Upstarts: Wreck Wheels
Chet Thomas, co-founder of Darkstar and skate industry veteran, recently unveiled a new brand, Wreck Wheels, which is a culmination of nearly two decades his own industry research at prominent skate brands, market research, and the specific performance criteria he was searching for in a wheel company.
And Thomas knows a thing or two about the skate industry. As the first pro skater for Volcom, he went on to manage the brand’s team for a short stint before opening two Huntington Beach skate shops called Aftermath from 1998-2003. Thomas says it was a great learning experience, but that he quickly realized retail wasn’t the right career choice for him. It was at that point in his life that he found his true calling.
“That's when my career as a pro skateboarder was winding down, and I entrenched myself in the business side of the brands I was involved with as a skateboarder,” he says. “I have been heavily involved with Dwindle and Globe ever since and will continue to be in the future.”
Fast forward to today, and you’ll find Thomas solidifying his 17 years of expertise in board brands, working with Globe and Dwindle’s brands including Almost, Cliché, Dusters, Enjoi, Tensor trucks, and most recently Zero. He also still manages Darkstar with his brother and co-founder, Matt. The idea for Wreck actually spawned from Darkstar’s evolving business plan, and while walking the city streets on a trip to NYC with his brother last year, says Thomas.
“The development of the brand has been an organic process,” says Thomas about Wreck. “It was something that started over a year ago with my brother Matt while walking though the streets of New York; although, I have officially been researching the process and testing wheel formulas for the past 17 years. It has been much longer than that if you add up the years of riding for other wheel brands before starting Darkstar.”
When Thomas and his brother launched Darkstar in 1997, they began working closely with manufacturers to develop exclusive formulas that offered the specific performance benefits they were searching for: wheels that resisted flatspots, rode faster than those already on the market, had more consistent grip qualities, and an optimal hardness for all types of skateboarding. Two years later they connected with AEND Industries, and their ideas started to become reality. The partnership has been an ongoing one to this day, and it goes without saying that Thomas would carry this over into his new endeavor, Wreck Wheels.
We caught up with the Thomas to hear more about Wreck, the details behind the manufacturing process, what he feels sets the wheels apart from others, and his business plan for the next year.
How long has Wreck been on the market?
We started shipping domestically to Eastern Skate Supply and Ocean Avenue June 15th, and Internationally to Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Japan, Netherlands, Switzerland, Belgium, Poland, Taiwan, Norway and Germany at the same time. We officially pushed the Wreck Wheels website, social media platforms and marketing live July 1st, 2014, concurrent with product landing in retail.
Why did you decide the time was right to launch a wheel company?
The decision to launch Wreck was really due to things that were happening with Darkstar rather than picking the perfect time to launch a wheel brand. We decided to reduce Darkstar's sku count and focus on the core of Darkstar's business, which is decks & completes. This meant the wheel side of the brand would be reduced to a few pricepoint sku's and all our high performance urethanes would be eliminated. This was a tough thing for us, since Darkstar originally started as a wheel brand and we have spent the past 17 years developing exclusive performance formulas, and more importantly, the relationship with our manufacturer, AEND industries. It seemed natural that we continued our relationships and build upon the performance formulas we are passionate about developing over the last 2 decades by starting Wreck and offering skateboarders the world's best urethane.
How did the partnership with Aend Industries come about?
My relationship with AEND started about 15 years ago while working with them on developing exclusive technologies and formula's for Darkstar. When Darkstar was making high performance formulas, AEND was our main manufacturer. Over the past decade we have worked closely together in developing the highest quality wheels constantly upgrading formulas as new components become available from their chemical suppliers. During this process a lot of time is spent brainstorming, designing, and testing.
Through this process we developed a great working relationship. So, when we started Wreck Wheels it was a no brainer to partner up with AEND since they shared the same vision, which is to make the best wheels possible and continue to constantly improve current formulas. That's what we did with the Ruin formula. We took the building blocks of what we created for Darkstar's Speed Plus formula, improved and amplified it with new processing techniques as well as the latest components that have become available in the recent months. AEND helps support the backbone of the brand, which is formulating a superior urethane, and keeping them exclusive to Wreck, since I have guided the development and testing of these formulas over the years. AEND also supports Wreck with the back-end of things. They handle invoicing, shipping, accounting, inventory and production. That way Matt and I can focus on the marketing, sales efforts, product development, and building a team from the ground up. It's a great working relationship with both parties being able to focus on their strengths. It's exciting to be starting Wreck with all the resources that are available to us.
