ROEX: Oli Benet is busy in Barcelona
Something we just don’t have enough of in the United States right now is skate shops. They play an integral role in any scene as a hub, a center of operations and the place to direct anyone that wants to learn more about blading. Having started out working in a shop oh so long ago, it’s disheartening to think that culture is almost forgotten. But all is not lost. Stalwart retailers across the US and abroad keep the inline retail dream alive, maybe none as enthusiastically in 2016 as the Barcelona-based outfit, ROEX. Helmed by long-time industry mainstay Oli Benet and business partner Joan Garcia, the two blade entrepreneurs merged their efforts — Oli with Roller Outlet and Joan with Experience — to make something greater than the sum of its parts. Read on to see why this is a lesson that many blade brands could take to heart, and learn more about why ROEX is laying down the framework for a major blade renaissance.
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Hey Oli, thanks for taking some time from your busy routine to tell us all about the good stuff you’re doing for blading in Barcelona. So… how’s it going?
All good, thanks for offering! On paper things are great right now — the shop is doing really well, I’m surrounded by the best people ever, engaged to the most amazing girl and working in blading, which I’ve loved since I was 8 years old.
Not long ago there was a post on FB about you being in the hospital with some pretty heavy shit. You okay?
Last year I had countless visits to different specialists to find I had a 10cm cancerous tumor. It was a type that had only been found in thirty or so cases worldwide since the 1980s. There was about a month and a half stretch where it looked liked the doctors were going to tell me it was too late. But they decided to go for it, and within three days they had a team of six doctors and an eleven-hour operation. It left me without a kidney, one of my two major arteries closed, and a bypass on my aorta. Now I have constant check ups to make sure it doesn’t come back, and it also means I can’t really skate to my ability because of blood pressure being very slow to pump around my body. My legs freeze when I go up stairs or do any kind of “strenuous activity,” but that could get better over years. I came out of the operation relieved, and thankful for all the support around me, but I with an attitude that takes no prisoners… When you come to terms with the fact that life is so easily taken from you, you really don’t take shit from anyone.
When did you open ROEX — and by the way what does the name mean?
ROEX opened on June 20th, 2014. The name represents two projects — Roller Outlet and Experience skate school.
I started Roller Outlet from my house while working for Powerslide. From time to time I would go to Germany for work and separate all their old samples and former rental products, then get them shipped to my house where I would sell them on Facebook. That project grew so fast — I was really making a lot of money on the side. It got to a point that shops were complaining to Powerslide, so they gave me the ultimatum: It’s Powerslide only or open Roller Outlet as a shop front.
Experience Skate School was a free skate school founded by my business partner, Joan Garcia. He used to be the of inline at Decathlon where he had the idea that the best way to make skating grow was to get people to try skating for free, so they could see how much fun it was. He left Decathlon and spread the word that he wanted to continue to have a skate school, but needed a shop to complement it. We didn’t know each other, but we had friends in common that saw us as the perfect match. We went skating together to talk over the project and it just seemed too perfect. We both wanted to find a way to make blading grow again, and I wanted to focus on product and marketing while he wanted to focus on teaching.
RO is Roller Outlet, Experience is the school. Together we created ROEX.
You’ve been in the blade business for a long time, so before I get any further, give everyone the run down of all the jobs you’ve had in blading. We’ll wait…
I joined Powerslide in 2004 as flow rider for Deshi in Spain, but I really wanted to get involved in product design. I had already spent hours making my own parts for various skates in London, then as a rider, Powerslide were happy with my feedback and asked me to help with product development. That led to them inviting me to start my own clothing brand with them, which was Stygma. Clothing was a hard market since we only sold to skate shops, so they asked me to run Deshi instead. Before long I was asked to take over Kizer as well.
At this point they asked me to take over all of the Conference management.
That involved creating all the social media, all the copywriting, project management, tour management — including booking and traveling with the team, bailing people out of jail, getting involved in general fight scenarios, rider management, scouting for new riders, product development, marketing strategies, design management, newsletters, press, etc etc.
It was about that time I realized I was pulling my hair out. I realized I wanted to move to something more tranquil and ended up creating the Doop project. We handled everything from scratch including design, name, social media, branding, and managing the concept store for the brand.
