Skate Lair is a shop unlike most shops. Located in Enfield, Connecticut for nine years, owner Erik Munday has strongarmed his customer base into submission, and now they are his loyal minions, tattooed and proud. Sounds unorthodox at best—hell, it's crazy. But it seems to be working. Munday owns one of the few shops that are not only weathering this economic tsunami, but probably surfing it.*
TWB: So, you never answer the phone?
Nah, I got the shop phone just for credit cards and shit. If you need to get me, get me on my cell.
TWB: I find it nothing short of remarkable that you are in business.
Yeah, I got a lot of questionable business tactics.
TWB: Well, that's why I'm calling.
Okay, let's do this.
TWB: First of all, everyone likes the Lair shirt you gave me [it has "Skate Lair" written in the Slayer font, and on the back it says "King Diamond's a pussy"]
Yeah, that's right. Fuck King Diamond.
TWB: But no one agrees with the King Diamond part.
King Diamond sucks. The dude wears makeup, that's the end of it. He ain't metal.
TWB: Okay, let's just agree to disagree. Moving on, how were Christmas sales—better or worse than expected?
It wasn't the best season I've ever had, but… Parents definitely don't have as much money right now, because of what's going on, but we still did good.
TWB: How many kids are in your loyal customer base?
Hundreds, man. Easily. We got the day-to-day kids that live in the area, but as far as straight up Lair heads, I got tons.
TWB: So you had a good Christmas. From the shops I've spoken to, that's rare. What about after Christmas, how has it been?
It's been all right. It's lots of kids coming through with gift certificates and Christmas money.
TWB: Do you do a lot of gift certificates?
Oh yeah, I do a shit-ton.
TWB: Does it feel like you're just giving product away, when kids come in with gift certificates?
Nah, they usually have some Christmas money as well. I mean, I've had Christmases like that before, where my store gets emptied out and I've got like five cents in the register. It's like what the fuck? But thankfully it wasn't like that this time. Especially from what I hear is going on, I'm glad I'm not a part of that problem.
I mean I've got my customers, and the parents will come in here and drop $100, no questions asked. But now, maybe, they only drop $50. And the people that used to spend $50, now only spend $25. But they're still coming here. Parents have less money, but we still have that base of people. They're just dedicated. I've got people coming from an hour away in both directions. They pass three shops just to get here. And the whole thing is, I treat 'em right. I don't burn nobody. You know? I sell pro boards with grip for $50. I don't pull the wool over anybody's eyes.
TWB: What boards are doing well these days?
You tell me. It's the same as always. Shut, 5boro, Natural Koncept, Traffic obviously. We could make Vision Street Wear cool if we wanted to. My kids rep what we rep.
TWB: Well, your kids are influenced by you.
Well, more by the team I think.
TWB: Don't sell yourself short. In fact, there's one example that always comes to my mind when I think about the influence a retailer has. I was in your shop a few years ago. A kid was in there, maybe ten years old, with his mom. The kid had picked some board out, a Birdhouse or a Santa Cruz or something. It was a California brand, that much I remember. He brought it up and you told him "Nah, you don't want that." you picked out a Traffic board and said "This is what you want." And when he started to disagree with you, his mom said "Well honey, maybe this guy knows what he's talking about." I was blown away.
Yeah, I do that all the time, actually.
TWB: And then he insisted on the other board, and you gripped it for him. But you had done the switcheroo and gripped the Traffic board instead!
Haha, damn straight.
TWB: You strongarm kids and they love you for it.
Yeah, the concept around here is that the customer is always wrong. Kids know me, they know I skate and I know what I'm talking about. It pisses me off that guys can make a million dollars off skating and not give a fuck about it, but then there's guys like me and Ricky [Oyola] who are doing it everyday and just scratching by. And it does matter—we've proven that. Every store in the area, whether they love us or hate us, have to carry the brands we carry because the kids are always asking for them.
TWB: You're a good example of the influence of the guy behind the counter.
Well, I won't back shit if it isn't legit. I don't care about whoever kickflipped a 30 stair. I'm a grown man, I don't give a fuck.
TWB: Well Erik, you've certainly figured it out. I'm not sure what "it" is, but congrats.
Check out Skate Lair at 841 Enfield Street, Enfield CT, or on the Web at skatelaircompound.com.
* I only used a surfing metaphor because I knew that would drive Erik nuts.