MIA Skate Shop co-owner and former pro, Ed Selego gives an in-depth and impassioned critique of the skateboard industry.
How often are you skating these days?
I have to be honest now and tell you I haven’t really been skating that much at all. It’s all I have done my whole adult life and now being on the retail side, I am pretty burnt. The skateboarding industry has been hijacked by big corporations and all the small skate shops are suffering. It’s hard to get hyped to skate when everything you have worked towards is such a let down right now.
That’s a really heavy way to start the interview. Can you explain what you mean by hijacked?
It’s actually a common occurrence within all subcultures. Once a subculture emerges, big business gets embedded and brings a lot of money in at first. Inevitably the subculture gets exploited by the big corporations and all the small business retailers and companies suffer great set backs, if they are able to stay in business at all. In the case of skateboarding, I do think it is worse than it has ever been. The lifeblood of skateboarding has always been small independent skate shops and skateboard companies. Now these shops and companies can barely survive with the competition of ecommerce and big corporate box stores in every mall across America. Once all the small businesses are gone skateboarding, will be a very commercial organized sport that is controlled by corporations and people that only care about profit and performing for Wall Street. The heart and soul of what skateboarding is will be gone. Kids will grow up thinking that Street League, Xgames and Couch Tours are what skateboarding is all about.
You are a small, independent business owner, owning MIA Skate Shop (with partner Chris Williams). When and why did you start the shop?
I helped Forrest Kirby move down to Miami. I ended up staying on his couch and skating everyday. We eventually got a place together. Miami at the time was amazing! So many good friends and good spots, it was a golden era for us. The problem was that there was no skate shop. My long time friend Chris Williams ended up moving to Miami around the same time and was working with various brands in skateboarding. We saw the opportunity and made it happen. It was really hard at first. I had to pay the rent for the store for some months. Eventually it took off and we did a lot of amazing things. MIA Skatepark and a second location were how much we grew over the years.
What sort of ideals, values and ethics is MIA based on?
We are 100% skateboarder owned and operated. Everything we have done through the years has been for the skateboarding community.
You guys just closed the second location? What led to this decision?
Nike was the biggest problem for us. We had many good years selling their product, but at the same time they pushed tons of product on us that didn’t sell. They used shops like ours for years to establish the Nike SB brand. Then they opened up distribution to all the corporate stores and started selling direct to consumer. Being the number one shoe brand wasn’t enough for them. They had to exploit the brand to appease Wall St. and their shareholders. They did this with no plan in place for all the skate shops that struggled over the years. They loaded everyone up with a ton of debt then dumped us. It’s really irresponsible for such a large brand to do this and harm the very industry that they have come to be a part of. There is no better example of corporate greed.
Was Nike a big part of MIA’s monthly sales?
It was the biggest part of our business since the beginning. I am not sure the total number, but it was huge! Of course we got all the good special releases, but they also forced tons of bad product down our throat. So we had a lot of money coming in, but with all the crap they would force on us we could never really profit like we should have with how many shoes we were selling. A lot of it was our sales rep’s fault. He bullied us into adding to our orders and even added product after we submitted our orders. They should all be ashamed of themselves.
Do you still carry Nike?
We still have a few pairs of Nike on the wall, but we haven’t gotten any orders from them since last year. They actually sent us to collections and cancelled our account! The way they did it was super messed up. So, we owed them money like every shop that carried them through the good times into the bad. We were going through the process of trying to close our second location and credit was on us hard. We just couldn’t make payments and asked for time to get through the holiday and close the store. We are barely making it and our sales rep for Nike and the sales manager pressured us super hard to send back all the product that we had immediately. Sending back product in Holiday is probably the stupidest thing anyone can do, but we did it in good faith to get credit on our account and make it through the store closing. We had the worst holiday we ever have had at both locations. And immediately in the New Year Nike sent us to collections. So they recovered all their assets and sent us to collections despite us going through hard times and closing a location. Not to mention we were in the same situation when we closed MIA Skatepark and we paid our debt in full over time. We were a good partner and Nike wasn’t, just plain and simple. We did so much with them over the course of ten years. Amazing events (http://phenomenalradness.com/), we did a collab shoe with them that people are still trying to get their hands on. We worked hard and paid them millions of dollars, but never made good margins because of how they forced so much bad product on us. We played by their rules and kept everything limited and in high regard. We never back doored it because we’re a good partner and have integrity. We helped develop the SB brand like so many other shops. And then they screwed us all over to make more money for Wall Street and destroy the brand that everyone worked so hard to establish. They’re making more money now than ever. But it won’t last. There is no longevity for this type of overwhelming greed.
Has this experience with Nike affected how you look at brands and which ones you will bring into the shop now?
