summer hits and skateboarders make their way around the city,
competitions start to open (which we'll discuss next week) and shops
start seeing business rise again.
Lenitech Snow & Skate has been holding shop up by the U for the past year and a half, providing a more localized vibe to both the street and slope riders, who aren't too keen to go shopping in domesticated box stores. I got to pop in and take some pictures of the place, as well as chat with co-owner Rob Leni about the store and his time spent there, thoughts on the industry and a few other questions here and there.
Rob Leni (with wife Shelby)
Gavin: Hey Rob, first off, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Rob: Well, I'm 31, I grew up in Northern California, went to school at Cal State University Sacramento where I got a degree in mechanical engineering. I moved to Utah for a job at ATK and to snowboard.
Gavin: How did you first take an interest in boarding growing up?
Rob: I started skateboarding in about the 4th grade. My first board was a Variflex. My second board was a Vision Jynx with indy trucks and OJ wheels. I guess that dates me pretty well. I used to read Thrasher Magazine a lot and I would always see those old Burton ads with Craig Kelley in them. Snowboarding looked way fun. I used to go skiing with my parents at Boreal Ridge on I-80 and I would see the older kids snowboarding. I think that was about 1987. I first went snowboarding for myself in 1989. It was actually on a Boy Scout campout in the snow. One of the guys brought a board. We hiked and built little jumps all weekend. I have been hooked ever since.
Gavin: Was it more of a pastime for you or did you aim to compete professionally at all?
Rob: I did enter a few slopestyle and boardercross contests in the mid 90's but I never really thought I would do it professionally. I pretty much knew that I was going to have to go to college. I never thought I would open a shop either.
Gavin: Where did the idea come from to open up a shop?
Rob: I have some friends that own shops in the Sacramento area. I helped them with a few remodels and also contracted with them to do all of their tuning and repair work. I got to see how a shop was run and always thought it would be fun. One day my wife and I were driving past our location on 13th East at 2nd South and we saw the vacant building. It seemed like the perfect location. It is close to the University, across from Graywhale and around the corner from The Pie. My friends have a shop next to UC Davis in Davis, California and it is their highest grossing store. Shelby and I thought “wow, what an opportunity.” We called the landlord immediately.
Gavin: You told me you co-own it with your wife. Was there much convincing on your part to get her involved?
Rob: No, she actually always wanted to start her own shoe store. She had already done a lot of research for that in the past and she was the one who actually pushed me to into this. I was hesitant at first because I had a good job as an engineer.
Gavin: Was it difficult getting everything set up or pretty easy going?
Rob: Actually, everything just kind of came together. We threw the store together in about a month. We signed the lease on October 24th 2007 and opened on December 1st. We wanted to take advantage of the Christmas sales.
Gavin: How was that first year of business for you?
Rob: The first year was a lot tougher than we ever imagined it would be. The recession started the day we opened for business, then gas prices went really high over the summer and at the end of our first year the economy collapsed. We only did 30% of our projected first year sales. The good thing, is that we are continuing to grow and sales are up 40% our second year in business.
Gavin: Did clothing and accessories becomes a natural addition or was it something that eventually was worked in?
Rob: We opened with clothing and accessories. We did a lot of research and talked to our friends in California. Most shops make their money on clothing, shoes, and accessories.
Gavin: Do you have any plans to expand beyond what you're doing now?
Rob: Not at the moment. We are adding some brands and expanding our footwear selection. We also launched our website with Ecommerce.
Gavin: A little state-wide, what's your opinion on the way skateboarding is handled by the city and state?
Rob: Actually, Salt Lake City and Utah are very tolerant of skateboarding. I grew up in California where practically everybody skates. The cops out there really suck. I actually had a board run over by a cop out there. The number of skateparks there is pathetic, too. Utah has a ton of parks and a lot of places to skate. The U actually allows skateboarding on campus. It is one of the only college campus' in the US that allows skateboarding.
Gavin: Is there anything you wish you could change?
Rob: I want to help put the fun back into snowboarding and skateboarding. There are too many "cool" kids doing it these days with attitude. When I grew up, skateboarders and snowboarders were the outcasts and everybody supported each other. Today it seems like a lot of the kids at the skate park vibe each other and snowboarding is a whole other story. There needs to be a lot less shit talking and a lot more riding and having fun. My wife and I want to bring the fun goofy aspects back to the sports.
Gavin: What's your take, both good and bad, on the way "extreme sports" are presented nowadays with the X-Games and time on ESPN?
Rob: I think it is good for the industry because the sports get exposure. It also helps to sell more products. The thing that sucks is now a lot of these athletes are making so much money and are so famous that they get big attitudes and are no longer grateful for what they have. I think it is great you can become famous and make a lot of money, I just want to see people be humble about it
Gavin: How do you feel our slopes and resorts compare to ones across Denver and California?
Rob: You can't really compare. Utah resorts and snow are in a total league of their own. Snowbird is just amazing.
Gavin: Do you see anything on the horizon changing for snowboarding or skateboarding, or do you think things will remain the same for a few more years?
Rob: I think a lot of smaller companies are probably not going to survive. There are a lot of "me too" companies out there that don't really have any new technology. They just have a new graphic and new pro-rider. Those kinds of companies won't make it. I think there is going to be a big consolidation in snowboarding brands. As for skateboarding, I think a lot of small brands will still survive. The overhead on skateboard companies is a lot smaller than on snowboard companies.
Gavin: Being a local business, what's been your take on surviving in the current economy?
Rob: I think the biggest thing is to provide value to your customers and by having the best customer service possible. We have a lot of customers tell us they like our attitude. We try to be ultra friendly to everybody that comes in our door and so far it has been working. We also have some great deals like $20 skate decks and free hot wax's. We also give away a free skate deck with every pair of shoes priced over $60.
Gavin: What can we expect from Lenitech and yourself the rest of the year?
Rob: Watch for our skate truck at skate park near you. We will be driving it around all summer giving away free skate stuff, free pizza, and free drinks. We are gonna hook you up SLC.