Product Analysis – Time To Get Drastic Over Plastic?
| No Comment
Mr. McGuire: I just want to say one word to you.
Just one word.
Benjamin: Yes, sir.
Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?
Benjamin: Yes, I am.
Mr. McGuire: Plastics.
Benjamin: Exactly how do you mean?
It’s been more than 45 years since Benjamin Braddock played by Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate, was told that his future lay in plastics. In the movie, young Benjamin is filled with anxiety about life. The question is, should core skateboard retailers be nervous too? What kind of impact will plastic skateboards have on the cruiser/longboard market? What kind of impact will they have on future generations of skateboarders?
There is no doubt that Australia’s plastic phenomenon, the Penny, has taken the skate world by storm. They arrived in the USA in the summer of 2011. The product is now everywhere and the fan base keeps growing. On one end you have hipsters, who seem to dig the retro look, and on the other side you have young who just want to have fun with a skateboard.
Upon first seeing a Penny, my initial reaction was “Wow, I had a plastic board three and a half decades ago! Why would I or anyone else want to go backwards?” It is a curious thing – retro is cool – but for many skaters there something kind of odd here. Isn’t this a bit like Apple introducing a typewriter? Despite my trepidation, there is no question that plastic skateboards have been embraced my many consumers.
When the Penny hit the newswire in the U.S., the media release referred to the product as “crack cocaine for and teenagers” because of the demand for product and the extreme reactions when the product is sold out. Still, you can’t argue with the extraordinary sales. “A number of retailers have thanked us because they’ve kept the lights on,” remarks Nick Timms of Penny USA. “We are now catapulted into the No. 2 brand spot in the shop,” he adds. “Retailers are making full margins.”
You get a sense that even the folks at Penny were initially surprised by how the market first reacted to the Penny. Timms says the company is humbled by the success. “We all remembered how much fun we had riding our first skateboard – which, for many ofus, was a plastic skateboard. That being said, it seemed like a great idea to bring the fun and the nostalgia back through Penny,” he says. “We knew that older riders would want to revisit feelings of their early days of skating, and that it would eventually translate and trickle down to the younger ones as to how and why we all got into skateboarding to begin with. To say that this worked is an understatement.”
Timms says it was somewhat surprising to witness firsthand how quickly the resurgence has grown in popularity. Of particular interest is that the Penny has appeal to both males and females. “As a result, more and more female riders are skating now,” he says. “This was very exciting for us because, if it were up to us, everyone should be riding a skateboard, and we were now one step closer to accomplishing that goal.”
Predictably, the competition has started to heat up in this market. Stereo introduced a Vinyl Series cruiser complete with a free set of sunglasses. Globe introduced its Bantam plastic cruiser in December 2011. Judging by the amount of folks carrying the Stereo product at the Agenda show in January, there was huge interest for it. In fact, Stereo ran out of show samples. Also spotted at the Agenda show was the Banana Board from Gold Cup. This line was created by Lance Mountain and is distributed by NHS. I spent a quite a bit of time with Jeremy Fox, the manager of Flip, discussing the product. What was fascinating was the attention to detail. “The top has a non-slip traction [surface], the trucks are a replica of the old ACS 430s and the wheels have a ’70s look that is reminiscent of the Stoker,” he said.
In terms of improvements in the product, there is no question that things have been updated since plastic skateboards first hit in the ’70s. These enhancements improve the functionality … to a point. This leads to a big question: Are these plastic skateboards a fantastic gateway product? The answer seems to be “perhaps.” They are certainly closer to actual skateboards than Razor scooters and RipStiks! This is probably one of the most valuable things the plastic skateboards can offer – they are a remarkable way for people to learn about soft wheels and turning.
Over at Globe, John Sherwood says he’s really happy with the initial success of the Bantam. “This will get a lot of first timers onto boards,” he says. “We hope they decide they want to try other product, whether that’s a longboard, a short, surfy shape or board.” Sherwood remarked that he’s also seeing people who already have long or short cruisers buying the plastic skateboards because they are different, easy to put in a locker or backpack and just plain fun to cruise around on. In terms of progression, Penny recently introduced the Nickel – a slightly larger deck. Stereo is now selling packages of wheels. So what comes next? Well, the future of plastic skateboards is somewhat difficult to predict.
“There has been a lot of speculation that this category will begin taper off in a couple of years – that this is just a fad for the time being,” Timms says. He is hoping to debunk this theory. “We feel that as long as there are looking to get introduced into skateboarding, there will still exist a market for this newly renovated ‘fun’ category. And where there’s fun, Penny will be there.” For a core skateboard retailer, that’s probably the best way to view this category: Enjoy the demand and simply sell the “fun” to a whole new market. Yes, you might even see some migration to longboards. We sense, however, that things will more than likely spiral quickly into the mass market. It’s not a huge leap to imagine that bigbox retailers will jump on plastic skateboards this year. If the demand is there, the market will respond accordingly and the price for plastic skateboards will fall dramatically. AXS
Written By David Lawson