SkateHut was formed in 2007 by Mark Johansen-Berg following a family holiday to Florida with his wife and three sons. The company was set up to sell Heelys, the shoe with inbuilt roller blades, in the UK. Fast forward 11 years and it now stocks 20,000 products and has three warehouses and three stores: one each in Halesowen, Coventry and Corby.
The inspiration for this fast-growing company came from far, far away. It was around ten years ago that Mark took his family to Walt Disney World and his eldest son asked for a pair of Heelys skate shoes. Struggling to find the products back in the UK, Mark decided to set up an online store selling the brand.
With his wife, he built a website over a weekend and secured his first sale, from a customer in the Outer Hebrides, on 9am the following Monday morning. Before long, Mark was able to give up his job in IT sales and work full time on the venture.
Today, SkateHut is approaching £20m in turnover, selling not just 50 types of Heelys but also skateboards, longboards, scooters, skates, clothes, bikes, shoes, electric toys and accessories.
What qualities owe to the success of SkateHut?
In contrast to stores run by hobbyists, Mark is heavily focused on the business side of SkateHut, which has led to the company stocking a wider range of products than many of its competitors. That business focus also means SkateHut never loses sight of its customers.
Around three years ago, for instance, the company opted to introduce a no-questions-asked refund policy. The policy cost SkateHut a fraction of what the management expected but led to a big uptick in customer satisfaction and also helped staff, who now see fewer complaints and can build better relationships with customers.
SkateHut also operates a sales hotline that is open seven days a week. Plus it is one of the few companies in its sector that offers a customer service helpline. “The level of service on the phone is second to none,” says chief financial officer James Davidson.
It helps that SkateHut itself is still very much a family business, although it has benefited from an influx of professional talent over the years. The refund policy change, for example, was suggested by a member of the team with customer-centric experience.
Similarly, James brought in skills from private equity and some of SkateHut’s earliest hires helped rebuild the retailer’s website to make it more attractive to young customers.
Technology remains central to the business’s success, and Mark attributes much of the company’s early fortunes to a good relationship with an account manager at Google who handles most of SkateHut’s online advertising. “We were getting access to technology that the likes of Coca-Cola were getting,” he says.
Features such as great customer service and technology knowhow will remain key to the business’s success in future.
Going forward, Mark is hoping to diversify further, moving into Europe and Australia. But he sees Brexit posing a challenge to expansion in Europe, while potentially driving up the cost of American imports. In the meantime, SkateHut also faces growing competition from others within the sector and from mainstream online retailers such as Amazon. At least, Mark says: “We have access to good people. If we had set up in London we would be competing with banks, which would be a challenge.”
The upshot is that even though SkateHut is helping people to speed around the UK, the company itself is very much staying.
Read about more of Worcestershire’s business growth stories in BDO’s Worcestershire Growth Barometer report.