It seems that Aggressive Mall is not only one of the most reliable and popular skate shops, but you guys have become synonymous in our industry with custom skates and creative color jobs on just about any pair of boots offered. Before we get into anything, tell us who is the maniac behind all of this madness, who is Justin Hertel?
For starters, I am a pretty low-key 26-year-old kid that rollerblades and owns a skate shop. I enjoy many things such as blading, watching good people blade, snowboarding, shooting guns, photo, video, working on cars, graphic design, drawing bad stuff, thinking of bad stuff, and working a lot and occasionally making cool stuff. I found out quite some time ago that I was never really good at one particular thing, but was just kind of good at a lot of things — and I think that is the number one positive trait that has enabled me to wear many hats and get a lot done in a short amount of time.
We all have our own stories of how we got into blading itself, but what made you want to open up your own shop, and how did Aggressivemall come to be what we know today?
I could write a novel about all this so I will try and sum it up by saying I owe this all to my dad. I was really into skating in the early ’90s, and by chance he had extra office space in the front of his ski wax business (Hertel ski wax). I knew a ton of people that skated and figured, like most 12–13 year olds, that it would be awesome to start a skate shop. Much convincing later, my dad opened up shop in the 400 sq. ft. office we had in there. As far as the name goes, it was all him! I always thought it was corny but somehow it ended up sticking… I swear we could have had ANY name too. Anyways, this is where my friends and I worked on and off for the next few years while I made my way through school.
During this time the shop moved to Palo Alto and everyone was really struggling to get by. I was in and out of skating and a lot of my local friends had quit. Although skating was in its hay day, Aggressivemall was basically in shambles.
Eventually, I ended up making it through high school and my dad and I weren’t getting along so well anymore. Somehow I found myself employed at a lumber yard, but eventually got fired for dicking around (I have the best stories from working there though). By default, I went back to work at Amall circa 2001.
When I went back to Amall I started skating a lot again and was so glad I re-found it, or that it re-found me. And it was at that point something just clicked in my head. At the shop, I knew I could just do everything better. It wasn’t a question of how, I just knew what to do to take Aggressivemall to the top. But I couldn’t have done this without the help from my dad and good, trustworthy friends. It was about that time we reincorporated Aggressivemall and I was signed on as an owner and became president.
After that, it seemed like every week our orders to the skate companies doubled and my dad was tripping because he didn’t know how we were going to pay for the inventory. I just kept on buying and he would keep yelling at me, but I had to do things my way — and it worked!
We moved to a new warehouse in 2005 that was over five times the size of our Palo Alto location, because we were just growing so fast. It was mostly good, but at the same time it was scary because we scraped the bottom SO many times. Deep down I knew we would always get through the tough times, so I just kept my standards high and I never stopped improving the way we did things. That is basically how Amall became what it is today, and we did it in just a few short years (2002-2007).
In a recent interview we did here at ONE with Adam Johnson, he mentioned that the quality of Aggressive Mall’s line of products is better than a lot of the actual clothing companies out there; I believe his exact words were “AMall seriously shits on a lot of these companies.” You are one of the people who sees the goods put out by our industry before anyone else — clearly you understand the demand for a higher quality product — is there anything that you think these companies can improve upon?
I read that and had a good laugh. I don’t know what it has to do with the question, but I could go on about this whole quality subject for hours… The in-line industry doesn’t work far enough in advance for me to REALLY see anything before it comes out (with the exception of one or two companies). I think the most I see is two months in advance, and a lot of times I don’t see anything other than “kid pix” until we actually even get it.
With that said, I do feel we need higher quality products in our industry, but it’s easier said than done. For example, I have seen companies charging $65–$100 (retail) for some of the worst shoes I have ever seen in my life. Somehow these kids are tricked into getting them and they fall apart in a matter of weeks. On the other side of the spectrum you have Ucon come along with the best quality stuff I have ever seen, and these kids (in the USA) won’t even touch it! Is it because companies with gimmicks and high price tags on ill quality goods have destroyed those individuals that seek quality? That they just simply don’t believe that a rollerblading company is capable? Or is it just that the general rollerblading population cannot yet appreciate quality products, so in turn only a select few make them. Maybe it’s a little bit of both, and I think the only way to solve that and raise the bar across the board is with established brands and more competition.
How do you decide what products you are going to carry and sell in the shop?
As far as blading brands go, I am only bringing the core companies. I am trying to stay away from fly-by-night operations to avoid having kids give money to someone who isn’t going to be around in a year. If you are down, and out there putting out a good message and getting the kids excited on blading, odds are I will bring it in. Plus, I usually have a good sense for what’s going to sell and what isn’t.
As we know from your print ad in the ONE Skater of the Year Issue and your clip in the ONEvideo (steezed out rocket fishbrain down that stair ledge), Justin Hertel can not only run a shop, he can skate too. With that being said, I think it’s time to ask a question that I will be asking everyone in our online interviews, what does the term “skater owned” mean to you?
I actually did it because I didn’t have anything else to run. I never wanted to run an ad of myself because it’s shameless self-promotion, but surprisingly enough it went over well. I ran the ad with the “skater owned” caption because I think people throw “skater owned” around too loosely. It’s almost like saying the sky is blue. It’s obvious when you are, and obvious when you’re not. Then I think sometimes people use it as an excuse, or for a scapegoat. If I had a nickel for every time I have read someone else sticking up for someone’s company saying “Don’t worry, they are cool, they’ll get back to you eventually — they are skater owned — support them regardless!” I’d have enough to treat everyone to some Mongolian BBQ.
