International skateboard distributors are an integral part of the global skateboard industry, making foreign brands available to shops and skateboarders where ever they may live. Based in Stockholm, Sweden, Marty Engren started Flippin Goods Distribution in Spring 2014 after a family health disorder made him reassess his life. Over two years later, Flippin Goods is thriving and distributes some of our/your favorites brands across Scandinavia and the UK. Read below as Marty discusses the inner workings of his company and the global skateboard economy.
What brands do you currently distribute?
Alltimers, Bronze, Quartersnacks, Politic, Theories, GX1000, Butter Goods, Grand Collection, Polar, Prize Fighter, Fabriken (a Swedish local homie brand), Iron Claw, Coda, Northern Co, Dedicated and After Midnight.
I know something really heavy changed your life and made you decide to start the distribution. Can you talk about that?
Biggest reason I do this is family. Me and my wife have a 7 year old son, Iker. We found out that he had a serious heart disorder when he was 3 months old. It was really bad and the outlook was not good. We never thought he would make it past his first birthday. He got a heart transplant in 2011 and is doing fine now. It’s a real miracle and blessing for sure. This experience really changed us profoundly and when we came out on the other side we were not the same. My wife quit her job first and is now a Yoga teacher living her dream. She also does all my accounting and books. We both work out of the house most days and don’t really stress anymore. We try to spend us much time together as a family as we can. That tough couple of years really brought us many positive things.
How did you go about starting the distro?
It was me and my buddy who had worked together for almost 10 years who started it. We had no real clue what we wanted to do besides have fun again. At the time we worked at good positions for Reebok CCM Hockey, who is part of the Adidas group. I was product manager for sticks and skates and responsible for a $60 million dollar market share in Europe. Our jobs were so fucking boring we wanted to kill ourselves. And this was, you know, not bad employment considering we had no higher education or nothing. We just had worked ourselves to where we were. There is no way they would have given us the jobs we had if we had to re-apply for them.
We came up with the minimum budget to start a business here in Sweden, about $6K, from our savings. This was May 2014. We attended a free seminar “Start your own Business” one day and sat there taking notes. We looked at many different industries to work in, but I had just started skating again and was perhaps the one most psyched on finding something to work on in skateboarding. When we started the distro, we had a list with brands and started to contact people. Needless to say, not many answered our inquiry.
What was your first brand?
The first brand that responded was Studio out of Canada. I had watched Mood Lightning and really dug that. Jai Ball was a really cool dude and we ended up buying samples to show stores. It never got past those samples, but I still like the brand and what they do.
First real break came from Ray who runs Prize Fighter. We started talking and he really put his name out and gave us contacts to some of his friends. I ended up spending our $6K on Prize fighter, Iron Claw, Torro and Coda. So now we had product, but no customers. I had been in sales for many years so I knew the ropes, but this was a brand new set of clients and contacts. Turned out that the brands we brought in nobody really knew much about. At one point I had 130 decks stacked in my sons room that I wasn’t sure we could move. At this time I started to get to know some local crews and skaters. Ray and I set up a small team for PFC here in Sweden and that helped us out a bit. I mean there was no way we had sales to cover the expenses for a team, but it was a way to get the name out there.
I know social media played a big part too.
Yeah, it’s pretty amazing what social media can do for you also. This whole thing would have been impossible a few years ago. Because even if buyers were not so interested, we started to get a local following that were interested and that gave us the energy to keep going. I quit my job in November 2015 to start full time with this.
How did you go about selecting the brands you distributed to start?
When I came back into skateboarding again the landscape was very different from what I was used to. I could not relate to Girl, Enjoi or brands like that. But I found Magenta, Polar and Palace and their output really stood out and appealed to me in a different way. I kind of realized that this was the future for skateboarding and gave me the direction for brand selection. I was too small to try for them, but I was looking for a similar vibe. Now I’m really stoked and fortunate to be working with Polar here in Sweden only a short while later.
Starting out, I was inspired by distributors like Kukunochi in Japan and retailers like Palomino club in London. Key people have been Ray from PFC setting up most of the initial contacts and later Kosta from Quartersnacks doing the same with his friends. Without those guys it would have never been the same.
What is your day to day like?
My work is still very DIY and I like that. I still bring all my boxes into the apartment to re-pack the orders, I still go to the recycle bin to get cardboard boxes, I still borrow my dad’s car when I need to go on the road. I also do some consulting work for other friends. Once a week I go to my buddy’s office and help him out with his brand. That makes up a good mix of things and there is no time to get bored. I still sit up many nights with the distribution. I really try to chill and be cool about it, but the flip side to that is that I work most of my a wake time. Having all your business in the phone helps out, but also traps you in a way.
What is the skate community like in Sweden?
The Swedish scene is good. Malmö is really strong headlined by Polar and Pontus. They have a great set-up and good local connections with city planners and politicians. Bryggeriet is a local organization with a huge indoor park and you can attend a “skate” program at the high school. Pretty sick actually. Stockholm, where I live, is the capital of Sweden, but not currently the capital of skate. But people are doing some cool stuff anyways. It’s a bit more spread out than Malmö and not everybody knows everybody. We have some dedicated filmers here that keep the scene together and interesting.
