Daron Horwitz, President at CCS, on Bringing a 30-Year Business Online

CCS has been around for over 30 years. How do you think about keeping your brand fresh after so many years?

We’ve actually had to refresh the brand to keep it fresh. CCS is an iconic brand in skateboarding, but it has had several owners, each with their own ideas about how to position the brand. We bought the CCS intellectual property from its previous owner, Foot Locker. Foot Locker purchased CCS at a time when it needed to transition from being the premier youth culture mail-order business to a business-focused online. It was a time of incredible disruption in retail, which is still ongoing. Lots of businesses struggled with this transition, and CCS was no exception. Foot Locker ultimately decided to move on.

Our focus has been to take the CCS brand back to its roots while also using digital capabilities to create fresh experiences for consumers. One example: we’ve gotten pretty good at cost-effectively creating highly engaging digital content to tell powerful stories, build brand awareness and sell more products. Another example: we created a skateboard customization capability that gives consumers the ability to put anything they want (well, almost anything they want) on a skateboard. This wouldn’t have been practical even a few years ago.

Your company was started as a mail-order business and has since shifted to an online DTC brand. Does it still feel like the same company after such a change?

That’s a really interesting question. We purchased the CCS intellectual property in 2014 so our experience as owners of the brand is relatively new. However, many of us have a history with the brand as consumers going back decades, and we spent a lot of time talking with people who were heavily involved with CCS in its earliest days.

In an age where retail, consumer brands, and media are all blending together, we can’t be the same company we were in 1985 or even 2005 if we want to thrive. With that said, the CCS “guts” — what makes us who we are, our essence if you will — is very much similar to what it was back in the day. One tangible example of this is our physical catalog. CCS was mailing about 10–14 million catalogs a year in the decade before we got involved with it. CCS was, in effect, a quasi-media company. Perhaps there were other youth culture publications that reached as many people in their mailboxes, but I am not aware of any.

Unfortunately, CCS couldn’t sustain 10–14 million catalogs a year in the digital age, something we assumed when we bought its intellectual property. We still believed that there was a place for the physical catalog and that has turned out to be the case. We took circulation down significantly, repurposed the catalog a bit while still maintaining its original vibe and are now growing circulation again since the results have been strong. In a nutshell, we are blending the physical and digital to create fresh, valuable experiences as both a (value-added) retailer and a media company.

What are the three tools/platforms you can’t live without for your business? Is there is anything you wish you had started using sooner?

I’ll give you an answer that will seem cliche, but it has the benefit of being true. The one essential tool we can’t live without is our people. No piece of technology works well for us if we don’t have the right people implementing it or utilizing it. Technology can be complicated to implement. Data can be tough to interpret. Merchandising and marketing don’t get done well if the people doing it don’t care. We are very, very lucky to have a lot of amazing people who care about what we’re working to build and who are willing to put up with me.

As far as starting something sooner goes, there are so many examples. The one I still lose sleep over was my decision not to do any marketing for the first 7–8 months we owned CCS. We had very little inventory and had to build a bunch of new features for our website (e.g. shop by shoe size). I just didn’t think our offering was good enough to deliver what people expected from CCS. So we were quiet, just doing business with those that proactively looked for us. Even in hindsight, I’m not sure I would have made a different decision…but I may have!

CCS stands for California Cheap Skates. You started in San Luis Obispo, California and are now based in Portland, Oregon. Why the switch north?

As I mentioned earlier, CCS has had a few owners over the decades. When Foot Locker owned CCS, it was headquartered in New York, with distribution out of Wisconsin. We are located in Portland, Oregon now because we run another skateboard business there. Portland has an incredible skateboarding culture plus two of our largest partners — Nike SB and Adidas Skateboarding — are also in Portland. Portland has become an amazing home for CCS.

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