For over 10 years, Mark Johansen-Berg has overseen the evolution and expansion of SkateHut.
Born online in 2007 after a family holiday in Florida (where he spotted a gap in the UK skate market), the company was run out of his home until it entered the leagues of a respectable, multi-million-pound e-commerce business.
To celebrate its 11th year of trading, Johansen-Berg explains the inception of SkateHut along with the personal and business decisions that led to his success.
Can you tell us how SkateHut started?
On a holiday to Florida, we saw loads of kids skating around wearing Heelys. Our eldest son wanted a pair, but we couldn’t find any in the shops there, so we decided we’d try when we got home.
There was a real lack of them in the UK, so we decided to see if we could buy and sell them. We purchased an order on a credit card, brainstormed the company name and created and website. Within just a few months we had around a thousand pairs of Heelys at home and it grew from there.
Were you looking to start a business at the time?
I’ve always had an entrepreneurial mindset – I used to sell cans of coke and audio tapes at school – but I wasn’t looking for a gap in the market. It was just something we spotted.
What were your goals when you started the company?
We didn’t plan too far ahead. We wanted to work for ourselves and tailor the business around family life, but we were modest in our ambitions.
How would you describe the ethos of SkateHut?
It’s a family business and we regard our company values, like social responsibility, very highly. We also pride ourselves on delivering excellent customer service – we believe it’s the best in the industry.
From conception to expansion, what challenges have you faced?
The business has grown rapidly and changes continually, so keeping up has been a challenge, especially while trying to retain our company entrepreneurial spirit and family values.
How do you stay true to these company values?
It’s important to me that SkateHut remains true to its core values. We always try to make the right decisions based on these principles, even when it’s not the easiest or cheapest option.
How has the rise of e-commerce and subsequent decline of the high street impacted the growth of SkateHut?
The growth of e-commerce has had a huge impact on the business. We started as an e-commerce company and this boom has helped us to thrive. We have also moved into stores – though not traditional high street in their design – and we currently have three shops in Halesowen, Corby and Coventry which complement our website.
When you started SkateHut, did you recognise the potential of e-commerce and the dotcom boom?
I think it was more a case of luck. We started a website at the right time in the right industry.
It’s harder now because there are a lot of large retailers in our sector, so there’s more competition. This has highlighted the importance of developing our WOW customer service.
As we’ve developed, social media has become a huge part of our marketing strategy and one of the main ways of communicating with our customers. It provides a two-way conversation so it’s something we positively encourage and seek at every opportunity – happy customers are the focus of our business.
In terms of your competitors, how does SkateHut set itself apart?
Competition is healthy for any business, but we always try to stay ahead. We’ve done this by introducing new services, like the custom builder for skateboards and scooters.
We also work with our customers. This gives us a clearer picture of who our customers are and what they want. This helps us to make informed decisions at every step, which I believe is the key to the success of any retailer.
What does the future of SkateHut look like? Have you got any other ventures planned?
As well as SkateHut, I’m also involved in a range of other businesses. This includes Swag which distributes mobile phone accessories; a Japanese business which focuses on language education through sport; and several other small e-commerce ventures.
We’ve also just launched PopHut.co.uk which specialises in affordable pop culture collectables. Plus, we own Skatehut.com so who knows, we could venture to the US!
On a personal note, what would you say is your greatest entrepreneurial achievement so far?
Being able to provide a living for more than a hundred people and their families is incredible.
On a personal level, I had an amazing moment when I travelled to visit a friend who lives a hundred miles from my hometown. I saw a kid there wearing a SkateHut branded hoody and it blew my mind!
Finally, what advice would you give other aspiring entrepreneurs?
I’d tell them that taking risks is good, providing done the assessment and research. Learning when to say no is just as important, though. And make sure you always recognise and reward talent.