I have to tell you, there are a ton of good brands and people in the industry that have helped us out through this hard time. Even the SB pro’s and TM (Scuba), I hold none of them responsible and I hope that they take as much Nike money as they can. I’ll give you another example of a more responsible corporation. Vans opened a store a block away from us, stocked hard goods and everything! This caused our sales to slip at the same time we were trying to close a store. As a result, we owe them a bunch of money. As lame as their business model of opening stores next to existing accounts is, they still took the time to care about the core store in the neighborhood. They set us up with a reasonable plan that would help us recover and make a come back. This is probably because Vans is so deeply rooted in skateboarding and still has integrity despite having to perform and grow like all big corporations. They’re not a brand that is just out to exploit every “sport” they can get their greedy hands in. Skateboarding is not a sport! Anyone that tries to suggest this self-righteous mission of spreading skateboarding through contests is a complete bullshit artist. Contests are profitable and that’s why there are more today than ever. Pretty much every other brand that we work with has been amazing and very supportive in this hard time. It’s because they realize the value of stores like ours, and how important we are to skateboarding.
What do you look for in a brand that you carry?
It has to be based in skateboarding or be invested into skateboarding in a positive way.
What brands other than Vans do you carry currently?
We try to carry as many skate brands as possible, but it’s hard to cover all the bases. A lot of the smaller independent brands are doing well for us. Hopefully this trend continues and we can push out the greedy ones.
Are there trends and brands that you know you could sell, but don’t because of what they stand for?
Not really. We keep an open mind and try to serve our community what they want.
Is your story a cautionary tale for other shops? That they have to understand the risks of running a business and take accountability? That they have to watch out for themselves and can’t look to brands to watch out for them?
Anytime you have a business you have to watch out for yourself. Watching out for yourself shouldn’t mean you have to screw over everyone else. Today our society teaches us that people and businesses enrich themselves by screwing people over in most cases. Capitalism sucks it’s a broken corrupt system. I am not a communist or socialist, but we need to redesign the way we do business. Now with everything going direct to consumer and Amazon and Ebay, there is less hope than ever in retail of other brands. You have to be your own brand and manufacturer.
Has the growth of ecomm changed how you do business? Is it growing for you?
Not really. Ecommerce has made it harder for shops to survive because of the availability of everything. With all the companies going direct to consumer now it makes it a lot harder to get people to make the trip to your store. We have sold online, but it hasn’t really been that great yet because all the product is available everywhere on the internet.
How do you stay involved with the local skate community?
I feel like that’s all we have done over the years. Doing a skate park was one of the biggest headaches we have ever had. It’s probably the reason we are not in a better place today. Even after that, we salvaged a lot of the ramps and created a TF in Little Haiti. It’s been going for about 5 years now and a bunch of older skaters in the community have stepped up to help keep it alive. Today, we have a bigger better warehouse in Hialeah/Liberty City that kills it. Everyone that comes to skate is super respectful and helps keep it going.
What can brands do to support independent skate shops?
Not sell direct to consumer. Having product that is exclusive to independent skate shops. Having events and promotions with shops. Doing collaborations and co-branded product.
What can local skaters do to support their local shops and scene?
Work with the your local shop to try and make things happen. People always want to try and do things in the community by themselves. It’s this weird need for people to take credit for things I guess. When I talk about all the great things we have done in Miami it’s not about me doing them. It’s about all of us doing it together collectively. It’s always better when you collaborate and share. Don’t let your ego get in the way. I don’t think that people realize how hard it is to stay in business. They see all the success and things we have done and figure that we are rich. It is definitely not the case. Your local shop needs your support.
I want to go back and tell your story growing up and becoming a pro. You moved around a ton when you were younger. Where all did you live? Where/when did you start skating?
My father was in the military and we moved around quite a bit. I started skating in 1988 when I lived in Korea. In my neighborhood at the time a lot of kids skated and there was a bunch of launch ramps, quarter pipes and slider bars in our neighborhood. I was a little grom, but somehow I got fully exposed to what the industry was at the time. We watched Animal Chin and Chicago Shootout everyday. It was when vert skating was at its pinnacle. It really stuck with me until the early 90’s when I was in middle school and got my first legitimate complete. I always used my neighbor’s Caballero board cause my parents would only spring for the generic PX (post exchange) option.
Frontside Flip, Photo: Roy
When and why did you move to Tampa?
When my dad retired from the military we settled in Tampa. I had been going there my entire life in between assignments, so the short story is I am from Tampa. The real story is that I grew up skating in Korea and Ft. Benning at the School of Americas that was across the street from my house.
How did you meet and start skating with Josh Stewart?
