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Published on March 16th, 2012 | by Hurt Reynolds

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Vintage Have Derby, Will Travel: A Tale of Two Skate Shops

Editor’s Note: Have Derby, Will Travel was Hurt Reynolds’ original derby blog as he travelled across the U. S. and Canada for a year (2006-2007) volunteering for derby leagues and events at a time when derby was spreading like wildfire. This blog included some of the only roller derby game scores and recaps on the internet, as well as a travelogue of items of interest to the derby community. In honor of Fast Girl Skates‘ 5th anniversary weekend, we bring you this post, from a time when there were only 2 brick and mortar skate shops in the world…If you’re in the Seattle area this weekend, don’t miss their anniversary events – or watch DNN on Saturday for some in-store shenanigans!

Written by Hurt Reynolds
Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Avid followers of the travelogue will note that it’s been pretty sparse lately. By no means does this indicate that my travels have slowed down; on the contrary, I’ve been just as mobile as ever, covering many thousands of miles in the past few weeks. However, I’ve found that the creative-writing parts of my brain have been pretty much fully engaged by the work I’m doing for upcoming events, including RollerCon and the Heartland Havoc tournament.

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With today’s update, I attempt to make amends by taking you on a lengthy tour of two remarkable businesses: Sin City Skates in Las Vegas, and Seattle’s Fast Girl Skates. Both are examples of a new phenomenon — the skater-owned, derby-focused skate shop — whose success is another clear indicator of how fast this new sport is growing. Let’s take a look…

Sin City Skates, Las Vegas, NV

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Sin City Skates was the first of its kind: a roller derby skate shop. Since founding Arizona Roller Derby in 2003, Ivanna S. Pankin had struggled to find skates, pads, wheel, and other gear that were suited to the particular needs of modern roller derby. She soon found she wasn’t alone — many skaters in the vanguard of the modern roller derby revolution shared stories of poor customer service, misleading answers to equipment questions, questionable business practices, and other frustrations when mail ordering skates.

In 2005, looking for a new start, Ivanna and Trish the Dish moved to Las Vegas to launch two new ventures: Sin City Rollergirls, a flat track roller derby league, and Sin City Skates. With the skate shop, they set out to provide the alternative they themselves had once wished for: a knowledgeable, helpful, informative one-stop source for all the gear a derby girl needs to play this new sport.

Ivanna and Trish ran the business initially out of their garage, taking orders by phone and through their online store at http://www.sincityskates.com. Initially they carried very little stock, drop-shipping most orders directly from suppliers warehouses. As derby skaters shared word of their good experiences shopping with Sin City Skates, business quickly grew, allowing SCS to bring stock in house.
Another reason for Sin City Skates’ success is the proprietors’ cooperative work with vendors in influencing equipement design.

Flat track roller derby places different demands on skaters equipment (and bodies) than other rollersports, and in many cases, the varieties available didn’t sufficiently address the needs of the new sport. Not content to accept whatever’s available, Ivanna and Trish have successfully persuaded suppliers to modify existing lines for the needs of derby skaters, and in some cases, even to develop entirely new products. Notable products of this cooperation are Riedell’s 265 Vandal and Wicked skates, and Sure-Grip’s Orange Fugitive “pusher” wheels.

When I visited Las Vegas in February, it was already becoming clear that Sin City Skates’ days as a home business were numbered. Every inch of the garage was packed, floor to just under the garage door opener, with shelves and shelves of merchandise. On business days, the little remaining free floor space in the office (dining room) was piled high with day’s orders in various states of readiness. A threshold had been reached, and something had to give.

In May, I got a phone call from a nervous and excited Ivanna — they’d just signed on a new store space and were getting ready to move in, but they were concerned about the networking and backup I’d set up for them during my February visit. She asked if she could fly me back from the Midwest to help out. Given the support they’ve provided throughout my travels, and my own excitement to see the new store and witness the further growth of the business, I jumped at the chance.

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The week brought all the typical headaches associated with moving a small business: the business phone line dropped ahead of schedule and took days to restore; the telephone company couldn’t actually provide the level of broadband internet they’d sold to that location; electrical problems meant that lightbulbs in the bathroom were good for maybe ten minutes — the usual stuff. There were shelves that needed buying and fixtures that needed installing. Orders piled up, callers got frustrated, and everyone was a little testy for a couple days.

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By the end of that week, though, the place was looking pretty sharp, just in time for the new Sin City Skates to receive its first walk-in customer. It was an exciting time at an exciting business that’s still riding the crest of the exciting wave of modern roller derby… and I got to be there. That very week in May, I was seriously evaluating whether to continue traveling or to pack up the project — I’m very glad I got to be part of Sin City Skates’ invigorating (and timely) evolution!

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Fast Girl Skates, Seattle, WA

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One month later, I found myself back home in Seattle for a pair of Rat City Rollergirls events (which I’ll detail in a future travelogue article). While in town, I took the opportunity to visit Fast Girl Skates, a newer derby-oriented skate shop. Fast Girl Skates holds the distinction of being the first ever brick-and-mortar derby skate shop, with a highly visible storefront location in Seattle’s Wallingford neighborhood.

In contrast to Sin City Skates’ focus on online and phone mail-order business, Fast Girl Skates has quickly built a successful business around local retail sales, both in their store and at a merchant table during Rat City Rollergirls bouts. The thriving Seattle league is surrounded by a number of rookie leagues, including:

Terminal City Roller Girls, Vancouver, BC
Jet City Roller Girls, Everett
Oly Rollers, Olympia
Dockyard Derby Dames, Tacoma
Bellingham Roller Betties, Bellingham
Lilac City Rollergirls , Spokane
Slaughter County Roller Vixens, Port Orchard

Seattle is already a frequent destination for residents of the surrounding area, and the draw of WFTDA’s #1 ranked league is irresistible to any serious rollergirl in the area. Skaters from nearby leagues, already coming to see Rat City’s events, have proven eager to buy from a local fellow skater. Proprietors (and Rat City 2007 season rookies) Wile E. Peyote and La Petite Mort have successfully filled this niche.

By offering a retail location, Fast Girl Skates provides derby skaters in the area with an opportunity to avoid the key difficulty of mail ordering: getting the right fit. Anyone who has feet is already familiar with this phenomenon in shoe sizing: for the same nominal shoe size, the actual fit will vary from manufacturer to manufacturer and even model to model. Beyond differences in length, shoes vary by width, shaping, padding, and a number of other variables that aren’t well captured by a number.

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All these factors weigh even more heavily on the fit of skates. The forces exerted on footwear when skating tend to be much more severe than a walking shoe is subjected to, so even a small fit problem can result in real discomfort, blisters, or more serious injuries. The same factors also apply to greater or lesser degree with helmets and pads.

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While a good mail-order vendor like Sin City Skates have answered this challenge successfully with a good return policy and excellent pre- and post-sale service, skaters lucky enough to have a derby skate shop with knowledgeable staff in driving distance may prefer to try before they buy. Fast Girl Skates reports that they’ve done sustainable business through local sales only… yet another testament to the surging demand for good derby gear with good service!

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