The Boardcast

Episode 1: Al's Story

December 11, 2023 Alan Season 1 Episode 1
Episode 1: Al's Story
The Boardcast
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The Boardcast
Episode 1: Al's Story
Dec 11, 2023 Season 1 Episode 1

Al recounts his journey from opening Boarders right up to when Claire bought into the store as his business partner. The details are a little blurry at times.


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Show Notes Transcript

Al recounts his journey from opening Boarders right up to when Claire bought into the store as his business partner. The details are a little blurry at times.


Don't forget to like and subscribe to our channel to follow along on our business journey.

We appreciate your support!

Okay, You ready? Ready? Yeah. You start if you want to do it.

I can if you want. I did the other one. Okay. Well, what did I say the other night? How do you know?

You're killing me. Fuck you’ve thrown me so badly.
And now you’re nervous.
I’m not nervous, I can't get my brain together. 
Welcome to The Boardcast Season one, Episode one. My name's Al. I am one of two business partners in Boarders, which is a skate snow retail store that has so many other things going on.

And this is Claire, hi, the other business partner. Yeah, I guess we're starting this so that we can show everyone what goes on behind the scenes in the skate and snow industry and as well as our business as well. We'll have guests and we'll talk about where we're headed as a business and, you know, occasionally talk about things that have happened in the past there’s lots of funny stories.

And we'll have some pretty funny guests over time because there's been a lot of characters involved in the 27 question mark years that this business has existed. So, yeah, it should be fun. Yeah. Sweet. Where do we start? Where it all began. Yeah. 1996, we think. Oh, yeah, Yeah. Al’s a bit unsure of his timeline. It all started where did Boarders start? Boarders started as an idea.

Yeah. Actually, this is my question is because I know you and I know you probably didn’t have a business plan. Still don't. I know. What was your initial concept? Or idea. I actually, I've been thinking about it and while I was away snowboarding, which is weird because most of the ideas for this business have happened snowboarding. I grew up skateboarding. I wasn't a great skateboarder, but I was a little skate ratty kid who used to go down to the skate park. Keirle Park was our local park, it just was down the hill from where I live. So you could bomb down the hill and then you caught a bus back up the hill. But the business idea came in the early nineties. I was snowboarding doing a season in, I’m almost certain it was New Zealand where the concept came about.

I was hanging out with the Graham Brothers, couple of mates from back then and Dan and myself were just talking rubbish on the chairlift and we were talking about opening a snowboard shop, snowboard skate. It was never going to be a snowboard shop. It was going to be a skateboard shop again, like cloudy. This is so long ago, but it was always going to be skate, snow and then we went to California and we're like, Oh my God, skate snow is the way to go.

That's what's happening over here. Definitely not surf. It was never on our radar. Why? We weren’t, I surfed a little bit as a kid and but I wasn't a surfer. I was a skateboarder, snowboarder. That's what I was into. So, yeah, it was that the concept came on a chairlift to be skate snow, but it didn't get affirmed until we kind of got to California and saw a bunch of other stores over there that were doing a really good job of it.

And that kind of affirmed how to go ahead. So you didn't have any apprehension opening up a snow shop in a surf area? 100 percent there was so many questions. There was already Balmoral boards was already open for a couple of years, probably. I bought my first board from them. Piece of junk. Burton Brushy, that the base fell off. Actually, that was not my first board.

So no I bought my first board to travel with, see, timelines are confusing thing. I don't know, my first board to take overseas, I bought from them for sure, which ended up getting, warrantied like three times. Which is why to this day we don't stock Burton So just weird luck that created that mess. Yeah, I don't, I dunno.

So how did it all come into play? How did that actually turn from an idea into it happening? I sat down with a bunch of business guys and that was after speaking with Dan. We were like, Let's just try this. Why don't we go over to the States, we knew people. So let's go over to the States and see what we can dig up and bring it back and sell it in any way possible.

