IASC Executive Director Thomas Barker on driving research and participation to grow skateboarding
Thomas Barker’s work at a grassroots level to drive awareness and ultimately creation of the Encinitas, California skatepark in 2012 was a crucial milestone in shaping his philosophy. At the time, Barker knew he wanted to get more involved in the cause, having worked closely with the Tony Hawk Foundation’s “Skate Park Adoption Model,” and recognizing that in order to increase participation, city’s like Encinitas needed to be pushed to build more parks.
Today, he has applied many of those principles and some of the higher-level questions that exist about how we can grow the skateboarding industry to his work with IASC, as he steps into the role of executive director.
“I realize that everyone has his or her own view of what skateboarding and the skateboard industry is or isn't,” Thomas says. “I have come to the conclusion that no one is wrong. Skateboarding is whatever you make it.”
We caught up with him to get an overview of what 2016 and beyond looks like for the organization.
What are some of the key lessons you’ve taken away from your various roles within the skate industry?
Working for Clive, Black Box and the Tony Hawk Foundation enabled me to see a broad spectrum of the industry. These experiences made me realize that all parts of this ecosystem are important as far as making this business environment healthy and thrive.
How do you hope to apply that knowledge to your new role at IASC?
I leave my biases at the door. I'm open-minded to different perspectives, and do not prejudge business decisions. It's important to have this mindset when running a trade organization. IASC is here to be the collective voice of the skateboard industry. IASC's key goals are to help promote skateboarding, increase participation, and help to share knowledge and educate the industry. It's important to IASC that we can help your business and be your partner in making sure skateboarding is as healthy and vibrant as possible.
Working with the IASC Executive Committee (Don Brown, Bod Boyle, Glenn Brumage) and the rest of the IASC Board of Directors—who are all incredibly smart people—on a daily basis means the knowledge base I have to work with has expanded exponentially. I see my role now as a facilitator of the industry’s ideas for the future.
From what we're hearing and seeing from many retailers and skate companies, it's tough out there. The beauty of skateboarding is that it always evolves and is moving forward. Right now we're in a transitional period where the methods of what we create and how we sell and market all need to be questioned to keep up with the new generations’ needs. The market is moving fast. Doing things how they were done 20 years ago is not the winning solution in today's environment.
For a little over a year, you have served as IASC’s research director. What were some of the more interesting, surprising, or just standout facts you gathered in that role that speak to the direction the skate industry is headed?
Last year one big takeaway from The State of Skate report was that about 1/3 of skateboarders are below the age of 12. Skateboarding business models normally work from a top-down approach, being cool with the late teens and letting that trickle down the ages. A few people talked to me afterwards about how this stat shows that younger kids should be thought about more when making business decisions.
I also took the Tony Hawk Foundation's "Skate Park Adoption Model" and did the math for the entire United States. I found we are only at 20-30% of needed capacity of skate parks, and we would need around $3 billion dollars to get up to speed. I also compared the injury rates for skateboarding to other sports/activities and found that skateboarding is not the dangerous boogeyman it's made out to be in the media. Skateboarders actually get hurt less than hockey, football, and basketball players. I am working on several story ideas for TransWorld Business at the moment that will flesh out my thoughts and the data on these subjects.
I am actually a lot more interested, however, in what I haven't found than what I have. IASC's main initiative is still research, and I hope to be able to keep on expanding the data we can provide. A key goal is to track how many skateboards are being sold to provide a check on the participation data. We're also focused on knowing how many people skate worldwide, and how fast skateboarding is growing in different countries. We're hearing that in Latin America, Asia, and other emerging markets, skateboarding is growing rapidly. Our goal is to find out the what, where, and why so we can share these insights with our members to help them grow.
I have one more research project I am working on, but I don't want to spill the beans until I can roll it out. But I do think it is going to really help the industry from businesses to skateboarding advocates.
What are your thoughts on the current state of the skateboarding market? What are the biggest challenges it faces? Opportunities?
From what we're hearing and seeing from many retailers and skate companies, it's tough out there. The beauty of skateboarding is that it always evolves and is moving forward. Right now we're in a transitional period where the methods of what we create and how we sell and market all need to be questioned to keep up with the new generations’ needs. The market is moving fast. Doing things how they were done 20 years ago is not the winning solution in today's environment. Times right now are really exciting . With so many new companies starting, and the changes in media it does feel like the industry has a new energy.
Come to the Summit and we can talk about this all day long.
Can you outline a few of the major initiatives you’ll be tackling over the next 6 to 12 months in the new role?
Our three main focuses are the IASC Hall of Fame, The State of Skate report, and this year’s Go Skateboarding Day promotions on June 21.
The IASC Skateboarding Summit is happening May 11-13 in Anaheim, California. This event is amazing as it brings the industry together to network, learn, and have a few too many beers. A key goal for the Summit is ensuring our members and attendees get as much out of it as possible, so they leave with insights and ideas on how they can improve their businesses. We have really amazing speakers, panel discussions, and roundtables planned for this year. Make sure you attend it's going to be the best one yet.
The information that we are gathering for this year’s State of Skate Report will be presented at the IASC Summit, and is something you can't afford to miss. Please make sure you fill out the survey, if you haven’t already done so.
This year, we put together a website for skateboarders to list their events for Go Skateboarding Day, June 21, 2016. The average person can now find a local event no matter where they are in the world. Last year the number, size, and location of GSD events, from Hollywood, to Sao Paulo, to Tanzania, to Kiev, to Manila, blew me away. It was amazing. This year, Go Skateboarding Day will be even bigger.
Are there any areas of the business you seek to change or improve? If so, what and why?
We are always looking to add new members who are passionate skateboarders and are involved with the business. With so many new companies popping up, it's more important than ever that we connect with all the skateboard demographics around the world. The more members IASC has from different industry categories and regions the more we can understand where we need to focus our attention. The skateboard industry needs a unified voice and I believe IASC is best suited to do that.
A trade organization’s role is to do things that no single brand can do on their own. Skateboard companies have a great understanding of the needs of skateboarding and skateboarders. As a trade association, we can work with our members to amplify that understanding and advocacy to reach goals that a single brand could not.
We are here to make skateboarding’s voice louder.