Industry News

Cultivating Youth: How brands and retailers are speaking to Gen Z

August 20, 2015 | 0 Comments

Authentic youth culture and the boardsports industry have a mutual need. After all, groms just want to be groms and, well, the aging enthusiasts still wish they were. So with kids of my own and admittedly a little bit of youth envy myself, I set out to unveil the secret sauce of captivating the youth market. On the way, I expected to encounter a complex priorities shift combined with newfangled marketing tactics, but what I found instead—even with the altered landscape—is that the old-school values of a real experience and a sense of community still reign true with the groms. And there are a few shops and brands that have nailed it.


Burton’s Peanut Butter and Rail Jam championships at Mammoth Mountain.

Darkside Snowboard Shop in Killington, Stowe, and Ludlow Vermont created a 25-year legacy of loyal retail customers by specifically nurturing the younger generation. “We encourage a very respectful attitude towards young people,” explains co-owner Teeta Langlands. They foster this attitude by encouraging the grom population to hangout and watch videos, session their store-side snowboard park, and co-mingle with the 20-something mentors that are part of the Darkside team. Managers are coached on their philosophy of community and respect, one that parents and kids witness from the start, hence developing their trust in and dedication to the shop.

“Action sports delivers the experiences that become social currency… the entire industry is based on the values that form the identity of this generation,” says Issa Sawabini, partner at Fuse.


According to SIA’s 2014 Consumer Intelligence Report, Generation Z is attributed with almost two hundred million in spending power and accounted for 26 percent of snowboarders in 2014. They are riding on the shirttails of the Millennial generation, the largest generation to date, and are adopting their mindset of frugality, social savviness, and valued connection.

“Truly, this population will save the industry,” claims Hannah Deene Wood, President of Talent Skatepark and Shop in Burlington, VT. “Talent would be out of business without the youth market.” She explains that 15 years ago they based their business plan on a 20-and-older clientele. Today, the majority of their park users are 12 and under and many of the older Talent skaters have moved West to pursue pro status.

Clint Graham, Pacific Northwest Sales Rep for Volcom concurs, “It’s a no brainer. If we get kids participating in these sports when they’re young, there’s going to be a percentage that continue to pursue them as passions into their teenage and adult lives.”

The survival of the action sports industry relies on cultivating this demographic that can propel participation and influence purchasing. But how do we increase numbers and create the stoke?


“Our customers want it when they want it, and where they want it,” explains industry consultant and Market Watch author Jeff HarbaughJohn Ennis of Surf Ride in Solana Beach and

Oceanside, CA provides just that by going deep on product specific to kids. “I’m offering [board sizes] all the way down to 4’6” for groms so that they feel they have somewhere to go to get their equipment. Most shops stop at 4’10”.”

Surf Ride also speaks to the parents’ priori- ties by offering an unmatched trade-in program. When kids bring in their used, ding-free, and water-worthy boards, they automatically get

70 percent off a new board right on the spot. Surf Ride’s pawnbroker license sets their trade-in program apart by allowing their customers to buy a new board without waiting for their old board to sell. And kids can choose from grom-series boards with special pricing from Lost and Firewire, making the purchase more palatable for parents forking out the cash.

Action sports participants define themselves by the companies they like and the products they buy—youth are no different. They’ve grown bored with big box brands and mass marketing techniques. Harbaugh notes, “If it’s available all over the place, then it’s not attractive to them.” He explains that retailers have to take chances with new brands, adding that the best retailers make the brands credible, not the other way around.

Daron Horwitz, President of Daddies Board Shop in Portland, OR agrees, noting that brand credibility is also a partnership. Daddies claims success with small brands like Caliber Truck Co. and Omen Longboards. He says that these brands put in the legwork; Daddies then pro- vides the marketing exposure to their young audience. “For brands that hustle, we can help them grow faster,” he explains, “We have a very specific interest in small brands wanting to do just that.

“Experience is social currency,” explains Sawabini, “It’s more fun for them to go out and actively do something, rather than buy something.”

Talent Skatepark creates a unique experience that helps form deep connections. Their Skatepark Lock-ins, where kids ages five to thirteen are locked inside the park all night, provide the space for skaters to share their passion. Parents love Talent’s lock-ins and plan date nights around them, and the kids like the fact that

the general public is actually locked out. They spend their evening skating, socializing, making sundaes, and watching skate videos in an extremely safe haven. Lock-in events help form new friendships and establish shop loyalty. “The kids feel like they are part of the Talent family,” explains Deene.

In the spring, Surfing and Surf Ride host a community event, Camp Shred, at San Elijo State Beach in Cardiff, CA. Vendors show up to demo their new gear and kids sign up in droves, earning three “library cards” for the day: one for boards, one for wetsuits, and one for accessories. They go in and out of the water swapping gear and trying out the latest products. “The kids froth all day on that thing,” explains Ennis, making it a weekend must-do for surf-centric families.

Volcom offers groms a no-frills and no-cost alternative to the big surf, skate, and snow competitions. Their “Let the Kids Ride Free” grassroots gatherings held across the U.S. include the Totally Crustaceous Tour, the Wild In the Parks event, and the Peanut Butter and Rail Jam. Graham develops a list of shops in his territory to promote the event, and Volcom then provides the shop with photos, video clips, and in-store displays to use on various digital plat- forms. Guido Silvestri of Civil in Greenwich, RI says these efforts bring people in his shop to learn more about the gathering.


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