Don't Do It Foundation Q&A with Birdo and Leticia Ruano
With the recent news of Nike pulling the plug on its surf program, it's only fitting to feature the Don't Do It Foundation - who have been battling to keep large sporting goods mega-corporations out of the action sports industry since 1997.
Meet the folks behind the Foundation: Steve “Birdo” Guisinger and business partner Leticia Ruano of Consolidated Skateboards, whose mission is to 'keep the surf, skate and snowboard industry in the hands of those that are passionate about it.'
"We want people at whatever cost to not support the mall chain," explains Birdo. "You vote with your money. If you go to the mall chains, you’re only empowering them. Go to your local skate shop. If you don’t have a local skate shop, buy online from a local company.”
Read on for more on how the Don't Do It Foundation, spearheaded by the efforts of business partners Birdo and Leticia Ruano, is working to making the world of action sports a better place by keeping the surf, skate and snow industry in the hands of those that are passionate about it.
Can you give a brief summary of the Foundation’s history?
Its roots go back to '97. This was the first year the large sporting goods companies tried to enter into the action sports industry. As Consolidated Skateboards, we created the Don’t Do It campaign to educate the shops and community about the dangers of letting these outsiders in. The large sporting goods companies dumped their teams and pulled out shortly thereafter. Around 2000, they regrouped under the guise of Savier and tried again. The Don’t Do It campaign came out of the woodwork once again to spread awareness. The large sporting goods companies lost support from the core shops when they began to sell their products through mainstream distribution. They again dumped their team and pulled out. Their most recent and most successful push into the Action Sports began around 2002. Thinking there was no hope of the large sporting goods companies gaining traction in the action sports the third time around, the campaign didn’t resurface until around 2005. A few years ago we made it separate from Consolidated Skateboards so that people wouldn’t mistake it for some sort of a marketing plan and could encompass all the core action sports companies and shops.
Can you explain the ultimate mission for the Foundation, what would success look like?
Like our country, our industry has been becoming polarized. Our industry had a very large middle class. This was comprised of many healthy shops and companies thriving within their own ecosystem. The trade shows of the 90’s were booming with new companies and shops. As time has gone by, this middle class has dramatically shrunk. What was a thriving healthy business environment, owned and controlled by Surfers, Skaters and Snowboarders, has been replaced by a small number of corporate outsiders, selling predominately to non core mall and sporting goods chains and box stores. Success would look like thousands of independent thriving shops around the world being served by many independent companies and distributors run and owned by passionate participants. That’s the utopian scenario! J
How will you be able to realize this?
My personal belief is that many companies fail to realize the importance and relationship of their distribution. As a company, your distribution channel is an integral and important part of your business and it is very important that you take every measure to ensure its health and longevity. For example, if you sell to a mall or sporting goods chain that has 600 stores, and you are giving them the discounts they demand, they will continue to erode your core sales base by their ability to undercut the core shops with the discounts you give them. Then after you have empowered them to dominate the distribution channel, what happens when they decide not to carry your brand anymore? For some public companies, it becomes purely about money, not loyalty and personal relationships, which is how our industry grew in the first place. So to take that mentality away will completely derail what was so rad about our industry. My dream scenario is that people step away from the paradigm that “if you buy in bulk you get a discount”. That thinking just ensures that the people with the most money always win. Just like a bank only offers money to people who already have money. I say flip it. If you are a new core shop in an area that doesn’t already have one, you get the discount. If you grow and become more than say 5 stores, you lose the discount. That ensures your distribution channel will always be healthy and thriving because it gives the little guy the opportunity to start a shop if they wanted without feeling they couldn't compete, ensuring this diverse distribution channel to continue. If one shop somewhere makes bad decisions or for whatever reason goes out of business, it doesn’t dramatically affect the entire action sports ecosystem. If a mall chain or box store that has a substantial percentage of the distribution goes out of business or decides not to carry a certain segment of the industry, it has deep dramatic repercussions to the sport and industry. I think its important to implement policies to ensure sustainability in any ecosystem, whether it be natural or man made. Same principals apply.
The Don't Do It Army at the recent CWC in Santa Cruz
Can you tell us about Don’t Do It Foundation’s activities at the recent Steamer Lane CWC event?
