Tags: action sports, aggressive inline, asia, awesome, company profile, cool, extreme sports, freestyle rolling, malaysia, rollerblading, rolling, shop report, skate, skating, south east asia, sukeats chee, sweet, wheel love shop
The foundation for any growing skate community is a physical brick and mortar skate shop. The country of Malaysia is lucky to have one run by a long time dedicated blader. We checked in with Wheel Love to see how their business is growing and continuing to expand.
Introduction & Interview by Kevin Chow
Photography by Sukeats Chee & Wheel Love Shop
Please introduce yourself (name, age) and tell us how long you’ve been skating.
Sukeats, 32 years old, skating since 1993. I co-own and run Wheel Love Skateshop here in Malaysia.
How did you first get started into skating?
My dad was trying to get me off the computer and head outdoors, he suggested rollerblades, I resisted the first couple of times, thought they were gay. Fast-forward 19 years later, here I am, still blading and trying to make a living with it.
What inspired you to want to get involved into the industry and open a retail location?
My partner Yeng and I started skating together when we were kids. At the back of our minds, we always wanted to do something with skating but were always hesitant about quitting our day jobs and taking that plunge. We pussyfooted for a few years with blading projects on the side – organizing street competitions, running a Malaysian rollerblading message board, silk screening our own t-shirts etc. On the eve of our 29th birthday year, we told ourselves “It’s now or never.” If we waited any longer, we wouldn’t have the balls to risk our careers with a skateshop. We knew we wanted a skateshop that was more than just a place to buy skates. We wanted a place where skaters could hang out, chill before heading out to skate and have some skate obstacles out in front. Our shop role models were Go Sports Skateshop in Singapore and Ignition in Europe.
Where did you come up with the name for the shop?
We wanted a name that was easy to understand and pronounce. No hidden messages, no unnecessarily avant-garde cleverness. We love our wheels. Easy.
You carry all rolling products: skateboards, scooters, rollerblades, fingerboards, and longboards. Is there anything in the shop that doesn’t have wheels?
The harsh reality is that a pure rollerblading only skateshop would be very tough in Malaysia. The numbers just aren’t there. Even worse if we wanted to carry only aggressive skates. In order to support blading, we had to include other wheeled sports. You may think we compromised but we think differently. We grew up with very limited support from the local skateshop. There just weren’t enough bladers to make it happen. We were always the underdogs. When we did find a shop with blades, we were of course extremely happy. That experience influenced the way we run our shop. We aim to help as many developing and new scenes as possible. We were one of the first to support the longboarders and have started promoting Roller Derby, scooters and other sports that normally don’t get the attention of your regular skateshop. Introducing and supporting new scenes is not easy and a little bit risky, but by doing so we get the diehard support of the scene early on, which pays off nicely when the sport finally explodes.
Why the big variety, why not focus just on rollerblading?
Like a parent in a big family, you try not to have favorites. But in this case, it’ rollerblading. We support it any chance we get. The inner blader in us loves it when we manage to get someone planning to start skateboarding to instead give rolling a try.
Being based in Asia, how long would you say the rollerblading scene has been alive in your city/country/part of the world?
The scene has always been around. There have been the ups and downs, like everywhere else, but the die-hard rollers keep it going. Having the Asian X Games has definitely helped. You can hate on ESPN all you want, but it’s thanks to them that we have what we have today, especially in Asia. Many Asian rollers would credit the Asian X Games for introducing rolling to them.
Who are your shop riders?
We’ve gone with a mixed bag of riders. We have the hammer throwers, the new kids, the old dogs and behind the scenes guys. Nik Suhaily is Malaysia’s rollerblading wonder kid, he rides for USD Malaysia and constantly places top in the local contest circuits. Chong Hooi is on Xsjado Malaysia, he travels constantly and balances a full time job and skating and should be a role model to any post 30-year-old blader out there. We also get support from our flow riders, Fidzi and Ben who both work for the shop in the day and skate hard in the night.
What makes a successful skateshop?
Listening. It is a cliché, but it’s true, you got to listen to your customers. Hear them out, get in the gear they want and not let your personal judgment get in the way. I’m 32 years old, what I like may not necessarily reflect the tastes of the 13 year old grommet. So I’ve got to keep my ears open. Also, you’ve got to support your local scene, organize competitions, party sessions, video screenings etc. Show them love and you’ll get it in return.
You’re very active with FB and Instagram. Why is social media important for shops these days?
It’s amazing what we can do with our Facebook page. We can get sell, promote, and get feedback – everything! I sometimes think that we can run the shop through Facebook alone! Without the website or physical shop. There is a flipside; it’s a 24-hour job. Managing our social media outlets is a non-stop job. But it pays to take care of your customers online. You’ll also be surprised at the low expectations a lot of people have when it comes to dealing with brand Facebook pages and twitters. They’re surprised to even get a reply! So when you get back to them almost immediately, this isn’t hard if you’ve got a smart phone, its easy pickings.
Give us a tour through your shop.
We’re located in Subang Jaya, a suburb 1 hour away from Kuala Lumpur, the capital city. We didn’t want a typical mall based shop. We wanted a place where we could skate at, where kids could chill out and hang. We converted the ledges in front of the shop into a home brewed “Ghetto park” where kids can try our their new purchases as soon as possible. Inside, we’ve kept things low key with recycled pallets, upcycled second hand furniture and display racks.
You’ve got quite a unique setup, skateshop, tattoo studio and photography studio. Can you tell us how you found the space and came up with the collaboration?
Above my shop is my wife Lynda’s tattoo parlour (www.tattoomepink) and above that, our friends Julian and Carol’s photography studio (www.reddbullets.com). Around us are other like-minded businesses – we’ve got a fixed gear themed café down the road, DJ schools nearby and other independent boutiques. The idea was is to promote Subang Jaya as a destination shopping location. We are trying to wean Malaysians off the malls and get them onto the streets. Also, it’s a great way to cross pollinate customers.
What do you think will help get more kids on blades?
In a Malaysian/Asian context, it’s price. 1 Malaysian ringgit = 3.2 US dollars. A pair of low-end aggressive blades costs about a third of the average Malaysian’s monthly household income. Just from that you know blades aren’t going to be at the top of many household budgets. In contrast, a basic skateboard setup is about a third of that. It’s not even about which is cooler or more fun, it is about “which can I afford?” and blades are definitely losing out at the moment. On our end, we try to bring down the cost of the low-end skates as low as possibly to get them hooked and get some new blood. We also help our customers re-sell their second hand blades so someone new can try them out without spending full price.
Where will blading be in 5 years? Wheel Love?
Don’t think there’s going to be an exponential growth. The good news is that it is slowly gaining momentum. Since we’ve opened our doors, we’ve seen a lot of new faces in the skate parks. So we know we’re doing something right.
To the Malaysian blade boys who have stuck with the scene through its tough times, spreading the word and getting more wheels under more feet.
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