When we settled in Tampa, I had to start all over again, something I was used to. I had always skated through the years, but it hadn’t fully taken over my life yet. Our last assignment was Ft. Dix, New Jersey. It was about an hour bus ride from Philly. So I was fresh off of the golden years of Philly. The Sub Zero video and Love Park were some of my greatest memories. Josh was probably the only other skater at my high school. Back in the day you could tell another skater by his shoes. Not really the case today. We were the nerds that hung out in the library during lunch. I used to save my lunch money to get new skate gear. We have been friends ever since the mid 90’s. He did our video Welcome to MIA that we need to re-release. It’s a great video and everyone down here put a ton of energy into it.
Take us through getting your first sponsors.
I guess it all started with Josh and his videos. I was the kid tagging along with him when he was filming all the Tampa rippers. Tampa had a great skate scene back then and we would always be out pushing each other. Creatively, it was some of the best times in skateboarding for me. There were tons of good people that were on a mission to skate and film. We did a whole push for World Market that was an offshoot of SPOT and really did a lot for the scene at the time. So many rad dudes; Paul Zitzer, Scott Conklin, Mike Daher, Chris Williams, Jerry Gardinia, Paul Urich and a few more.
How did you get on Planet Earth and Adio?
Back then Planet Earth was what it was before Adio happened. Brian Howard lived in Tampa and skated vert everyday with Zitzer and Mike Frazier. We did a World Market section in 411 Video Mag and I had an edit in there as well. Danny Gorman worked at Earth at the time and took me under his wing. I owe it all to Danny. He is originally from Florida and looked out for a fellow Floridian. It’s hard for kids to make it out of Florida, but thankfully the stars aligned for me. Getting flowed quickly turned into me living out in Cali on Jeff Taylor’s couch. He was roommates with Kenny Anderson and Steve Berra at the time. I got to know Kenny and Steve pretty well. During the day, I would hang out and skate at the office. I realize now how amazing these years were. Chris Miller was always the dad that was always super cool and interested in what you were doing. Adio came about in these years when I was out there hanging out. Earth got backing from some corporation and was able to sign a lot of the top pros. Tony Hawk, Jamie Thomas, Steve Berra, Jeremy Wray; it was a dream team for a company. I was the AM skater hanging out at the office everyday, so they decided to put me on.
What was skating like for you during the time of filming One Step Beyond?
It was pretty awesome! We did a bunch of trips and tours all over the place. Josh was hired to make the video and he did an amazing job. For me it was the best video part that I ever put out. It came really easy for me at the time. I was at my peak back then.
What happened to Planet Earth?
After Rhythm dissolved we picked up all the Rhythm pros and we had a great team: some of my best friends to this day. But ask anyone that owns a board brand and they will tell you that it’s a hard business. Adio was exploding and they made the decision to cut the board company because it wasn’t really doing it. I am happy that I was a part of PE and all the good people that were involved. Adio was just as rad in the beginning and then it went down hill after a few different corporations bought and sold it off during the decline. It’s the curse of every subculture.
How did you end up on Habitat?
Jason Dill and Anthony Pappalardo were down in Miami and we skated and hung out a bunch. They hooked it up for me to start getting boards. Joe Castrucci decided to put me on when I sent them a bunch of footage for the Mosaic video.
How did you have a bunch of footage to give them for Mosaic?
Well, it wasn’t a bunch per say, more like really good footage that I had at the time. In between board companies, Adio was still going strong and so was I. Skateboarding was fun and we were pushing ahead pretty hard. I filmed a lot of Miami stuff with Joe Perrin and Josh Stewart.
What was skating for them like once you got on officially? How was filming for Inhabitants?
It was a lot harder than before when I did my Adio part. It was awesome don’t get me wrong. I just was really starting to get burnt on skateboarding, especially when you get older and it’s harder. I really don’t think that I had that great of a part at all in that video.
How did things end with them?
I got cut. Of course it’s a bummer, but I totally understand why and there is no hard feelings towards anyone. I never tried to have an image that would sell. I just skated and let that tell the story. I always pushed myself super hard and when you just can’t live up to expectations anymore, it’s time.
Was it hard to make the transition out of being a pro skater?
Fortunately, we started MIA Skate Shop in 2003, so when getting paid to skate was over for me, I had something established that I could put my energy into.
Now as a former pro and a long time shop owner, what are you hopeful for? What do you hope to happen in the skate community in the future. What do we need to do as a community to get there?
I hope that there is a push back against all the big business that is hurting skateboarding. I hope for the rise of small independent brands. Support the people that have been in the game and have done real things for their community.
What would you tell someone who wants to open a shop now?
The struggle is real!