Industrial Profile 1/15/2011

Matt Sharkey, Director of Marketing, Chrome Industries

Malakye Industrial Profile – Matt Sharkey

Before Facebook,…no how about before email was popular to use – is that a good reference point?  Remember Prodigy?  Use Wikipedia if you need it.  Ok, now that the time period is set, it’s time to introduce Matt Sharkey.  Since those days, Matt has been carving out his own path.  Starting with a ‘Zine, time with Powell, the NHS camp, launching / closing / launching an athlete management and public relations agency, time with Don Brown, CLIF Bar (yup!) and now Chrome Bags.  There you have it.  Many major stops on the road to today; to right now. (Check out Matt's photo work here.)


A rolling stone gathers no moss, right?

Indeed. Every opportunity has enriched my life...both personally and professionally. Some more than others. Working across several different industries has allowed me a marketing education that I could have never gotten in any MBA program. Working with different products in different categories and with different consumer groups has dramatically helped me to always keep a fresh perspective.

Nearly two decades in to your career now, you’ve experienced a lot.  If you could bring one thing back from “back then” as it relates to what you do, what would it be? 

To be honest, the thing that I’d bring back from “back then” would affect both my professional life as well as my personal. It would be the removal of email as a method of communication. While there’s no questioning the efficiencies it offers, it has been given far too much power in terms of communication. Prior to email we conversed and collaborated more in person. There’s a lot to be said for expressing yourself in person versus hiding behind a computer. I also miss the art of the handwritten letter. Those are few and far between these days.


What’s your prediction on the future and development of the industries you’ve been in?

Having spent the most amount of time in my career in various forms of the action sports industry, it has become almost predictable that it goes through a drought every ten years. While there are obvious negatives to this cycle, there are also a handful of positives. Chief among them is that it helps to bring heart and quality to the surface. What I mean by that is that it weeds out those who were involved exclusively to make a buck and those who aren’t offering anything interesting to the marketplace. In general terms, there isn’t an industry I’ve been involved in that isn’t affected by a down economy. I think the best prediction I can make, however, speaking in sweeping generalizations, is a return to quality and local manufacturing. Simultaneously while the global marketplace continues to expand.

Your career path is marked with an entrepreneurial spirit.  How does that come in to play in how you approach your work?

That’s something that’s been inherent to my life since I was a toddler. When I was four years old I used to go door to door in my neighborhood selling old newspapers. By old I mean anywhere from a day to two weeks old. I’d hit up half a dozen houses and come home with ten bucks. That storyline essentially remains constant throughout my life. I’ve owned my own business and I’ve worked for companies that are 300+ employees strong. I’ve treated both of those scenarios as if my bloodline and bank account was attached to the company.

Christian Scott, as General Manager of Brand Marketing at Sole Technology said this about you, “Matt is an exceptionally talented individual who has the rare gift of balancing creativity and structure. He is organized, detail oriented and fiscally responsible while at the same time innovative, fun and thought provoking.” Is his sentiment something you’ve always created in your work?

My work ethic has always been strong and, when working for a company that is someone else’s vision, I always aim to better the brand story. The organized and detail oriented part is just a nice way of saying that I’m a Virgo who hates things being out of control. The structure part has been learned over my the duration of my career and that has come directly from individuals like Christian himself.

What does your role at Chrome Bags entail?

My title is “Director of Marketing”. My responsibilities extend across all areas of Marketing and Brand Management in addition to trend forecasting and product direction. Chrome is only 15 people strong, so we all have to wear more than one hat to make things work.

Let’s talk about transferable skills.  It’s a big topic.  It can be hard to move from skate to snow to surf, let alone from those sports to the bike industry.  Chrome Bags probably had a lot of people to choose from.  Why were you the right one? 

My career has been highly reliant on transferable skills. I’ve always worked in industries that I’m passionate about, but my strength lies less within these specific verticals and more in being intensely interested in people and their relationship to products. When you’re as obsessed with the human experience as I am, the industry itself almost becomes secondary in terms of professional application. If I were to wager a guess as to why I was the right for Chrome, I would expect that the diversity of my background had a lot to do with it. Chrome is very well known in the bike world, but very little beyond that one vertical. I suspect the powers that be saw the diversity in my background, realized that the brand had an opportunity not only in bike but in other verticals and looked to me to help direct that growth.

Are you having fun with it?

I definitely am. Chrome has given me a great opportunity to collaborate with an incredible group of people and they’ve given me a very long leash. I’m truly appreciative.

Are you applying the same practices and strategies in a new environment?

Similar strategies, but not exactly the same. Each brand I’ve worked for in my career people have had very strong emotional connections to. When that’s the case, it’s not about my vision or even the vision of my greater marketing team, but it’s about a brand that people have coveted for their own unique reasons for well over a decade.

Are you seeing a lot of familiar faces from skate and snow?

All of the older ones. It’s all of us who abused the hell out of our bodies for so long who have turned to less physically impactful hobbies like bikes. Ha! In all truth, though, I keep in touch closely with my friends from the skate and snow industries and still see everyone at the usual tradeshows, etc.

How about when comparing the industries – what are the most notable similarities and differences between bike and snow and skate?