It didn't really matter how we were going to sell it. It wasn't necessarily shop at this point. It was just like, Let's get some stuff, bring it back, see if we can make more money and then we'll do things with that money. But yeah, we went over there and just loaded up with stuff and we initially went over there thinking everyone wants  Burtons, let's get Burtons.

And when we got there, we're like It's only Australia. That was like insane Burton country. So we kind of ended up just buying a whole stack of all this stuff, met some really cool people and got a bunch of brands that we were into and bunch of skate and a bunch of snow and brought it all back and, and we were selling it out of one of the investors warehouses, which was weird because these investor guys only coughed up like ten grand each.

So it was only about, I think from memory it was only 40 grand, that it took to start it back then, which was a ton of money back then. But by today's standards, like it’d cost you, I don't think you could realistically start a skateboard snowboard store for under half a million, maybe more like realistically to be good straight away, you'd have to spend it easy half a mill.

So how did you meet the investors? I don't know. That's the whole problem with these stories is I can't remember. I genuinely don't remember. One of them was my boss, so I was working in the film industry doing special effects, and my boss John, was like, Yeah, man that sounds like a great idea. I don't think he thought that he would never like that would be the end of me with him, because I guarantee you, if he knew I was going to bail out at that point, he probably wouldn't have been so keen to.

I didn't know John was one of the original investors. John was one of the original investors. Yeah. John and a couple of other guys, Phil, Mike and some other dude. One of them I can't even remember because he was in it for such a short period of time. By the time the snowboards got back to Australia, we'd already bought him out.

He didn't even wait for the first shipment of skate and snow to get here. He just bailed out. He was really not into it. But within, I guess six months there was at least two of the original five were out. John's money stayed in it for a while, but he was super silent.
He was always just like there was a guarantee on what money he would get back and that was then paid later. So he got the maximum amount of return for his money. Then it was you, your mate, and one investor left. My mate was out pretty early too, because he couldn't even pay to stay in like he never actually had any money.

So his money was the investor's money and he went and started actually not sure if it was him or his brother, but they went and started Superior Skateboards in Manly, which was another really, really ghetto gangster style skate shop. They were cool. It was cool. They had one of their logos was like SS as in the Nazi SS and I was like, dudes, you guys are out of your minds using that logo.

They used the SS logo from the Nazis. Superior Skate. It was heavy. They were, they were like pushing the boundaries beyond anyone else. And I was like doing more. Pow-wow A little bit less heavy, you know, I wasn't trying to be I wasn't trying to go out of business. I was trying to stay in business. But yeah, it was myself and Mike very quickly.

It was myself and Mike that were running the shop. So did he leave and start the skate shop straight away? I think it was his brother. I know he was involved, but I think Mike Graham, not Dan Graham, ended up starting a shop with Shaun Gold called Superior Skate. So that didn't last long. Couple of years. There were some there was some the scenes, there was a lot going on there.

Like it was. Not a lot of business. they were flying close to the line

there was a lot of business. I don't know how much of it was skateboards.

It was pretty loose. I'm sure they wouldn't care if I said that either. I'm still mates with Mike. I saw him a few years ago in Byron and look, they're all, you know, long past skateboarding these days. so then how did you get the last investor out and how long was he in for?

So I think the shop opened in early 97 probably I'm not sure we were selling boards out of a warehouse. A guy walked in one day and went ‘Hey I own a ski shop. I've got an upstairs section that I'm not doing anything with. It would be cool to have some boards in there’ and I was like, Ski shop, How are we going to sell skate and snow out of the ski shop?

So we took the snowboards to the ski shop, which was up near Willoughby somewhere. I can't remember the name of the shop. The dude's name was Rod from Memory. He was a lovely bloke, but it was the worst possible match because they were a proper ski shop. People weren't really coming there to buy snowboards, so we didn't sell much in there.

