La Vie En Retail with Rob from Skatepark of Tampa
Episode #3 — Rob Meronek
For this month’s episode “La Vie En Retail” we caught up with Rob Meronek of TheBoardr, a skater, sneaker lover, and innovator, who’s spent more than 20 years working at Skatepark of Tampa (SPoT), a crusty little skateboard hut established in 1993 in Tampa, Florida. Fun fact: Rob was one of the first people not from our team to know about Sneakerdraws back in March.
Q: Hey, Rob! Wish we’re hanging out in Tampa and I was supposed to be in FL this year, but since everything is canceled… I’m glad we can at least have a zoom call. Okay, let’s start with something, please introduce yourself
A: I’ve been around for a long time. Started skateboarding in 1986. But, before that, I was into breakdancing for a few years, and had already gotten into sneakers (Pony, Roos, and any payless hightop shoe my mom would front me). Then when skateboarding hit, it was like a perfect storm of two cultures hitting me as a kid, with the added bonus of rad music in the mix.
Q: What you’ve been up to with your startup? And what exactly is TheBoardr? How did you start it?
A: It was time to move on from SPoT and my two good friends and co-workers from there were already out the door, so I joined them and we went from the skatepark/retail business to the events production and consulting business. We actually gave it a try at retail for a few years after SPoT since that’s what we knew and were good at, but it didn’t work out. The events side of things took off and pulled all our attention away. It’s been so fun year after year with the best crew and lifelong friends here. We are incredibly lucky to be doing what we’re doing.
Q: Your career at Skatepark of Tampa… More than 20 years — that’s a goddamn lot! What were the biggest challenges for you when digital transformation with all these social media and eCommerce things were just getting started?
A: I was lucky enough to have already been a software developer in the early days of the Internet. When we brought SPoT’s retail store online with live inventory, we were one of the first, so it basically took right off, and we were rewarded nicely in the early days of when Google Search Results alone could build a super big retail business. We definitely benefited from that. Now you can start a retail store quicker than I can type this paragraph, so it’s a lot harder. Basically, it’s back to basics: you need a good product, a special product, and a good story behind it to set yourself apart from a sea of “widget” hustlers.
Q: Well, retail is rapidly changing, so what do you think are the biggest challenges for retailers these days?
A: There’s a lot, but one of the main ones I think of these days with how social media is just overwhelming with everyone having a microphone trying to get your attention is having to rise above the noise without cooking it out. I mean sure, you can get attention by ripping your d*ck off, but you’ll be gone or goonie in no time, both equally bad. I think the hardest part is playing the long term game, which is expensive (in the short term) and takes a lot of patience and big picture planning, which a lot of people struggle with. I still struggle with all of that stuff and trying to balance it with having a healthy business in the present.
Q: You’re lucky to witness the golden era of sneakers (the 90s) and the beginning of the 00s… What it’s about from a business perspective?
A: I remember this time period as being when “the big guys” like Nike and Adidas actually started to pay attention to this new thing that kind of blindsided all the executives there: skateboarding. Nike came in, flopped at first, but then figured it out on the second round by going through local shops and using the rebirth of the Dunk to get new customers there. That was also the tail end of the times when “the small guys” could still get in there and create some interesting shit, like Muska’s Skytop.
Q: Talking about SPoT… I can’t stop thinking of SPoT x Lance Mountain x Nike SB Dunk Low collab. How did this amazing pair happen?
A: We had been working with Nike SB for a few years by then with Tampa Am and Tampa Pro (skateboard contests) and it just kind of naturally evolved into an idea that was on the table with Nike, which of course we were all in on. That was a damn good time and learning experience. We went to Nike in Portland and got to see the whole design thought process, their offices, and we even went into the super-secret Tinker Hatfield lair where he spends most of his time working. There was a shelf in there that had every Jordan from 1 through today just chilling not in a box or anything. Nuts. Anyway, that Lance Dunk and the design elements became the whole theme/vibe of Tampa Am and Pro that year, even down to the trophies. It was awesome to be a part of projects that Nike committed to like that. We learned so much from working with them and are very, very thankful for that.
