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The Sk8ologist
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Issue 10

Greedy manufacturers and sellers

…”it seems manufacturers are focusing on catering the small minority of elite athletes, those which define the production lines anyway. I’d like to ask: how many manufacturers and vendors invest in a number of “demo” skates to be tried at events by the youngsters, who are excited watching the races going on there? How many of those manufacturers design and sell a product with an adequate quality/price rate suitable to beginners? With a couple of notable exceptions, it appears most resources are diverted to high level performance. As a consequence, price policies label our sport as “elitist”, feeding the vicious circle that diminishes sales worldwide.” 

That was an excerpt of an article I originally published on a couple of now deceased websites, about ten years ago. Not much has changed since then, obviously. Actually when it comes to equipment, things seem to be getting worse in our striving sport. The market is not able to define itself, as newcomers come and go, old brands change hands and established names live exclusively on past glories. Webshops –trustworthy or not- have proliferated like fungus everywhere, make-do boot makers are born every other day, and any surplus buyer calls himself an “official” distributor. Average Joe skaters are then forced to opt for the smaller price tag or to buy from whoever offers a little post-sales service, since nowadays there is not much difference between the top branded shiny material and the backwater made-in-china stuff.

Locally, the panorama is less than bright. Italy, once factory of the best skates in the world, has only one truly innovative and consistent manufacturer left (but a too small operation to expand abroad and no intention to grow, apparently). Dutch ice brands are not that much involved into the inline business, the rest of Europe can only count on a bunch of small-time producers… most of them moved their main operation to China, anyway. Korean stuff is extremely pricey and impossible to find around; a couple of Colombian brands are rising in spite of a ridiculously expensive catalogue (even in Colombia). Then there’s the USA case, the land of opportunity where there are more skate-makers than skaters… Finally, on a level of its own, there’s BONT*. To me it’s the only brand that time and again offers reliable and reasonably priced material, a great array of it as well. Unfortunately, the Australian company employs an arbitrary distribution policy (at least in Europe), added to the steep shipping costs from Down Under or China. … so we’re back to square one: skaters are forced to choose whatever can be afforded, in spite of their real needs. Besides, this is not the kind of goods that can have a lively second-hand market...

I’ve been a reseller for a dozen years now, with my only objective to provide decent equipment at the lowest possible price to beginners, rec skaters, etc. My strategy was to buy wholesale and sell through my websites with a pretty small mark-up, or to buy large quantities of surplus stock to sell to clubs or federations at ludicrous prices (sometimes below cost), the general idea being to promote the sport, help a brand and have as many kids as possible on speed skates. I guess that several of my readers can vouch for me here! Alas, my dealing model is no longer possible, as today nobody produces more than what was ordered, and no brand appear to have interest in that kind of publicity.

Now, I don’t claim to have the recipe to success nor do I seek to teach business techniques to anybody, plus I definitely understand how difficult it is to keep alive a small company in a niche, shrinking and violently aggressive market these days… but can I ask how come is it so hard to come by a serious manufacturer that is not moved by plain and simple greed? Is it so difficult to do things right? Be honest, they all seem to have great engineers and marketers, but when it comes to quality control and customer service, no skating brand is exempted from negative assessment… which shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering all of them are family-run, craftsman types of businesses. So the broad impression is that they tend to look for the fast buck while their merchandise demands are still in place. Missing screws, cracked aluminium, chapped carbon, falling apart boots, you said? No matter, next time that client might be buying the cheaper Chinese version anyways… And don’t get me started with wheels! It must be the only 100€ plus product in the world that can send you straight to the hospital on malfunction, but has neither warranty nor liability. Oh wait, I guess luxury dildos may fall in that same unique category.

Let me go on with my ranting: Is there ANY product exclusively designed and produced for kids? As far as I know the only attempt were those god-awful 3x100 frames, that was demonstrated by me and other coaches (see article here>>) might be cause of serious and lifelong injury to young skaters (aside from just plain useless performance-wise). Moreover, as of today I know of no boot that was purposely created for pre-teenagers: what can be bought in the market are mere size reduction of adult models. Ergonomy my arse: as a result, coaches and pediatricians get to treat a collection of horrible foot pathologies similar to a war time wounds gallery, do they not? Worst of all, coaches and parents come to accept such state of affairs as normal, unavoidable… while paying full price for just a mini-me version of a pro skate. By the way, ignorant coaches >> and fanatic parents >> are far from extinct in this sport, both contributing their fair share of mayhem demanding top of the line material for toddlers, which manufacturers and/or unscrupulous sellers are more than happy to provide, and the vicious circle goes on and on and on… Nobody makes enough money, nobody wishes to invest in the sport, nobody gives a rat’s arse about the sport’s grassroots development.

I think that someday I’ll call one of those Chinese retro-engineering massive producers that constantly offer me their stuff, ask them for certain specifications and re-brand my own skates. Then I’ll start selling direct everywhere at COST prices… how about that, corporate hot-shots?
If anybody is interested in a joint-venture, let me know.

Marcello Bresin

* Please be aware that I’m in no way related to BONT, nor do I sell their goods.

Issue 9