In the '60s, Richard Novak made surfboards and traveled around the world in search of the perfect wave. Today he makes skateboards and travels around the world making distribution agreements for his $20 million-plus company. Novak's Santa Cruz Skateboards, one of the nation's top skateboard manufacturers, cranks out 25,000 to 35,000 best skateboard for beginners a month and is one of the biggest businesses in Santa Cruz County, with about 50 employees.

From the firm's Soquel factory, a group of corrugated-metal buildings in a eucalyptus grove, the sound of drills, routers and reggae music fill the air. Workers operate machines that punch out wood skateboards in less than a minute. Novak's skateboards sell for $100 to $150, including wheels and other components, quite a bit more than the $29.95 to $69.95 for skateboards made in Taiwan and sold at K mart. "We've taken out Taiwan,' said Novak, who is self-capitalized. "We beat the junk stuff.' Today's skateboarders want quality boards and will pay the price --or at least their parents will, he said. Novak has had chances to manufacture in the Far East at lower prices, but won't. He's adamant about remaining a U.S. manufacturer.

The company is among the top three U.S. skateboard manufacturers along with Powell Corp. of Santa Barbara and Vision Sports Inc. of Costa Mesa. Novak said nearly three million skateboards are sold annually in the United States. Since the business is so dependent on trends in board styles, manufacturers and their distributors face major risks with their inventories.

"Buying habits change so fast,' said Dale Smith, owner of San Jose-based Go Skate Surf & Sports Inc., a retailer that grew from one store to eight in the last 13 years. "A board will sell one day and another day it won't. A lot depends on the professional riders who endorse specific manufacturers' boards. One day a pro is riding another board and nobody wants to ride the one he used to endorse.' Competition is stiff among skateboard makers.

"It has a lot to do with price and board design,' said Len Kado, controller for Vision Sports Inc. "Design is really competitive. These kids love good graphics on the boards.' There also are more than boards to sell in what observers say is becoming as much a lifestyle as a sport. Kado's company has introduced tattoos that wash off and he is afraid Santa Cruz Skateboards and Vision will duplicate them.

Novak designed wheels for skateboards that have become a standard in the industry, bringing him a nice profit. The "trucks,' which hold the wheels on the board and allow skaters to "grind' their boards on curbs and ramps, sell for $30 to $40 a pair. what size skateboard should i get Since Novak's boards are among the most popular, he also has opportunities in the lucrative skateboard clothing and shoe business. He recently rejected a clothing deal with a Japanese company for fear he might lose control of his trademark. Part of his business, however, includes sales of T-shirts, sweatshirts and decals that skaters stick on their boards.

Skateboarding has been in a resurgence since 1984. "It went gangbusters from '72 to '79 and then it was bad from '79 to '84,' Novak said. "We haven't peaked out this time.' There are more than 31 million children between the ages of 5 and 13 14.5 million between the ages of 13 and 17, reflecting a huge market coming, he said. Novak is cultivating his overseas sales, hoping to soon have $5 million to $10 million in sales. Today, sales stand at $2 million to $3 million. He just opened the Brazilian market and has strong sales in Japan, Australia, Germany and the rest of Europe. There also are big markets in England, he added.

Santa Cruz Skateboards produces 2,000 to 3,000 fully-equipped boards--with wheels and all touches--out of its 25,000 to 35,000 production volume. The unequipped boards usually sell for about $40 in stores. what size skateboard should i get Novak said he has more than 50,000 back orders for boards. He wants to hold growth down to 33 percent but it keeps creeping up to 50 percent. "My product is in demand,' he said. "We make sure we don't produce more than we can sell.'

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