Johnny Schillereff is one of the skate industry’s deep thinkers. This is a guy who named the company’s Costa Mesa, Calif., campus The Branch — fitting for a brand whose logo is a nod to nature. He’s the East Coast kid who started a now-25-year-old business once run by a rowdy group of hooligans, but is now part of Billabong International Ltd.
It’s been key to its parent’s revitalization as the broader action sports industry works through contraction and executive shuffling, adjusting to a youth culture screaming for authenticity. Marketing folks call this “being on-brand.” Schillereff sees it as “an analog movement that’s coming and those who get there first will kill it.”
We’ve seen plenty of bankruptcies lately: PacSun; Sport Chalet’s parent, Quiksilver; American Apparel, and so on. Do they say something about the action sports industry and broader retail?
That’s a big one. The consumer’s pretty smart. They have access to a lot of information and they’re able to suss out these brands. If the people driving these brands aren’t part of the culture, no matter what it is — music, art, skateboarding, surfing — this world no longer accepts that. The brands that are failing, are trying. But it doesn’t matter how hard you try. If you don’t get it — if you don’t breathe it, live it, know it — you’re not going to be able to make product people want.
Is the action sports industry still in reset mode?
Some of these brands and businesses are still operating in this silo like it was 10 or 20 years ago. I’m not saying you should be all things to all people, but you should be aware of your surroundings. The retailers and brands that are extremely aware of what’s happening around them and can be nimble and adapt are going to be successful. It’s the brands and organizations reluctant and resistant to change, that’s where the shift is taking place.
Customer loyalty is critical when it comes to pricing for a generation that’s grown up with fast fashion. Where’s the consumer’s headspace at?
I’m seeing a shift to loyalty and quality and design. That’s another reason why we’re seeing a lot of these younger, more nimble brands start to rise because the consumer sees “OK, this is authentic. This is driven by real people who participate or are iconic in this particular space.” The kids want to buy into authenticity, technology, innovation and quality and we’re learning — relearning — they’re prepared to pay for that.
How important is a founder in terms of authenticity?
An unengaged founder is a very, very slippery slope for brands driven by heart and passion. I think a founder is really critical, especially as you look at brands that are publicly traded, owned by larger organizations or private equity firms. To have a voice of reason is critical.