Then we thought, Let's just do this on our own and opened the Long Reef store. And yeah, away we went, we called it Boarders Inc, not Boarders. Back then it was Boarders Inc and it had this cheesy logo it was so bad. It was not as bad as the one that was yet to come, but it was pretty bad.

Is this the circle one?

This one had like these swirls on top of the inc. It’d probably be very in right now. Yeah, actually it's so nineties like it'd be, it'd be super cool. We should redo it. We'd have to draw it because there was not digital format. I’m sure we could take a photo of it. I’ve got a hat. AI could probably reproduce it from a photo. We've got an old hat somewhere with it on it.
Yeah. Actually that's a good idea. We’ll AI it back into existence. Yeah. We were called Boarders Inc, but we never registered as Boarders Inc because I don't think you're allowed to register Inc unless you're actually incorporated. So yeah, we switched to Boarders co. but I, that was where we started early ‘97. And then I guess I got rid of Mike.

I shouldn't say I got rid of Mike was good, he was a good dude and he stayed in it until the year 2000 and then he bailed out. We had a fair bit of debt. I had to buy him out. I basically bought him out for what he put in. I don't think like he'd made money during the three years or four years, so he was kind of happy to bail out for what he put in.

There was a bit of debt. By today's standard, It was literally you could pay it off with a credit card. But back then it seemed like a lot of debt for me to take on. So I was buying him out and taking on debt. But that season, the year 2000, I can't remember why. It must have been a decent, snow season, but we crushed it that year.

Like I sold a ton of stuff and I was completely clear and debt free by the end of that snow season. So six months after I bought him out, I was looking really good. Was he always a silent partner or did he work in the shop?
Nah he worked. He'd cover me so I could have days off and stuff and if I went on holidays he'd work in the shop.

He didn't have any skateboard background at all. So yeah, he snowboarded and he was into wakeboarding. I think. You know what I actually think Boarders. Fuck it is so hard to remember. But I think we were snow skate wake because he was into wakeboards. I never sold a wake. I can look into that camera and say, I never sold a wakeboard

I did not know anything about it. It was the weirdest sport to me. It was like I went and did it once because he had a boat and I got on the thing and straightaway I'm like, This is just snowboarding with a rope. It was really easy. It was really easy to get the basics of it. And I was like, Well, this this gets pretty boring because there's only the, the wake’s the same size every time.

Like there's nothing changes. It's such a weird sport. I to this day, I'm not I don't get it. You have to hit a jump or something on it and I'm sure that made it better. To all you wakeboarders out there I’m sure it’s great. They have. They have giant obstacles in the water now.  Yeah, well, back then they just towed you around on a boat and the wake was like one foot high and you'd jump over it.

I was like I’ve pretty much got this dialed in on one trip and I'm never doing this again. So yeah, I didn't get into that. But we as soon as Mike was out, if, if it wasn't already out, wake was out straight away.  I got rid of it immediately. I didn't continue to sell it because I didn't know anything.

It would have been insane. So yeah. And then you. How long were you running it before Mark came into the picture? I think, I’ve thought about this a bit too. I think it was about a year. I think I had a full year where I was on my own and everything was going smoothly, but I was working seven days a week and it was killing me.

Like I was about to have a kid. You know, the other factor in this is my wife by this stage, because I got married in the year 2000, so my wife and I, we’re going to have a kid and I was working every day, seven days a week it was killing me. So we were sort of, you know, our daughter was born in 2002.

So in 2001 I met Mark. At a wedding I believe we met. And he was a Canadian dude. And I was like, Hey, do you know anything about snowboarding? What are you doing? He's like, I met this girl. I've come out because of my girlfriend and he ended up staying here and he's married, to my knowledge he’s still with her. I don’t know. We don't talk anymore. But yeah, I met him at a wedding and I think about early mid 2001 maybe or that snow season. He started working and he kind of was good enough where I could just bail for a bit and leave him for periods of time. So I got to go snowboarding a bit again and it just worked.