After leaving Powerslide, well… ROEX was the main project but before long I was back involved with a brand, and with Flying Eagle I offer whatever I can to help out along the above lines.
Okay, so I was saying this is your first time owning a skate shop, more or less. What lead you to think now was the time?
Barcelona is one of the best places in the world to skate. There already were other shops in the city but with very little pro-active organization or development — shelves on a wall with piles of skates. Being able to make a 100% inline shop, with all the experience that I’ve accumulated combined with the experience of the head of inline at Decathlon… that opportunity doesn’t come around twice. Independently, NOW is always the time if you have a niche to fill.
As someone who knew a thing or two about blading, and making blade products, what sort of surprises have you encountered helping your customers at ROEX?
Surprisingly, I would say that despite being involved for so long and having tested so many skates, I didn’t have a clue what was really necessary until I had customers in front of me. I think this is why the industry doesn’t really grow — the brands are obsessed with innovation so that’s what they market. This caters to a tiny portion of skaters, not at all to people starting out or wanting to skate. And the low end skates made by the “famous” brands are just nonsense samples from factories and are absolute garbage. I mean, utter rubbish. Most skates that are made for people starting out would be hard for a professional to skate on. Soft, floppy, garbage. I think many people start with a pair of these, and quit because it’s so hard to skate on them, with their ankles all bent out of shape. Being able to deal with beginners on a daily basis means I know what people really need, and it sure ain’t what most brands are offering.
What’s the breakdown — you guys sell any street skating stuff or is it mostly cruising/rec/big wheel?
We sell a bit of everything, aggressive, speed, freeskate, but aggressive sells so little — maybe 100 to 200 pairs of freeskates for one pair of aggressive skates?
Tell us more about the classes and what response is like.
The classes we have help the scene grow, build inline up, and help people have a place to learn their first steps, as well as all the other things that make skating so much fun. It also gives people a chance to “try before you buy.” We have about 150 people a week, more or less, and have taught thousands of people how to skate, including hundreds of kids. Sometimes I see maybe forty kids under the age of 10 learning to skate, and I like to think that in a few years the scene will be huge thanks to ROEXfamily, our thirty masterful monitors.
Let me reiterate, ROEX will be primarily responsible for the growth of inline skating in Barcelona thanks to #ROEXfamily.
Do you plan to expand them at all?
Well at the moment they are pretty huge, we don’t do too much promotion so it doesn’t get out of control. After all they are free… this means we have had some days with over 200 people and our monitors stretched to the max, but they always manage to handle it.
From your perch in BCN, what’s going on in the wider world of blade — things on the up or down swing?
From what I hear from industry people it’s not doing well. It’s a sport for both girls and boys from age 4 to 70, therefore it has enormous potential. The problem is there’s so much nonsense going on. Brand warfare, shop warfare, poor products for beginners, very selfish business decisions left, right and center… I mean, there’s barely any inline skate brands really. For a worldwide industry it’s not enough, and some of them aren’t even making half-decent products. When we brought Flying Eagle to Europe the big brands ganged up to boycott us, that’s not good for anyone.
Short answer? It’ a mess out there.
What do you mean that “big brands ganged up to boycott”?
When we opened, we were, and still are, the only 100% inline shop in Barcelona. However, some brands decided not to sell to us. We were forced to look for an alternative, so we discovered and fell in love with Flying Eagle skates. The quality was sublime and they were really good to us. However, bringing them to our shop resulted in the main brands effectively blocking us out. We lost all major brands for our shop, and in exchange found a new brand nobody had heard of. This was not a pleasant time, and for awhile Flying Eagle was unable to get their skates placed in European shops. But that’s all changed now and I will be forever grateful for the support of Tracy Wang and Flying Eagle in supporting our first two years of business. We now work with some of those brands again because our goal is to offer bladers the best possible options.
Where is blading doing the best right now?
If anything is booming at the moment, it’s freeskate. It’s the type of skate people should be using to start out with, and it’s the type of skate that hardcore users that don’t want to grind actually need. It’s an all-purpose, economical product that works really well. I think there are more and more shops offering classes, teaching skating in schools… stuff like that is the key. Brands like Razors and Flying Eagle are working on new projects to cater to aggressive and freeskate at the same time, I like to think of it as Reverse Powerblading.