Other than Polar, I really like Poetic Collective, Fabriken and Shy Stockholm. They have all made multiple full-length videos, supporting a team, selling boards and clothing lines. I know it’s not easy and they make no money on it. Still it’s a lifestyle and important part of the scene.
There are a few media outlets that cover the Sweden scene. A few of the Malmö boys had a really popular podcast and made 100 episodes ending last year. There is no Quartersnacks community however, it’s more about latest clips and current events from the international scene. There is a group of guys and filmers that really make up the Stockholm scene in my mind. Guys like William Engström, Tobbe Karlsson and Fat team boys are out there all the time filming, working on new material. A scene is really connected and kept together by guys like that. I think that the East Coast scene is appealing to Scandinavia because the climate and vibe is very similar. It’s hard to relate to endless sunshine clips with palms and shit while most of your days are raining out in the cold. The grit from the East Coast and big city skating is something I think many guys can relate to here.
What are the different countries you handle?
I make most of my sales in Sweden, but also in Finland, Denmark and the UK. Depending on the brand, the number of shops varies between a handful to 20 something. There are really 2-3 buyers that support most of my brands and since they do, that opens up the opportunity for other shops. That has been a goal of mine with Flippin Goods: to make cool, smaller brands available in an easy way. But without those key buyers/shops supporting this it would be impossible. Now it’s pretty rad that I could travel to small skate shops bringing a bag of hats from Bronze, T-shirts from Quartersnacks or boards from Politic and they can get just a few pieces for the shop. Not having to risk or invest too much money. It obviously helps when you can meet the shops on a regular basis, building your relationship. Also a big part of my business is online with just emails. Some buyers or shops I have never met, but still developed a good relationship with. I think my previous experience in sales helped to form a good idea of what people need and expect from you. It’s not rocket science.
What kind of marketing support do you offer the brands and shops you work with?
I try to be a reflection of what each brand is about. I have been cautious to ensure that it’s not about me or Flippin Goods, but about each brand. So when doing events or giving away prizes at a competition, I have always had the brand on the flyer or as the sponsor. It’s never been a goal of mine to build the Flippin Goods brand. I try to market each brand in my own channels and it always intensifies with a new drop or new collection. But I also try to provide material or content for the stores to use on their websites and social media. What I have learned is that even if I push something or think a brand is really cool, at the end of the day the brand must stand on its own legs to work. So my role in marketing is pretty minor whether a brand will fly or not.
Now that you’re more established, how do you go about selecting brands? What do you look for in a brand you distribute?
Right now I’m almost at the limit at what I could handle in a good way. But there are a few brands of course still on the shortlist. I’m not so active right now looking for more. I guess if it happens it happens. Any brand I would bring in now would have to fit into the current mix in a good way.
What should brands be doing to support their international distributors?
I think very few of the brands I work with were intended for global distribution. Most were just started with friends and took off from there. I mean just look at Bronze! That could be a big, big business in Europe with the right set-up right now. But I also think this is part of the charm. It’s a nice counterbalance to big corporate brands. One thing that impresses and inspires me the most is that brands are turning down some serious money. That makes them “untouchable “in a way and you can always trust that everything they put out is true and from the heart. I think people really dig that and that’s why they have success.
If you want the winning formula for setting up a new brand it would be something like this: make sure your production cost would allow at least a 30% discount for distribution vs. your retail price. Plan all drops globally and wait 2-3 weeks before you put any products on your own webstore giving retailers and distributors a chance to sell locally first. Provide a media pack for each drop consisting of product pictures, image material and social content. Make sure your own website have a proper bio and brand story for anyone interested. Once you can afford it, find local skaters/filmers at important markets to carry your message and have them create local media for your brand.
What gets you excited about skateboarding right now?
Really excited for my boys from Fabriken skateboards finishing their 3rd full-length video. Planning for a Stockholm premiere and photo exhibit this Fall. Those guys have worked so hard for that. Also was super excited for my boy Francesco having some new designs for the upcoming Quartersnacks drop. Just started booking Polar boards for Fall and Holiday and got to see all the rad designs and new shapes from Pontus and the boys. Been wanting to see Spirit Quest video for a long time.
With brands increasingly selling online and shipping globally, what do you think the role for international skateboard distributors will be?
For me, I always viewed our role as someone that enables smaller brands to find their way into our territory. Only a few of my accounts import/buy goods from outside of the EU. Even the accounts that do, I’d like to think that we make it easier for them with no wire transfers, no custom fees or import taxes. I never work with minimums with the shops, so you can always get exactly the quantity you feel comfortable with. For brands, even if you work on a global market, the local connection is usually profitable in the long run. Just the upside of combining 10-15 orders to one and only making one invoice and shipping once, probably makes up for any discount you need to give to a distributor. I know because I always underestimate the time necessary connected to each order when I start to prepare them. Good thing you forget it just as quickly and start to book the next round! In all honesty, if we look at the numbers we should probably get out of distribution and only do agent/commission deals. But I really enjoy it and it keeps my workdays very diversified.
As the global skate industry changes, where do you hope to see Flippin Goods go in the future?
I could see Flippin taking up a bigger territory for some brands and booking/managing the entire EU. Lately, I’ve seen some new interesting set-ups like this that I’ll keep my eye on to see how it goes. It would be the next natural step for Flippin.