There are aspects of the bike world right now, namely the fixed-gear or freesytle-fixed world, that are exactly like where skateboarding was in the mid-80s. The older and more refined surf world didn’t know what to make of skateboarding, so skateboarders went and opened their own retail stores instead of waiting for surf to catch-on. Similarly, the much older and more conservative cycling industry hasn’t known what to do about or with the fixed-gear world so people who are into that have created their own scene as well. Their own shops, their own magazines, their own brands, etc. Beyond that isolated example, however, the industries are very similar in their structure in terms of distribution and methodology.

Cadence and DVS recently collaborated on product, something that seems new to the bike industry.  Are collaborations growing in the bike world?  Will Chrome be doing any?

Collaborations are more new to the bike world for sure. They’re almost entirely exhausted, in a traditional sense, in the skateboarding world. It took the intense vision of guys like Mike Martin and Gabe Morford, who own “MASH” to be able to partner with Cinelli, one of the greatest legends in the history of cycling. I personally love what BD and Dustin are doing with DVS and Cadence. It’s a really smart move. DVS obviously saw the opportunity within the urban bike scene, or whatever you choose to call it, and Dustin, being essentially a one-man operation needed the help from a distribution and reach standpoint. It’s a brilliant collaboration of brands. Having not only a bag, but also footwear and apparel lines has limited the collaborations that Chrome has been able to do in terms of other brands. We have, however, done bags with the likes of Krooked and Motorhead in the past year and have plans for more in 2011.


You’ve brought your ‘zine back in a new form.  What’s it called and what is it about?

The zine that I created through Chrome this year is called WRENCHED. Its essentially a regional low-brow guide to a specific city as told through the creative individuals who make up its landscape. We launched the San Francisco issue this past Fall that featured people like Dustin from Cadence, Tommy Guerrero, Brian Anderson, MASH, etc. Each person was given a short introduction by someone who’s close to them and then each person featured was given the same set of questions pertaining to things around the city (Favorite neighborhood, favorite bar, favorite burrito spot, etc). That way people can use it as a guide to the city regardless if they’ve lived there for their entire life or if they’re just visiting dependent upon who they relate to the most. It was truly an honor and a privilege to work with everyone who was featured in it. We’re just now starting the NYC issue that will be out this Summer.

Is there anything soon to be released by Chrome that you’re excited about?

Very much so. Nothing I want to giveaway just yet, though. Lets just say that there’s work on a couple of signature bags with one of our “Familia” members, something soon to come out for the shutterbugs of the world and a collaboration with one of the worlds most influential skate shops of all time.

Did you pick up anything at CLIF Bar that you’ll use for the rest of your career?

Absolutely. It’s easy to look at Clif Bar as just a CPJ company that sells convenient snacks. Dig deeper, however, and you’ll find that it’s a brand that people have a deep connection to and respect for. Much more so than any other food brand on the face of the planet. That’s due, in large part, to the culture that has been cultivated, both on the consumer level as well as within the company itself. There’s a lot to learn from a company that has five bottom lines, not just one.

You worked with some of the most notable people in the industry. How about a few of the best sound bites you picked up along the way.  No need to name names if it’s not appropriate!

The most entertaining stories, of course, would be about the various skateboarders, snowboarders, etc.. But in terms of the industry, there is no greater legend than Don Brown. That guy is seriously a magician. He’s caused more trouble and gotten away with more shit than anyone I know. Sign of a true genius. He can also keep it going til 4am and then be the first one to the 7am meeting. There is only one Don Brown. I’m honored to have worked with him and call him my friend. I’m also honored to have worked with people like George Powell, Bob Denike and Joel Gomez...people who have all contributed a great deal to this ever evolving world of skateboarding.

Most valuable weapon in your tool box?

Generally speaking, my work ethic. More acutely, my constant study of people and their relationship to brands. The fact that I’ve been shooting photos professionally for 15 years has also been a huge asset. Not only in terms of actually shooting the ad campaigns for brands that I’ve worked with, but for knowing what I want out of other photographers and being able to easily articulate it.


Fave Five ‘cuz it’s fun!

Fixie or Four Wheels? I’m too old for fixed-gear on any serious level. Been riding road bikes and a skateboard for more than 25 years each. Can’t imagine my life without either of them.

San Francisco or Santa Cruz? San Francisco, hands down. It’s easier to deal with constant change in a big city than it is a beach town. The Santa Cruz that I lived in and loved for six years is much different than the Santa Cruz of today.

InterBike or SIA?  Interbike. There’s just so much more to see. Innovation sets the stage for fierce competition in the world of bikes, so there’s always something new to see each year whereas in snowsports, the frequency of innovations that are adopted is far less.

Still life or people? People, hands down. I can’t even shoot a landscape photo anymore without a person being in it unless there’s a thematic focus in terms of subject matter. People just fascinate me and I love to see what happens when you get them in front of a camera.

Favorite advertising – humor or serious? I, like anyone who watches the Super Bowl primarily for the commercials, greatly appreciates a good laugh in any form of advertising. You can’t tell me that anyone in skateboarding in the past decade has been more consistent than Enjoi in this respect. Who doesn’t look forward to every new jab they come up with? In terms of advertising in general, Levi’s has consistently been delivering my favorite overall campaigns over the past two years. There is obviously a great collaboration happening between the folks in their corporate office and their partners at the Wieden & Kennedy agency. Everything from print to outdoor to broadcast to their workshops in SF and NYC. Every touchpoint executed flawlessly. Not to mention what they’ve done with their social spaces and in the curation of the Braddock story. The Tobin Yelland shot documentaries?! All of it. My hat is tipped.