It was a good… initially it made sense. It was a really good relationship. Yeah, so you still had Long Reef and then we didn't open Balgowlah until 2002, maybe 2003. Nobody knows. So that's when yeah, that's when the worst logo appeared. The Boarders 2 logo evolved because Mark bought into a new store he didn't buy into Long Reef he only bought into a new store and that store was at Balgowlah on Sydney Road and he made a logo using Hobo font. Bro, I’m traumatized by that logo.

And then he drew a 2 behind it and for whatever reason decided to have two separate names for the two shops. It was the dumbest. 
like business 101 says if you're going to open a second store, you keep the same name. McDonald's Don't go McDonald's 2, McDonald's 3, 4.
I wonder what number they’d be up to.

McDonald's, 16,500. And it just was a dumb idea.

So, yeah, that that was open. You know what? That's wrong. I've got that timeline wrong because we were open by the time the planes hit the buildings. I have completely got that timeline wrong. I think we need to go back a year. Everything needs to get back. Okay, rewind: 2000. I think he must've come into the business that year.

Maybe I didn't have it on my own for more than maybe a summer. I can't remember. I just cannot remember, but for a fact we opened Balgowlah store the week those planes hit that building.  Buildings. You know, the ones I'm talking about. The big ones in New York. Yeah, that was the, and we were like oh we’re cursed.

Oh no. How are we gonna make any money? The whole world's about to go to war. But we thought it was over and we just opened the store. You know what timelines are coming back to me while I'm sitting here? Because the Balgowlah store got bigger, right when the Bali bombings happened, we were having disasters like every time we'd do something there was a global or national disaster going on.

So we were genuinely like, Oh we’re cursed, this is a disaster. So we knocked a wall out up there and took the shop next door and expanded. whenever the Bali bombings were. That's when that happened. So you'd have to Google that. I don't know. Yeah. And then, yeah, he was involved from that period on and he ran that store.

I ran Longy. So did he come on as an employee? Yeah. On. And then how did he end up owning half of your business. Okay. So he came on as an employee then he was going to go back to Canada and he was still keen to stay because of his girlfriend, now wife. And we were like, Well, why don't we just open another store and then you'll have something to do and blah, blah, blah.

And then a year into that store being opened the Long Reef store, burnt to the ground. That story’s great. the guys there was some skaters living upstairs and they overflowed a bath which dripped water down onto the balcony, which then dropped down the back where we had our waxing. We used to wax all our snowboards just outside, the back door, and there was a fridge underneath where we'd keep just drinks and stuff under the waxing bench, and the water dripped into the back of the fridge, into the electrical thing.
And because it was sitting under a waxing bench when it sparked, it went up and the fire brigade came to put the fire out. The smoke was coming from the back of the building. They came in through the front, smashed the windows because they couldn't get in cause we had quality security because we owned a skate shop and we're always worried that people are going to steal stuff so they couldn't get in through the front door.

So they just smashed the windows and stuck the hoses through the front of the shop and anything that didn't burn got soaked and destroyed by smoke or water or so by the time I got there, and it's probably six in the morning or something when I got there, there was just nothing. I got a phone call from the security company going.

Every one of your alarms is going off. And then while I was on the phone to the security guys. He goes Oh, they've all turned off. And I'm like, what does that mean? He goes nothing good ever happens if all the alarms turn off. And I was like, Oh, bro, rough way to be told. So I drive there and I could tell, yeah, man you could see the smoke from the Dee Why and it was bad.

Yeah. So I just sat in the gutter across the road and watched them destroy the business. Yeah, it was heavy then. It was really close to Christmas, so we just had our Christmas stock delivered and our insurance, because I bet you to this day, we still don't do that properly. We didn't have fluctuating insurance, so the insurance was like at a set level.