What can people like me or our readers do to be part of that and help?
I think it’s hard to tell other people what to do. I would say the biggest problem I see is closed mindedness. Considering different styles of skating inferior or superior is never going to help skating grow. Help skating grow? I guess give skates to people as gifts? Haha, no idea.
Do you have any thoughts on how or why skating has ended up in this weird vortex?
Aggressive skating… I remember skating in the ‘90s and early ’00s and it was tight, it was family, but even within the crew the vibe started to get more and more negative. Internet made everyone a hater, and there’s a lot of people with a superiority complex. It became less about fun. Powerblading might have caused some severe damage to aggressive skating, as a lot of us found a new way to have fun away from all the negativity. Freeskate was barely a thing commercially before we created Powerblading, which created a rift between different sections, Europe and America as well… but then Freeskate went from strength to strength and Aggressive went even more core than before.
You know that scene in Oz when they pull back the curtain on the Wizard… As a guy that’s done so much in blading and worked on big projects with some of the biggest forces in the sport — is there anything you’ve experienced or witnessed that you think our readers should be aware of? I’m talking maybe companies you’ve worked with, groups you’ve been a part of, stuff like that…
At 35 years old, you stop worrying about what people think of you, but… as team manager at the Conference it was always exciting to be involved in signing new people, a lot of which had been my favorite skaters growing up. Then pushing for them to get pro models and seeing it happen. I’m thinking Vinny Minton, Chris Cheshire (not released, but designed), Franky Morales… just being involved in those projects were fun. Powerslide had me hire my own team and that included Kenneth (Dedeu) who has been hugely influential in skate development these past 10 years. He deserves so much more credit than many others that are glorified.
Before joining Conference I released one of the major VHS projects of the Spanish scene, the first one of footage from all over Spain. I created almost all the social media for the Conference brands, organized tours and media that have created some memorable content online. I think also Powerblading was a group effort but was mainly a personal project (with Powerblading.org) that I believe had a very important part in changing the view of big wheel skating, which is hugely visible today. For better or worse, I don’t know. Something that I think will have huge influence on the scene is Flying Eagle skates. We have influenced and created new distribution companies all over the world thanks to our collaboration with them. A year or two ago nobody had ever heard of them, but soon those who haven’t will definitely be made aware of them. For a start they have given me carte blanche for new aggressive models.
What do you think has been the most innovative or useful new blading product in the last five years?
I would say 3×3 frames, they’re amazing. They make skating very enjoyable and are a great way to get around, much like a bike. It’s a good way of competing with other forms of urban transport.
If you could today, right now, start a worldwide initiative to grow our sport, what would it be?
Get Disney to make a TV show or a movie. They have a show right now with some girl called Soy Luna and she wears quads, and now like 90% of the searches and phone calls to our shop are related to that, but we’re 100% inline skating only. Also, it needs to be promoted as a healthy sport, it’s got so much potential…
When will the world rediscover the fun of blading?
When we stop judging skating ourselves and have more fun. A positive attitude to all kinds of skating is important. When we eventually do sell aggressive skates it’s usually to someone that six months earlier bought their first pair of fitness skates. If we hate on them from the start, we’re never going to grow. Oh, and brands need to stop making crap entry level skates so it’s fun to start.
We’ve been going awhile so I’ll try to wrap this up. As I’m sure this whole interview is making clear, you’re a bit of a controversial fellow. Among some of your more infamous moments are the Jon Julio incident and the Bill O’Neill accident. Got anything to say about your legacy, those events, or even just how this kinda stuff ends up happening in the first place?
I might as well explain those two in particular.
I think the JJ beef started when I was Conference manager. Valo was new on the scene and constantly putting out material, and I think they had about five riders. On the other hand we had about 100 riders worldwide and barely any content. I was under a lot of pressure as manager to provide material, so I sent an email to everyone saying “come on guys, we’re 100 against five and the Valo team is so average” or something like that. Of course that was stupid, and JJ was on Sifika at the time so he was CC’d on the email somewhere and posted the message on the Valo site, so you know… that’s how it started.