What is your current relationship with Dwindle, and how does that work in regards to you launching your own company?
I still am involved day to day with Dwindle and Globe on multiple levels. I continue to manage the Darkstar brand with my brother from the top down. I'm also assisting the operations team with merchandising and lineplan development for all the other brands at Dwindle including Almost, Blind, Cliché, Dusters, Enjoi, Tensor trucks, and most recently, Zero. I mainly help manage planning, product lines, new sku's , carryover sku's , and total sku count season to season. With Globe, I consult with their hardgoods director giving input on what is being developed and brainstorming possible new products to inject into future ranges. It's amazing to be as involved as I am in Dwindle & Globe, and have their full support to develop the Wreck brand on my own, outside of the building.
From a design and materials perspective, what sets Wreck’s Ruin formula apart from other wheel companies on the market?
Wreck utilizes and capitalizes on all of AEND Industries strengths. Our Ruin Formula has been "earned" as our own unique PU formula, built up from scratch, over many years of concentrated effort between my self, pro skateboarders, and AEND. Wreck's exclusive Ruin formula has a unique engineering design that utilizes only the highest quality compounds, curatives and components. This high performance formula welds over 30 years of lab development experience, advanced processing techniques, and extensive street testing into the world's most flatspot resistant, fastest & longest lasting wheels. There are dozens of components that must be perfectly balanced to make the best wheel and achieve super high rebound, flatspot resistance, and a perfect hardness that performs in parks, concrete bowls, vert and in the streets. This complete success results from the proper connection between the chemist, brand management & skateboarders that are able to pinpoint even the smallest nuances in formulas. With Wreck's Ruin formula, we were able to precisely tailor the process resulting in what we believe is the worlds best urethane.
Watch the Wreck Wheels Rebound Test right here:
Can you explain a little more about the abrasion and rebound testing result, and how that effects the wheels performance?
In recent testing, our Ruin Formula outperformed Spitfire F4, Bones STF and Ricta with the least material lost in Abrasion Testing and the Highest Rebound percent in Speed Testing. The Precisely tailored Ruin formula rides different than other wheels in that they are faster, maintain consistent grip qualities, and have the highest resistance to flatspots.
What are some of the key accounts who are on board with Wreck?
Tell me more about your facility in Huntington Beach, CA. Is it only used to develop and manufacture Wreck?
Wreck Wheels are exclusively made by AEND. AEND is the only facility that dedicates itself to PU wheels and is essentially vertical in its manufacturing process. All features of the production process are under one roof. AEND does not purchase pre-blended PU formulas built by a third party formulator. They build our formulas up from basic chemicals, with unique chemical recipes for each wheel category. They also have in-house engineering design, which finishes the package. AEND is a one-stop PU wheel service and manufacturer and is built upon a model of constant improvement. AEND manufactures wheels for numerous brands, but the advantage Wreck has over these brands is that our Ruin formula is exclusive to Wreck and is built from over a decade of testing, tweaking, and refinement.
How big is the facility?Do you operate the entire business from this location?
AEND's facility includes departments for injection molding for the core, pre-prep, PU casting for non-cored wheels, post processing, machining of the wheel shape, printing, and affords multiple, individual packaging options. Housed in two adjoining buildings on two floors, AEND floor space is around 35,000 square feet. The backend of the business operates from this facility, while my brother and I operate remotely.
What are some of the challenges and opportunities you see within the skate market right now?
I think one of the biggest challenges is the ability to continually increase the quality of products while keeping wholesale prices acceptable to the retailer, and retail pricing affordable to the end consumer. There is a continual increasing cost of manufacturing whether it be labor or raw materials. This increased cost of goods squeezes our margins since we can't raise wholesale prices at the same rate. It's a tough thing to navigate. We want to manufacture the best product possible, but buyers want to continue to purchase products at yesterdays wholesales, and the end consumer still wants a Ferrari at the price of a Volkswagen.
On the flipside, this is a huge opportunity and advantage for Wreck. We can produce a much higher quality product than our competitors, while attaining acceptable margins, wholesale pricing, and a retail price that skateboarders can afford. This is only possible due to our 15 year relationship with AEND.
What is the business strategy for the brand over the next 12 months?
Our strategy for the next 12 months is to produce only the highest quality wheels. We will avoid dipping into the price-point product sector and only offer the world's best urethane. We will continue to take the "product will prevail" approach to building the Wreck brand, communicating this message through digital marketing & social media efforts. We will also focus on growing domestic & international distribution, building the Pro/Am team, and gaining consumer confidence in our product.