But we had all this Christmas stock, it just turned up and it wasn't insured properly. So we we got paid the insurance. Months later, we got our insurance money, but we lost so much. I lost so much money that night. I sat in that gutter to watching 50 grand go up in smoke, maybe more like I couldn't even put a number on it but Yeah, it burnt to the ground.

And then we ended up just both in that Balgowlah store because I had no stock left to sell. But I owned half this other business. So wait, you owned Long Reef entirely. Yeah, I owned Long Reef on my own. And then Mark and yourself. Yeah, 50/50. So the fire caused you to end up having a full 50/50 partnership. It was never intended to be 5/050 in the overall business.

It was always 50/50 in the new business. Yeah. Were there two ABNs? I couldn't answer that question probably. Yeah, I guess one was a sole trader, one was a partnership. Yeah. So there would have been, I don't know, I couldn't confirm or deny. Which is why you probably had to have two different names. It's possible. Maybe there was a reason. Yeah, and I doubt it because.

Well, who knows. Well it was always Boarders Co Proprietary Ltd. I had no idea what the deal was with the… financially, it was split Balgowlah. It was probably a handshake deal, and then the other one was separate. Good old handshake deals. Yeah handshake deals never work out people. Don't trust anyone with a handshake deal. They are useless. Get some shit written on paper.

Let’s not go down that rabbit hole just yet. Insurance payout. Yeah, about 50 grand. I think. Did that go to just you? Well it went to the business because we had to buy stock. But it was separate? Yeah. No, it ended up being put into the business to buy more stock. Was that a personal decision? The Balgowlah store was a joke. It had primo stock in it and it had a pool table and we used to play pool.

I actually had a full sized billiards pool table. I can't remember pool table billiards table that was massive. Took out we, we expanded the store, we made the store twice as big and then we put a fuckin pool table in there so people would come in and play pool and buy skateboards. It was pretty gangster. It was cool as shit.

We thought it was cool, as shit but it was fucking stupid. It was never going to make money. So when I came up there, I was like, We need to make some money. Like this can't stay like this because now we've got to pay two wages. And so, yeah, we bought a bunch more stock with that 50 grand I’ve never put I’ve never to this day put any great sum of money in my pocket from Boarders.

It's never happened.

If you want to make money, don't start a skateboard/snowboard business.

Unless, I dunno. I reckon if you're a bit of a dick, you could probably make a lot of money. I just don't have it in me. I. I still struggle to charge people full price for things. It's just naturally not in me. People come in and you’re like: I’ll do you a deal. Oh, man, it's always been a bit like that.

I just. I'm probably not the world's greatest retailer, Let's face it. Yeah, you’re definitely not a Would you like fries with that kinda salesman? No, I don't up sell. I down sell. What are you buying that for? That’s stupid. You don’t need that. Yeah. You won't be able to tell the difference. I reckon I say that all the time as if you are going to tell the difference?

It's not meant to be condescending, by the way. Yeah. So the fire made the partnership. Okay, so that would have been 2004 at a guess. Okay, so big question. So I came into the business 2010. Yeah. So there’s a five year period between that. Yeah, when I came into the business, you had another warehouse. Purple patch. This is the purple patch.

Yeah. Explain. I don’t even know what you mean by purple patch. Well, purple patch. It's the saying for things went really well. 2002 we started doing well, not 2003, four fuck whatever, 2000 something. When I went up there we started selling stuff on eBay. I owned this other business with a guy called Adam, 5150 ink it was called. It was a T-shirt business. It's motto was - the T-shirts had a neck label that said designed in the big smoke tested down on the farm.

I've no fucking idea why. That was our thing though. We had this crazy concept of T-shirts, so we were doing stuff like Rehab is for Quitters. And Mr High. Who's like, just a little stoned, looking dude drawn like a Mr Men guy. We were doing all these things. I had all had all these ideas.