We were there to spread awareness and answer peoples questions and concerns. Many people don’t necessarily understand the inner workings of the industry. They just get bombarded with marketing and advertising. They aren’t always aware that they are ultimately in control and that they are able to control the direction of the industry (or anything for that matter!) by what they decide to purchase and where they decide to purchase it from. Money is power, but it ALL comes from the consumer.
And, earlier this year the Foundation’s presence was felt down south at the US Open of Surf, formerly presented by Nike – what was the reaction like there?
Thankfully for the Don’t Do It Foundation, the reaction was great! When people asked “What’s Don’t Do It?” and we explained it to them, they got it and were fired up! They wanted stickers, stencils and picket signs. Nike was confiscating stickers and picket signs as people entered the event, and even came out to tell people that if they were stenciled with Don’t Do It, they wouldn’t be able to get into the event. But that didn't stop them from getting stenciled, it was great. We had a plane fly over the event with a Don’t Do It banner. It was supposed to fly for 5 hrs. After 1 hour and 45 min. it disappeared. After it was too late to get it back in the air, we finally got a hold of the company who was supposed to be towing it and they claimed “mechanical difficulties” - they said it was a bad magneto. Every pilot I have talked to since has said, “BS, there’s no way. Nike had it downed.” Wouldn’t surprise me after seeing all they went through at the event to suppress our message. We know first hand too that they have blocked us in magazines and shops, so it wouldn't really be too surprising.
The Don't Do It Army at the US Open
What has been the general reaction from retailers and industry companies?
Retailers are beginning to come around. They are seeing the tactics these large sporting goods companies use to dominate wall space and inventory levels and their lack of loyalty and honesty when it comes to exclusivity and distribution. As for companies, I am sure as a Skater, Surfer or Snowboarder owned company, they don’t like to see outsiders capitalize on something they didn’t create. But if they are to voice their opposition it just looks like a company crying about their competitor getting sales and they’re not. Even though its not that, I understand it looks that way. The thing is, if these outsiders can't completely take over, what they're paying out is not sustainable, and they'll bail. These publicly traded outsiders have got to answer to shareholders first and foremost. They've done it twice before. Look, they've already pulled out of the US Open of Surf. What we're trying to do is bring awareness to the situation before more core companies go out of business, because they are the ones who will stick it out through thick and thin. That was why we moved the Foundation away from Consolidated. This isn't about choosing Consolidated versus the outsiders, it's about maintaining diversity and sustainability within our industry.
Has this presented any positive or negative impacts on business for Consolidated?
It has been an uphill battle for sure. Nike really romanced the core shops. We have heard stories that shops were told by their Nike rep, “If you want a Nike account, you can’t carry Consolidated”. And since we won’t sell to any of the mall chains or sporting goods stores, yeah, it definitely hurt our sales. We knew going in though what was at risk. We talked in length about it before resurrecting the Don’t Do It campaign. We decided that if we don’t fight, the industry is eventually gonna lose and if that is the case, we aren’t gonna love what we do anymore. Its just gonna be strictly business. So we really had only one choice. If we’re gonna go down, were gonna go down swinging.
Who is behind the movement, who are the key players involved?
Leticia and I (Birdo) oversee the Foundation, but all of our supporters deserve so much thanks and praise for their efforts in spreading the word and educating people about the importance of supporting the passion in the industry. Because without them, the movement would not exist.
Is the support of professional athletes (like John John Florence & Joel Tudor) critical to the campaign? What career risks, if any, does this present for those individuals looking to support your organization?
They are critical for sure! They are heroes! They are taking a stance for other Action Sports athletes to get a chance at making a living doing something they love. One of the problems with these large outsiders coming in with all their money is that they unrealistically raise the bar, which forces other companies to cut their teams so they can pay fewer riders more money, just to try and stay in the game. I think these pro surfers are the first to see the repercussions of what's going on, so for these guys to stand up to these outsiders and are willing to fight, is huge and shows a lot of respect for their respective sport and fellow riders.
Do you have any upcoming events or projects planned?
We are always up to something ;)
How can interested peoples get involved?
Spread the word! “Like” the Don’t Do It Foundation on Facebook (www.facebook.com/dontdoitfoundation) and share with your friends. Share this interview! There are many ways to get the word out without spending money. We have some stuff that can also be printed out and posted in public places, on our website dontdoitfoundation.org
Thanks for the interview!