run Skatepark,
Woody’s Halfpipe owner John Karg and Raymondo.
What is the history of the shop? The idea of the store was something I had been considering for about two years prior to opening. I worked together with my two sons, Matt and Bryan and had the skeptical acceptance of my wife, Pam. We opened in early 2005 with what many locals considered a bizarre mix of products. I liked so many of the styles of boards that I saw in the ’80s and ’90s; I decided to stock quite a few. Also part of that mix was some longboards. The first year was just a data gathering time; I was still in the securities industry. My son Matt never was much of a street skater, so a lot of what we carried reflected his ideas. I was also quite lucky when we hired Kelly Robinson. I think she and a friend came in on a whim and asked for a job. Her friend left pretty quickly, but Kelly has been a part of WHP for over three years. Her ability to get skaters excited about longboarding is remarkable. The name Woody’s Halfpipe was used to convey the old-school nature of the store. Recently we added skate artist Woody Trend, which finally gives us someone to point to when they ask “Who is Woody?” Prior to that we just told them it was a tiki in the window. We have also been fortunate in the team of skaters that have associated themselves with us. Our team represents what we sell in a positive way.
SHOP PROFILE – WOODY’S HALFPIPE
Most skate shops do a huge business in softgoods, yet you do a huge business in hardgoods, primarily. Why? I think a majority of our success with hardgoods is attributed to the fact that we carry so much variety in our hardgoods, while most shops carry core street brands and that’s about it. We carry core longboard, slalom and pool stuff as well as the core street. It is what we focus on. I haven’t had a deck that I couldn’t sell, but I have plenty of softgoods that I couldn’t. I am intrigued by innovation, and several skateboard companies are doing just that. They are in many cases small like me, but they are passionate about what they do. Softgoods are a me-too industry and the margins are pretty bad after markdowns. We are a learning store – meaning that we take what we hear customers say they want and we bring it.
We would rather provide advice that leads to a skater getting more enjoyment from their board rather than worrying about the amount of spandex in a pair of jeans. A lot of it has to do with people who have associated themselves with the shop such as vert pro Ray Fennessey, slalom racer Wentzle Ruml and the great advice we have received from Marty Schaub and Ron Olsen. Selling hardgoods requires effort; for us it has been by having a team of skaters that is diverse. I also learn a great deal from industry veterans who are typically willing to educate you just by asking. Everyone in the store is excited about what we sell. Without the right in-store team I think you can forget it.
You carry a wide variety of product. Why do you feel there is so much resistance out there in retailers trying different lines?
I think it’s the fear that it may make them look less “core” or soft. We don’t have to worry about our “hardcore” image because our customers know that we will have what they want and the other guys don’t have. Core skate shops are typically owned by skaters, or someone who genuinely enjoys the people. It probably just comes down to their vision for what they want to do. It requires a certain level of expertise and research to provide good advice, and many don’t want to go outside of what they feel skateboarding is about. Nothing wrong with that, but my opinion is that good service and advice are in short supply. Street is the message presented by the mainstream media, and most shops don’t take the time to look beyond that. Part of it might be an assumption that the market isn’t big enough – and in many communities it might not be. Of course some view alternative forms of skating as a kook activity. In many cases it could be a lack of capital; softgoods with their high cost and long pre-book period are a drain on other areas unless you have positioned yourself as a skate boutique/lifestyle store. Most skate retailers are better off not trying different lines because they can’t really guide the customer to the right products.
What are your thoughts on where this is all going? Skateboarding is being acknowledged as a legitimate outdoor activity by parks departments throughout the country. Skateboarders don’t need this to continue to enjoy skateboarding, but it does increase its exposure and raises the level of awareness and acceptance. I feel it is in the late stages of growth with young skaters. So the key for community-oriented shops is to engage all skaters and provide them what they want. Local skate shops are making it far too easy for online retailers to take their customers. The pure onliners rarely give back to a community in any way. Of course we hope to continue growing and to continue to see kids skating and adults getting back into it.
Any final comments?
We have people in my store that are exceptional. They care about doing the right thing and treating customers with respect. They are smart and ask questions about what the customer wants. We make a difference by leading and being visible. As a retailer it is the highest honor someone can give when they chose to bring us their money; we have to earn that opportunity. Once they have shopped with us, they rarely leave us.