Located 27 miles west of Philadelphia in the southeastern corner of Pennsylvania lies the historic borough of West Chester. Settlers came to this sleepy town in the early 1700’s, and skateboarding arrived a mere 250 years later. Dave Fairman, owner of Fairman’s skate shop, introduced skateboarding to West Chester when he moved the shop there from his hometown of Prospect Park, a suburb of Philadelphia, back in 1988. But the history of Fairman’s begins much earlier.
Fairman started skating in 1974 and soon began fixing loose ball-bearing wheels for friends. Since his dad had a supply of woodworking tools, he also experimented with deck construction in the family garage. In ’75 he bought his first real skateboard at a surf shop on the Jersey shore.
“By 1977 I had turned the garage into my first full on skate shop, “Fairman, whose business was a licensed and legit even then. He finally opened his first storefront in downtown Prospect Park in 1985, and by 1988 he moved it to a location off West Chester’s main strip.
Currently Fairman’s is in the process of another relocation, which includes a major renovation project. The new shop will be in an American Revolutionary war period building. “Westchester has a thriving downtown section, and right now we’re on the side street, but the main street is better and that’s where were going, “says Fairman.
Floor space has always been a concern, and the current location was only 1200 square feet until Fairman’s open another store two doors down in 1994. “We jammed our snowboards into the skateboard shop for years, “says Fairman. “Snowboards started to become a real important part of our business, so we opened a separate shop. ” Fairman explains that it was a hassle to run both stores so he made sure his new location would have plenty of floor space and storage to house both operations under one roof.
At any given time you can find 200 to 300 decks on the wall with just as many trucks and wheels in the display cases at Fairman’s. And who can forget footwear? “The shoe business has been important for quite some time now, “explains Fairmans. “We keep over 100 styles in stock. ”
Even though Fairman’s is located 100 miles from Delaware beaches and the Jersey shore, they plan to stock surf hardgoods at the new location. “Especially in the summer months when we don’t have a snowboard market, we think we can make an impact with the surf hardgoods, “explains Fairman. “We sell a ton of skim boards right now because it seems to be an easy transfer sport for most of the kids, especially the younger ones. ”
Fairman’s emphasis on apparel has changed somewhat over time, the crossover brands have risen to the top through general appeal to skaters, surfers, and non-boarders.
The store carries brands like Quicksilver, Billabong, and Rusty, but it’s best selling clothing lines are Volcom, Ezekiel, and Hurley.
The shops developed a year round business that Fairman attributes to the fact that they’ve been around for so long and the strong customer service they provide. “Customer service is a real important part of making sure the first customer becomes a repeat customer, “says Fairman.
Dave Fairman, who typically spends six days a week at the store, wears all the hats as a store owner and manager, but depends on his staff to assist with some of the inventory decisions these days. “I rely on what my staff tells me because they’re in touch with the kids every day,” says Fairman. “We just want to make sure we listen to what the kids are asking for, watch what they’re riding, and watch how trends change. ”
After the relocation is complete, Fairman’s future plans include further development of its website, Fairmans.com, expanding the mail order business through 1-888-FAIRMANS, incorporating a more extensive inventory control system, and producing another shop video. The shops teams recently had some national recognition through team riders Bam Margera, Mike Maldonado, and the newest team rider Pete Eldridge, which in turn helps with the mail-order business.
Fairman’s team is comprised primarily of local talent, and his ability to host demos in a downtown parking lot is hindered due to the overwhelming turnout. Fortunately, there is a privately owned indoor skate park close by. “We run this pro shop in the local skate park [Boards and Blades], and that’s perfect for hosting demos, “says Fairman. “Downtown we can have an in-store signing, but for a full on demo we really rely on the skate park to be available to host them.”
While some of the staff’s efforts are dedicated to developing the mail order and the web business, they are still focused on their local business. The growth of the sport has enabled competition to move in, and this has kept Fairman’s on its marketing toes — spending a considerable amount of money on local radio and television advertisements in the last couple years.
Fairman has developed a successful business plan that includes listening to his employees and his customers, associating the shop with influential pro skaters, establishing strong relationships with all the major manufacturers, and providing the best possible customer service with a smile.”
Published in Transworld Business, August 2000