Girl Founders On New Altamont Investment
Private equity firm Altamont Capital Partners, a company that now holds an impressive roster of action sports brands including Brixton, Fox, Mervin, HUF, and Dakine, is now investing in the skate hardgoods category by picking up its latest company: Girl. The Girl brand roster includes well-known Girl Skateboards, Chocolate Skateboards, Fourstar, Lakai, and Royal.
“Our conversation with Altamont began last year,” Girl Co-founder Megan Baltimore says. “We weren't actively looking for investors when we first met them, but everything they were working on was very interesting and relevant to us. Partnering with them helps us accelerate what we want to do with our brands and what we want to do for skateboarding.”
One common theme that seems to be emerging from Altamont’s partnerships is the added support and infrastructure guidance from the investment firm, which in turn will free up time and resources to return the brands’ focus to the creative process. Girl Co-founders Baltimore, Rick Howard, and Mike Carroll echoed those sentiments in an exclusive interview with TransWorld Business about the partnership with Altamont, and also shared a few details on where they hope to take the business in the near future, and thoughts on the state of the skateboarding industry.
“Today there is a lot of interest in skateboarding – which is a great thing. But it's also really competitive with big companies in the mix. This partnership will allow us to keep doing what we’ve always done, but on a new level.”—Rick Howard, Girl Co-Founder
Why did this deal seem right in terms of timing, what they can offer your brands, and the current skate industry landscape?
Meg: For us, as a small company that has operated independently for more than 20 years, we were being limited by our size and financial position. We were able to restructure our balance sheet with Altamont's help – and that will let us be more focused on bringing creativity and new ideas to skateboarding.
Rick: The skate industry as a whole is in a good place right now. Today there is a lot of interest in skateboarding – which is a great thing. But it's also really competitive with big companies in the mix. This partnership will allow us to keep doing what we’ve always done, but on a new level.
What type of opportunities will this new support help open up for all your brands (Girl, Chocolate, Fourstar, Lakai, Royal) and Crailtap Distribution?
Rick: The partnership just lets us do more. More events, more products, and overall more support for our team riders and retailers. We also think by getting help with the company's infrastructure, it will free us up to spend more time on the creative side of the business.
Mike: We haven't always been as consistent as we would like with delivery and service levels. We want to improve that so we are better partners for our retailers. We want all the attention on our team riders and our amazing SnapChats.
Girl speaks to a fairly niche market, but has an extremely loyal consumer following. How do you plan to leverage that brand loyalty and authenticity in the near future to help grow and expand the brand audience? What specific areas of the business are you focusing on building first and foremost?
Meg: Our priority is ensuring that we are providing support for our existing brands and products. We want to have the team touring more often, we know there is a lot of interest in new video and content, and we have a long list of projects that we have not been able to tackle. All of this will allow us to support the shops that have been supporting us for so long.
Rick: Mike and I are appreciative to have had the support that we’ve had during our careers—along with the loyalty of our team riders on each brand throughout the years and all of the support from shops since we started Girl in 1993. Each brand, not just Girl, has the opportunity to make its positioning more focused, the product more innovative, and to get our messages out more consistently.
Will you be adding new positions to your current Girl staff to support new initiatives?
Rick: We have a great team in place – and they will be the ones who are taking us forward – so we don't anticipate any big changes. That being said, we are always looking for talented people who are passionate about skating to join the team in various capacities.
“Still to me, it sounds funny to say ‘I have a board meeting on Wednesday.’ But believe it or not, we have had board meetings throughout the years. And just from a few of our conversations with Scott [Olivet] and Steve [Holley], we know they will be able to bring a lot to our future #boardmeetings.”—Mike Carroll, Girl Co-Founder
Altamont will be appointing a few key members to the Board of directors. How do you see this helping structure and grow the business moving forward?
Rick: Being that Mike and I are both high school dropouts, we are going to let Meg answer this question.
Meg: Scott Olivet and Steve Holley will be joining our existing board – they come with great experience at other successful organizations.
Mike: Still to me, it sounds funny to say “I have a board meeting on Wednesday.” But believe it or not, we have had board meetings throughout the years. And just from a few of our conversations with Scott and Steve, we know they will be able to bring a lot to our future #boardmeetings.
You are now under a pretty powerful umbrella of brands with Altamont’s backing- how do you see this shaping and influencing your brands? Do you see any opportunities for collaboration or shared resources with some of the sister brands?
Mike: We have briefly met a few people at the other companies throughout the years – definitely some of the people at Huf. Rick and I have known and skated with Keith Hufnagel since he moved to San Francisco in the early 90's during the Embarcadero days.
Meg: Girl has been around for over 20 years and we have a clear direction for where we want each of our brands to go – but on the backend, we think that there is sharing in terms of ideas and how to manage a company in this industry, how to tackle new opportunities and challenges globally.
Rick: Right now we are just focusing on our brands, but look forward to sharing some of the great resources that come along with this partnership. These resources were one of the things that made this relationship exciting.
Circling back to the current industry landscape, how have you personally seen it evolve over the company's lifetime, and where is the future of skateboarding headed?
Mike: It's a great time for skateboarding. It reminds me of how it was when I started skating. And for kids just getting into it now, there’s that same kind of open mindedness that allows a creative freedom for kids/skaters to take skating in any and every direction. And I think that kind of creative freedom can evolve a hobby into a way of life. Whether it is the act of skating, to taking photos, filming, graphic design, etc…
Rick: That's why we got into this originally and why we started Girl – skateboarding has always been a creative outlet for us. We see that going on around the world today with people pushing the artistic side of it and the DIY mentality of it.
Meg: And as an industry – this energy is just going to increase the overall interest in what we're doing. And we see this as a great opportunity and an exciting time for Girl, Chocolate, Fourstar, Lakai, Royal as well as our employees, retailers, and everyone who has supported us for so long.