N.B. This interview was translated from french to english.
As a kid, I wanted to be a veterinarian. As it turns out, I now work in a sound studio as a technician and I write on skateboarding, street art and graffiti. As you grow up, your environment changes and you’re subject to develop a ton of different interests. Sometimes, an idea kicks in and though you’ve never done anything like it before, you go for it, because life is too short to live with regrets. So you take on challenges, sometimes fail, but always learn: about people, about how some things work and most importantly about yourself. For Julien Turner, Rollin Boardshop owner, skateboarding is what compelled him to build a company from the ground up which is now well established in its neighbourhood. Building a business requires a lot of hard work, an inordinate amount of time and implication. However, when it’s done right, people will recognize and have the utmost respect for your brand.
Julien hit me up last year asking if I wanted to cover the 3rd edition of the Classique Rollin, an offer I gladly accepted. Recalling the great time I had last year, it was a no-brainer when he asked me if I would cover this year’s edition of the contest. We ended up talking on the phone afterwards, sharing thoughts about skateboarding, implication, challenges and such things. The following is his take, as a detailer and a skateboard lover, on the current state of the skateboarding industry.
Get Born : Hi Julien. Let’s kick if off with some starters… Can you tell me about you? Where you come from, what you do?
Julien Turner: I started skating when I was in elementary school, around eleven years old. At 21, during my first year of university, I was forced to stop after breaking my leg three times. At the time, Empire was a young shop in the industry. I personally used to go to Underworld, where the scene was really core. Then I strayed from the scene a bit to put all my efforts into studying. At 25, I decided to get back into the skateboarding world and got a job at a skateshop. I don’t want to drag their name in the mud so I won’t tell you which one, but I will say I was really saddened by the corporate ambiance. The underground spirit I loved was just plain gone. That’s exactly when the idea of opening a core skateshop in Montreal crossed my mind. The only condition I imposed myself was to open it next to the Prefontaine skatepark… When you have no experience whatsoever in running a business, you tend to put yourself through all kinds of conditions before moving forward with your plan. It’s like being old and not having kids: you always find some reasons not to have any. Anyways, I thought about a business plan and the day after that I was at a crossroads: for me, it was either going back to school or opening the shop. Having put so many mental barriers in my mind, I was pretty sure the skateshop idea wasn’t going to work. But, guess what? Just as I was going to choke and abandon the project, I found myself parked on Moreau/Hochelaga street corners and saw a vacant space right there, in front of the subway and the skatepark. I went back home, told my girlfriend about it and she said: “Ok, quit the talking and do the walking… It’s now or never. Every condition has been met, you don’t have a choice: you just have to commit.” So yeah, it was pretty much like throwing yourself off a double set staircase - even if I never did those - I committed and the shop opened 3 months later. I’ve never been that big of a skater, but I always liked it, skated a lot and also got hurt a lot. Honestly, all the guys who keep on skating have my respect, because fuck, those guys are crazy. You can tell they really do it for the love and the spirit, not the cash.
GB: Are you from Montreal?
JT: Yeah, I guess you could say that. Montreal is my hometown.
GB: What is it about skateboarding that you love?
JT: Amongst all the sports I’ve done - team or individual - skateboarding was really the only one where I could find such adrenaline. Plus there a little something about counterculture I like… the fact we go against all norms. What can I say, I’m a little more of a liberal and I find skateboarding helps me express that in some way. I like the underground side of it, even if it’s now become a machine. I mean, you can still go out with your homies at night and go skate anywhere. I also like that it requires hard work, but you get back what you put in. I’m the kind of guy who likes challenges and skateboarding, well, it taught me perseverance.
GB: What’s your implication like in the Montreal skateboarding scene, aside from Rollin?
JT: I wish I could do more, but Rollin takes a lot of my time. For little independent shop owners like me, having to compete with huge shops is a lot of hard work. We really try to get implicated though. We sponsor JM Court, an indoor skatepark, which offers free camps to the youth. We work with schools, so kids get a first contact with skateboarding. Other than that, we recently had a nice project with McKesson. We managed to gather 56 complete boards, disassembled them, and went to a hotel with 300 McKesson employees who drew on the decks, after which all boards were reassembled. I was there with six boys from Rollin. At the end of the day, 56 kids from a disadvantaged school stopped by the hotel and got boards, helmets, tools and gift certificates to Rollin. It was really cool and fun to see how we could introduce those kids to skateboarding. That’s what we’re looking forward to with Rollin; getting involved with schools and give back to the community through the experience.
Otherwise, there are some good things going on in Montreal with the skateboard association: peace park legalization and being able to skate on bike paths. As a company, we try to help the voices of individual skaters be heard. We meet with the city and the mayor to try and figure out ways to give out better services in skateparks. We sponsor all depositions and strive to provide better installations for skateboarders out in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve. Unfortunately, even though I’d love to say things were moving fast, they aren’t.
GB: Was the road to opening Rollin bumpy? What obstacles were you forced to overcome?
JT: There were plenty! I’ll give you a little rundown: two weeks prior to my opening, another shop opened its doors in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve making us two young businesses navigating in a modifying industry. Before Rollin, there was already Infinity, Underworld, Empire, Amnesia and NDG. Adding our two businesses to the mix, we were up two seven skateshops. Five years later, only Rollin, Empire and Amnesia are left standing (Amnesia just re-opened at the Galeries d’Anjou). Given the fact Amnesia doesn’t sell boards, the industry is extremely competitive in Montreal. Most of the times, what happens is little shops tend to die out and businesses get transferred to the big companies. For a shop like Rollin, we had to be crazy competitive and innovative. A large part of our success lies with in our customer first approach. When you come to our shop, we want you to feel at home. It’s also important to factor in all we’ve done for longboarding. I’m a skateboard guy, but my partner is a longboard guy. We could of taken the easy road and solely exploit the longboarding market, but to me, Rollin had to be a skateshop - regardless of the competition or the rentability.
