Sebastian (Gruba), you’re the main Customer Service guy at Hedonskate, right? How is the expansion into Germany going since you have been in Poland from the beginning?
Somehow, the German expansion came naturally. Throughout our seven years of business we’ve taken a few European countries under our wings (Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Estonia, Czech Republic…) mostly the ones which were active enough and were willing to take a step further to develop their scenes. Since the competition had Germany on lock, we didn’t want to interfere there at the beginning. Somewhere around 2010 we started to visit Berlin more often, the German capital was pretty close (about 5 hours by car) and offered crazy spots that we constantly want to get back to. We met the right people who offered some help, got familiar with the local scene and slowly started planning. When Leo from Ignition Skateshop announced that he was done with the blading business and closed his shop, it became clear that we had to treat Germany as our next primary target.
After six months we can easily say that our expansion is going well. There’s been tons of positive feedback from German customers. There is still much to be done, yet I think we managed to put some life into Berlin’s blading community by organizing the few Hedonskating sessions, hosting the Pariah DVD premiere, the Real Street Berlin contest, etc. It’s crucial to mention that we couldn’t do anything without the support of people like Dirk Oelmann, Jojo Jacobi, Benny Harmanus and Domink Wagner — a group of passionate people that are aware of the importance of unity and joint actions.
What do you think is changing with rollerblade buying trends?
Hmm… some things are obvious -– like DVDs or print mags are seen as a so-last-decade kinda thing. People just don’t buy those things anymore. With the stream of free online media the DVD releases are not so anticipated anymore. Once or twice a year there is a production that sells more than, let’s say, 5-10 copies (like Pariah or the Valo flicks) but in general support of media does not exist.
The other huge change compared to the 2000-2006 era is the declining sales of soft goods. Nowadays there are so few companies that produce rolling-oriented clothing — most of them died or are not releasing collections regularly. So there are no new clothing companies because bladers do not want to buy them — and why is that? I think that problem stems from a lack of good promotion. Back in the day all the pros were actually wearing blade clothing. When I first saw Dustin Latimer, Shima or Jon Elliot in Mindgame (or Jethro or Second Regime, etc.) tees and hoodies I would have spent my last penny to get one for myself. They were the guys who I looked up to and they kept me juiced to support the industry by buying products that they had promoted. Today you don’t see it that much…
Other than that, what I’ve noticed – so many people switched skates from well-known, established brands in favor of skater-owned manufacturers. Razors used to be the best selling brand, yet right now it’s kinda shifted towards the other companies. I think people started to finally realize some things and are aware what is going on inside the industry. What else…? I think people are not experimenting as much with new parts and new products, they prefer to stick to the proven ideas that were already tested by themselves or their friends. Also, within the last two years the number of entry-level skates that are selling has gone up drastically, which is, of course, a good sign.
How will rollerblading reach the same level of popularity as it had in the mid 90s?
The question is what was that “level” and haven’t we reached it yet? I don’t remember seeing as many people on rollerblades back in mid-’90s as I see today. Hedonskate’s hometown – Katowice, Poland — as well as the whole agglomeration of Silesia, is simply exploding with rollerblading oriented events. The last Night Skating session that we helped to organize (more fitness oriented; cruising throughout the city during the night) had 3,000+ (!!!) people. There is more local TV and newspaper rollerblading coverage than ever. We have constant calls from organizers of TV shows (like “America’s Got talent” stuff) to feature rollerbladers. I have friends who earn their living just by teaching people how to rollerblade — be it aggressive, slalom, fitness, or other! Just last year Poland got three huge outdoor skate plazas in major parts of the country (really well designed stuff, places that I could only dream of when I was growing up), followed by countless smaller facilities here and there. Result? Small crews of youngsters are forming again, and lots of OGs came back because finally they have places to skate and chill! Rollerblading is out there and is not going anywhere!
I think the crucial thing is getting new blood to our sport and the key here is the right approach. We started as a small online skateshop, followed by opening a storefront and now a larger one that is gathering more and more supporters. Since the beginning we have put most of our focus on the way we treated each customer — you can just drop by, see and try on the newest stuff, ask your questions, hang out and then even go out and have a session together. Over time, when more and more non-aggressive customers started to flow in, they quickly liked this approach. Soon groups of slalom, speed or freeride skaters began to “copy” the things that we as aggressive skaters do. They started to have regular sessions TOGETHER. Started a small leagues for their events. Started going to other cities just to skate with new people, etc. In other words, they were simply forming great social connections thanks to the wonderful activity of rollerblading. Naturally, most of those people are aware of aggressive inline, they follow all the Hedonskate news and edits, etc., and eventually end up with at least a pair of freeride skates or, now with the boom for powerblading, a set of powerblade frames. It can be a great start for taking their skating to the next level, and that’s what we are trying to do — encourage people to live active and try new stuff!
Explain your obsession with quality. What is it that motivates you to run every aspect of the shop in such a proper fashion?
Quality — who does not want good, quality stuff? This was/is the main problem of our industry — lack of quality in everything. Half-assed clothing, improperly tested hardware, lack of professionalism in marketing, etc. It leads to the dead end. How many of you have bought some rollerblading gear that broke within a week? There are way to many cases like this. When it happens, people get frustrated and are less likely to support your brand again.
At the time when we started for real (like 2004), we put a lot of focus on our image first: easily navigable site with all possible brands represented, along with detailed pics of the products. At last you could see all the new stuff, easily, with the right promotion. Gradually, people with specific skills and experiences were added to the working crew, forming the strong group of web designers, photographers, and videographers to make our stuff even more professional. Chris Luca, our design master, came up with the idea for the slogan “Green is better” and the first line of ads that we tried to put out everywhere (print mags, videos, websites). The feedback we have received was nothing but positive.
From then on we constantly try to up everything that we do — we want to represent rollerblading on the highest level. Our motivation comes from the fact that our industry unfortunately lacks it.
What challenges you the most about running a shop?
Our biggest challenge, or I would say a problem, is actually our location — Poland. Since the custom laws here are so complicated, shipping to foreign countries (especially those outside EU) is way too expensive and takes too long. Such limitations make running an international shop quite challenging. Of course we have our solutions and we do ship to every possible place in the world, but it could be much, much easier if we were based in another country, like Germany.
Other than that, we had to change the location of our warehouses, offices and the front shop twice (!) during last year. It was really painful (financially) since we had to start from scratch after the first move. The shop was renovated, new offices organized, and suddenly it turned out that someone bought the whole building that we were renting and basically threw us out in the street. It took about six months to organize everything again and get back on our feet. It was really tough, but eventually we made it!
To wrap things up, we would like to thank every customer and every blader out there that supported us in any way. We will keep doing what we are doing no matter what! Love the bladers, fuck the haters!
Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions, Sebastian!