Q: How did you get into skateboarding? And what’s the coolest thing about it?
A: It was kind of an accident. Had one as a toy for a long time and I didn’t really know you could do tricks. Then I saw some kids skating at a gas station and saw one a street plant. I was blown away and pretty much right away knew that’s what I wanted to be part of, those kids are how I wanted to look, who I wanted to be friends with, etc. I love how skateboarding culture is so specialized and basically impossible for outsiders to understand. Plus, it’s hard. You can’t become a skateboarder by just going one weekend like you can bowling, baseball, or whatever. Everyone who is a skateboarder has put in some dedication and effort to get there. That’s awesome.
Q: Very well said! And which trick do you dream to land one day?
A: Hmm, I don’t think that way these days too much anymore since I’m older, but one of these days, I’ll do a legit backside noseblunt on a legit tranny. I’ve been so close for like 10 years haha, pathetic.
Q: Your thoughts on skateboarding in the Olympics?
A: It has it’s place. If you’re into it, watch it and check it out. If you’re not into it, don’t watch. Whatever think of it, if you’re about to whine and complain, get the f*ck away from my ears. No one cares and no one owns skateboarding. Skateboarding can do whatever it wants and doesn’t need you to approve.
Q: Your top 3 skate-shoes of all-time?
A: I’m going to have to list the Jordan 1 twice! It’s by far my favorite shoe overall due to my skate and sneaker history with it. Outside of that shoe, Vans Sk8 Hi is my most skated in shoe.
Q: What’s your favorite mainstream and under-radar (streetwear/skate) brand?
A: I have a small gripe with apparel and “the big guys” shoe companies. A long time ago, skater-owned apparel could thrive because our culture is both entrepreneurial and creative. You could have Fourstar, Krew, Blind jeans (dating myself there, ha), etc. Now, most of the “superstars” at the top of skateboarding have these “head to toe” deals, effectively locking them out of starting super rad small apparel brands like back in the day, and now we have no Fourstars, Krews, etc. Over the years and as I’ve gotten older, I’ve made a real effort to basically wear unbranded shit. I don’t know if it’s me just being an old dude or if a lot of kids are also in that mindset — seems like a fair amount of kids these days don’t give a shit about apparel branding, more about apparel appearance. I definitely gear check when I’m out there and have tons of general business thoughts flowing through my head like that as I observe.
Q: Is there any advice you’d like to share with the younger generation of skateboarders?
A: Don’t pay too much attention to the old dudes. Know what’s up with history, but make your own. We certainly didn’t listen to the old people when we were young. Respect history and old people, but be you and yourself, and don’t be ashamed of it.
Q: And before you go… Tell us the truth about backdoor
A: Yep, backdoor, oh man, I can tell you the basics of how it went at SPoT when I worked there and how it started a little sloppy, but then we cleaned it up. We basically figured it out as we went. When the Dunks program first started and our staff started realizing they could buy a pair before the customers and flip them to make a little money, we were not super strict on it, but then of course it quickly got out of control and we had to limit it. We wanted our staff to be able to buy the product, but of course, we didn’t want them just reselling them. Our policy eventually became that staff could buy one pair in their own size if we got enough of a run/allocation. From there, we didn’t regulate what they actually did with them. Other than that, there wasn’t really any super sketchy backdoor stuff at SPoT — we were all super professional and with our close relationship with Nike, that wasn’t even on our radar to actually try to be sketchy, no reason to.
That’s all for Episode #3, this piece a little bit different, but we’re staying true to the core fusing sneakers, retail & skateboarding.
Thanks, Rob for finding time for an interview during your family trip. See you in Paris or maybe we come to Tampa first — who knows.
With love from sneakerheads from Paris & Hamburg
To sneakerheads, collectors, skaters, retailers & people who just love the kicks worldwide
Peace out ✌️