GB: What does it mean for a skate shop to “keep it real”?
JT: What’s really important is to make an intelligent product selection. Here [at Rollin] I don’t necessarily sell what’s popular right now; I sell what I know is quality and has an identity as a product. Like a chef who carefully picks his ingredients, I choose my products for the right reasons. It’s crucial there be importance given to skateboarding or longboarding within the company; a dedication to to hard goods. Yeah, selling clothes and shoes is quick and easy money, but I find it hard to call my company a skateshop if I only have a tiny section dedicated to selling boards and gear. If you want to be called a core shop, then you have to commit to skateboarding. My last point would be the local aspect of the shop... “support your local skateshop”, it comes from somewhere! Go check out your local shop, it’s got everything you need. Plus, as a company there’s a way I think, of becoming bigger while keeping that local shop mentality.
GB: What impact does Rollin Boardshop have on Hochelaga-Maisonneuve?
JT: I might just be me, but I see a whole lot more people on skateboards than before. For the last couple years the neighbourhood has been changing for the better. I’m personally a Hochelaga-Maisonneuve resident and I see many young entrepreneurs and business establishing themselves in the area. I’d say that me and the others [the young entrepreneurs] provide a positive contribution in giving a positive image to a neighbourhood that wasn’t going anywhere. Hochelaga used to be nice and less of a poor place, but unfortunately, many people were forced to require financial help when most of the factories in the area closed down. Add on generation upon generation and you end up with a much poorer neighbourhood. In our case, I think we’re helping prove that having a business in Hochelaga is viable.
How many kids walked by the shop without ever having put a foot on a board and now skate? How many kids come see us while skipping classes? You get a lot of that in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve… We tell those kids: “Dude, you want to be here? Fine. Come see us, chill all you want, we’ll give you an old board, we’ll set it up with some old gear we got, but go to school this afternoon. You want to hangout with the boys? You want to be accepted at the skatepark? Then go to school.” And to be honest, that’s a beautiful thing in the neighbourhood; you’ve got guys who’ve been skating for 20 years and kids who just started and everyone just sort of blends in. The older guys generally try to inculcate good values into those kids.
GB: In your opinion, what major challenges is the skateboarding industry facing?
JT: First challenge, not do what happened to snowboard, and take good care of our products. Consumers got used to buy on sale, which is really interesting, but as a detailer, I think having your customers getting used to only buying products when they’re 50-60-70% off after season killed the snowboarding industry. Most companies died simply because they couldn’t sell and make enough profit to survive, so you end up with only a few brands to choose from. In the US, there’s no such thing as that; I’m really talking about the industry up in Canada. All it does is hurt the companies, the detailers, and eventually the customer. Second challenge, I’d say the fact little shops are disappearing to let big names take over. I really think it limits the access to a good quality service. When you buy your first board, you need advice and a good customer service… without the little local shops some kids just turn to the US or the Chinese online market… Did they pay the right price? Did they purchase a product that really fits their needs? Third point would be the US market. The weakness of the Canadian dollar is the big danger to all skateshops these days. Most of our clients will see $190 USD instead of $250 CAD and think it’s a good deal, when in the end, it’s all the same really. But yeah, the Canadian dollar’s value is hurting the industry and I think everyone is trying to figure out a way to work around that. But that’s my point of view as a detailer.
GB: We’re almost done here. Can you tell me about the Classique Rollin? How and why did it start?
JT: Yeah sure! Well, first off, we wanted to host an event in the skatepark across the street. We’ve got a famous banks, we’ve got the double set which is also pretty cool and we also thought it’d be cool to have an event there. Even though we’re playing with fire every year by not having the the city’s authorizations, we still go on with the event. We believe it’s crucial to show the city the importance of such events and the demand for them. So every year we ask for authorizations and host the event regardless of the response. It’s a nice event! We worked the Best Tricks with the pros a lot in the past and this year we got some movable units to add on to the street course, thanks to JM Court. It’s fun to see the kids, who come for the love of skate, because as you know, pros get mostly excited about the money. But then again, there are plenty of other contests way with way bigger cash prizes yet every year the guys come back to either hangout or skate. This year we had JS Lapierre, Antoine Asselin, Andrew McGraw, Cody Cormier and so much more guys show up. A lot of boys were in Quebec City, but that’s okay, the Boutique du Skate, another local shop, was hosting an event that day and the scene just naturally split. For the next years, we hope to get younger kids to come. They are the future of the scene, you know. And once again thumbs up to Phil Beauséjour who keeps on pushing those kids when hosting the event. I think it’s cool, I hope it’ll continue on growing.
GB: What will you be working on during the next few months?
JT: With Rollin Boardshop, we are working on putting in place a skateboard and longboard rental service. We want to bring a service aspect to the company. We would love to offer skate lessons and key in hand events for schools or companies. On a more personal note, the Ligne Verte tattoo shop just across the street with Alban Bachand, one of the homies, and we’re working hard to establish an underground business pole in Hochelaga. I’ve also been toying with the idea of opening a little rock bar in the neighbourhood, but that’s still on ice.
I, as an individual, have always valued hard work and commitment. When I see people like Julien Turner trying to make things happens and support their local community, a quote from Kevin Eubanks, an American jazz player, fusion guitarist and composer, comes to my mind: “Inspiration is one thing and you can't control it, but hard work is what keeps the ship moving. Good luck means, work hard. Keep up the good work.”
Shout out to every single person who came and got involved in whatever way during the 4th edition of the Classique Rollin. Without them, the Classique Rollin wouldn’t be, as Phil Beauséjour put, “ The best contest on the island, by far!”
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