I was like, Yeah, I'd be so cool if we could do, you know, cocaine in the Coca-Cola font on a red t shirt that would kill it. So we just started doing all this shit and it worked. It was crushing it. So we were doing - 

the von Dutch craze was happening. So I did a little logo that said von fucked with a t and they just killed it.

Can I ask – who did all of these graphics for you? Oh not me. 
My sister, I think. Samantha, my sister, I think she was responsible for most. She was a graphic artist. And I used to ring her up and go fuck can you do me a mr… Mr. Men with a chainsaw and we'll call him Mr. Psychopath. Well, I just had all these insane ideas.

It was nonstop, I don't know why it was my creative phase. So yeah. You still have them. I do, but I don't implement many of them anymore. And I think I've lost touch with what would work. This was like my era like I was coming out of that grunge metal punk era. So I understood the Limp Bizkit kids and I understood the kids that were coming up. I was like they’re angry.
I get them. I was angry too, for no apparent reason, but these kids are angry. So let’s sell them shit that they'll find funny. But still. Yeah, still edgy like they were I guess the tail end of Gen X and maybe the start of your generation. But they were easy to sell to. We'd go to the big day out and home bake and we'd set out like this massive two level Taj Mahal shopping and just sell t shirts and we'd sell thousands.

There's photos somewhere of us: Me, Rowy, Adam and his girlfriend or wife at the time in a hotel in Parramatta with us just exhausted after day one of a two day big day out run, lying on a bed and there's just cash everywhere. It looked like full, like we were full… man I don’t know. Full drug dealer scene. Like it was insane. From T-shirts?

How many shirts do you reckon you sold that day? Hundreds. Thousands. Well, I don’t know we were taking boxes and boxes of these things. How much were you selling them for? 20 bucks. 25 bucks. Well, I can tell you, I think in one day we did like 12 and a half grand in a day. And then we did similar the next day. So like 25k in 20 buck notes and they were transfers.

We were doing hats, we were doing it all ourselves. It was all made by us, but it was made to decent quality. I don't think any of them would have survived to now. We even had felt like Mr. Mr. High was fuzzy so you could touch him. If you were on your pingas. You could go up to someone and go ahh. I think we had a shirt that just had an E on it.

So you were at the right place selling the right shit. It was understanding what these kids were into, the drugs they were taking, the lifestyle they were living, everything about it. It was so easy to tap into for me because I was involved in that earlier. So it was just timing and I just we just nailed it. So we had all this money and then we were like, We can sell all this shit online.

And we started an eBay account and we realized that the more stuff you put on eBay, the more you could sell. The big guys weren't doing that yet, so we just started listing all our product, our vans and DCs and everything. We were putting it all on these eBay sites, which started out as a comical t shirt thing that ended up being this massive platform for us to sell on.

So we're turning over way more than we'd ever turned over and we needed more space. So we ended up by the time you walked into the store in Brookvale in 2010, we needed, we had a back up warehouse. I don't know. Was that the big warehouse? It wasn’t Cross street yet. We had that little small warehouse on Dale Street, I think, and yeah, we needed space and we were running, we were doing ten times more online than we were doing in store. So we were one of the early eBay sellers. And to be honest, most of the investment that went into this business happened through that period. Like we were killing it. We were absolutely killing it and we were buying shipping containers full of vans, authentics and the penny boards and all that shit.

That period of like skateboarding went wild. It was pop culture gone mad started with us. Yeah. I think, a couple years after I started you moved warehouse to Cross street. Yeah right, so that was on the back of the DC deal. We can talk about that another day. We’ll get one of the old DC guys to talk about what happened there. So when I started working we still had to Every time we made a sale, we had to go to the other computer and delist it from eBay.

Yeah. Yeah, it was bad. There was no the systems didn't line up. There's one computer, which was the till, and then the other computer, which was the Ebay computer. So this is where you come in, right? Yes.

That's all we have time for this week. Tune in next week and I will talk to Claire about when she enters Boarders, and I’ll grill her. See you then.