Fast Forward a year or so later and we’re all drunk at some event in San Diego. The Conference had booked too many rooms and Valo hadn’t booked any, so I offered Julio a room of ours. He turned it down and I said “Okay, Jonju.” Now, in Spain we had always called Jon Julio “Jonju,” don’t really know why. He thought I called him “Jon Jew” and pushed me, asking me why I said that. We had a bit of push back and forth where everyone got involved, but at then end of the day he threw a perfect punch to my nose. Sagona and Chaz Sands locked us in a room together to sort it out, and I guess we explained our issues and never spoke about it again. But of course the internet lapped it up and years later people were still going on about it. It was a bit rubbish. Other brands sent emails to Powerslide telling them to fire me but they stood their ground, so I do have to thank them for that. I probably deserved a punch as it put my 20-something ego in check. I got into fights a few times after that at parties or on tours and re-broke my nose, so it meant I had previous experience? Haha!
As for the Billy car incident, it was never considered my fault until, I think it was Mark Wojda, started going crazy on Be-mag under a fake username attacking Powerslide and Razors while being a rider for USD — he wasn’t even there but he was an angry fellow.
At the time everyone was at my house and I was driving a van around with the team from spot to spot. I was working on my phone while everyone else was skating, and they had been skating the spot for a while. Where I was standing was a coincidence, it was the second road after the spot and no one had been even close to coming near it — I wasn’t aware of what was going on until Billy was flying right by me. No one at the time or until Wojda started suggesting it was my fault ever even considered it. What happened was awful, but I wasn’t where I was to watch anything, I was just wandering around working on my phone and saw it all happen too late. I’m sorry I didn’t stop it, but I never saw it coming.
Any others… I don’t know, man tour life is so full of madness it makes The Hangover movie series seem tame.
So do you have any regrets? Anything you’d do differently if you could? And that’s surely a good thing, since you’re doing so much good stuff for balding with ROEX!
No regrets, there’s no point. I’m very glad I got involved in the industry. I left a very high paying job that included a house and car at 20 years old to earn 200 Euros a month in the blading industry, and it paid off. I’m lucky because we are giving back to skating with the ROEX project, and have got thousands of people on skates. Skating is something I love and have always loved since 8 years old, being here after all the crazy adventures feels good!
Okay Oli, we’ll let you get back to goofing around the shop and making blading look really fun and appealing on social media. Keep it up! Drop any thanks or shout outs you’d like. Talk to you soon!
First and foremost I want to thank Tracy Wang of Flying Eagle. She believed in us more than anyone else and stood by us when no one else did. She also saved our company once when we were hacked for all of our savings… boy is that a story. I also want to thank Powerslide for 10 years of strong support. It went to crap at one point but we’re friends again now. Of course thanks to my family and beautiful fiancé, Nicola, for putting up with me working too much, and standing by me when I was sick. ROEXfamily for being the heart and soul of the company, and my business partner Joan for being so honest, hardworking and supportive, you my ‘bro. Thanks also to Justin and ONE for the chance to talk about stuff!
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As usual, Oli is doing what he does very well, lying.
In Barcelona there are several associations that have given skating classes many years for free. If Oli’s intention was to boost skating, he would support those associations since he was living in Barcelona. But, we had to wait unti his shop opened, to support free classes.
Roex free classes, in front of his store, only wants to attract customers to his shop.
Luckily the people of Barcelona already know him…
Actually that is a fair point that there are other skate associations in Barcelona that have offered skate classes for free for years, and credit is due to them also.
I mainly wanted to thank the group of teachers that have made our classes huge in such a short amount of time, and I think our influence has been enormous thanks a lot to our media and this is causing a dramatic growth in new skaters, I meant no disrespect to other people working for the same cause-
“The people of Barcelona already know him” now that’s clearly a personal issue this person has, judging by the shady tactics of other stores in this city, one can imagine where this type of commentary comes from, we run a clean and honest busines always, and that’s why we’re the highest rated store and school in Barcelona.
Yes Oli, you’re right! APB and other associations sucks! Roex school are the best!!!!