To get back on track — supporting skater owned stuff is great and I’m down with it. I do it. But everyone knows that there isn’t a whole lot of money to be made in this industry and, with the exception of a couple companies, everyone who is in it now is probably in it for the right reasons. So choosing to support companies based on whether or not they are skater owned, or doubting people’s motives for being involved with the industry, is just foolish. And that’s coming from a skater owned business man!
The NORCAL scene appears to be one of the most tight-knit groups of skaters in our industry. I love watching videos and edits and seeing everyone repping their crew and hometown companies, it reminds me of rollerblading’s youth. What advice can you give to someone who may not live in such a fruitbooter infested area on how to strengthen their scene?
This one is hard, mostly because I am so busy with work at the shop and really only get out to skate a few hours during the week, and maybe a day on the weekend when I’m not broke off. Honestly though, it is kind of crazy because we all have our smaller crews that we roll with regularly and there are times where I don’t see most of these guys for months, but no matter what, when we get a session together it’s amazing. It’s like we skate every day together; everyone is supportive and cool with each other. I think this can be credited to many good personalities, and it just seems like everyone up here is doing it for the only reason you ever should: Because it’s fun.
Now, TRUST me, this is the question that my fingers have been dying to type, how has Trust MFG. come to life and who is involved?
Trust was developed over a time period of about four years. It was started by Doug Karlson and myself. We did it because we wanted to make some cool stuff and contribute to the industry. I enjoy creating, and I can only reach so many people with Amall, so I had to try my luck with something else and that something else was Trust.
Is there any symbolic meaning behind the names “TRUST” or your first model the “CATALYST?”
To be honest there was no symbolism behind Trust. As a name it’s powerful enough by itself. It has a lot of potential and I think anyone can understand it, because if you trust something — a brand, or even a person — you tend to hold it in very high regard. It means so much on its own, but at the same time it is what you as an individual make it.
The Catalyst however was more symbolic for us, going off of the meaning of an event that speeds significant change or action. The Catalyst — whether it failed or succeeded, would quickly change everything for us.
As you say on your website, (www.rolltrust.com) “First Impressions Are Everything.” This is a very true statement. My first impression of your liners is that they are bad ass and the best since Reign. Justin, what have been your “first impressions” of this venture, how are things going?
First impressions are very powerful to everyone, and that is why everyone involved with the project was so tightlipped while we developed the liner. I also think “first impressions” coincides with the Trust name and image. If our liners were garbage, or needed vast improvements right off the bat, it would have surely been bad for Trust’s image, therefore it was very important that our first impressions were good.
If you got the liners and have them in the right skates, you know they are solid for our first product. We coupled this with a fitted hat that is probably the best quality hat I have ever had on my head, but sadly it was out of most people’s price range and so they didn’t sell too hot. But right now we just lowered the price to $25 retail on them as an introductory type deal, just to get them into people’s hands, and show that we can produce quality apparel as well. As far as liner sales go, they have been moving about as good as I thought they would. So the response on Trust as a whole has been phenomenal for a company that has been out for less than two months and some change, with only three products.
Going back to your website, when you try to view the team section, all you get is a feeling of nostalgia bringing you back to “Field of Dreams” with a sarcastic yet clever wall of text that reads: IF YOU BUILD IT, THEY WILL COME. Any hints you want to give the readers on who is going to be representing TRUST MFG?
We could have had a team out of the gate, but I decided to hold off. I wanted people to buy our products for what they were, and not just because they were backed by a team. I could have asked riders blindly to be part of it and some might have said yes, but that’s not how I wanted it to be. I wanted to get a select group of riders that saw the Trust first impressions, and truly believed in Trust, and genuinely wanted to be a part of Trust. At the same time, I wanted to get feedback from our “to be” riders on the products and image, to make sure that everyone was on the same page. We have a team announcement coming in the near future, and I think everyone will be happy with who we have chosen to represent the Trust brand.
What can we expect to see from TRUST MFG. in the next couple month’s, product wise or just in general?
I can’t really say much at this point other than we are focusing mainly on the holiday ‘09 line. I am aiming to have the brand appeal to a wider range of people with various price points. Trust isn’t just a liner company, and there really isn’t anything we can’t do. We will be growing the line slowly but surely with solid pieces of apparel, accessories, and various other items no one is really touching on right now.
Before we bring this to a close, is there anyone you want to thank, or any last words that you would like to get across to the rollerblading masses?
Believe in rollerblading! It has gotten me through life, and has brought me incredible opportunities, ventures and friendships that I could not have gotten anywhere else.
As for thanks, I want to thank my dad for making this opportunity possible. Then I need to thank all my employees at Amall (past and present), but especially Derek, Kyle Sr., Dre, Shawn, Neil, Todd and Kyle Jr., because without them there is no way any of this could have been possible. All of our loyal customers that shop with Aggressivemall or anyone that has bought Trust liners. Ivan Narez, Victor Arias, Vinny Minton, and the rest of the team for always being down. Jon and Brandon at Valo for making rollerblading look sick. And last but not least, my beautiful girlfriend Jena for being supportive despite me being a huge workaholic.
Thanks so much for your time Justin, and I can’t wait to see what you have in store for the rest of us. — Ben Karris
Interview © 2009 Ben Karris
Photos supplied by Justin Hertel