Founded in 1997 in Kennesaw, Georgia, Ambush Board Co. is owned and operated by a core group of devoted skaters, wakeboarders, and snowboarders who are deeply invested in the board sports community. Over the years, they’ve grown and evolved while staying true to their essential principles of service, knowledge, integrity, commitment, and passion. We’re proud to count them as part of our community, and were lucky for the chance to chat with Ambush’s general manager, Lee Elliot. Here’s what he had to say about Ambush, board sports, and bringing up the next generation of skaters.
What makes your store unique?
Our connection to the local community. We pride ourselves on being the shop that puts more focus on the local wake and skate culture than any of our competitors. We run seven weeks of Skate Camp each year that specializes in bringing skateboarding to the youth. We start them off as young as six years old and go up to 16 year olds. We’re committed to keeping skateboarding alive in our area and bringing the new generation up on skateboarding rather than in front of their electronic devices. In addition to Skate Camp, we played a major role in bringing the Pro Wakeboard Tour to our town every year. Ambush worked hand-in-hand with the city of Kennesaw to build the Kennesaw Skatepark (a killer, all-concrete park with street plaza and bowl sections). Aside from that, we host two major skateboard contests each year (March Radness and Game of Skate), a major wake event to open each wakeboard season, and several on-water days where we treat our wakeboard customers with a session behind our custom Nautique G-21.
We bring that mentality to work with us every day as well. We try to treat every customer like they’re a part of our family. We hope to make them feel like they’re more than just a skateboarder or wakeboarder or snowboarder, but part of the fabric of our scene.
What brands are impressing you or incorporating out of the box designs or promotions that have caught your attention recently?
The most impressive brands are the ones that somehow create so much hype and demand for their merchandise that people either can’t live without them or won’t buy anything but their products. Nike SB did a really great job of that early on. HUF has had success with a few of their items. Stance and Ethika have nearly single-handedly made socks and underwear just as important as skate shoes and tee shirts. Brixton has built quite a loyal following. And, of course, Deluxe Distribution (Real, Anti-Hero, Krooked, Spitfire, Thunder) has created a steady demand for their products for decades. The Deluxe customer will mostly only buy skate hardgoods from their stable of brands.
My favorite activation we’re doing at the moment is all of the wear testing we are doing with Lakai. For the past few seasons, Lakai has been sending us their new models and having us skate them hard to see if we can destroy them. We get the shoes before all of our competitors, and have an opportunity to create solid content, and highlight how good of a skate shoe Lakai really is. We’ve done similar things with Supra and New Balance Numeric. It definitely helps with sales. And, now that it’s peak wakeboard season, we’re doing monthly co-ops with all of our wakeboard brands. We highlight each brand exclusively for one month and do a special promotion/giveaway with each co-op. This month we highlighted Ronix and incorporated a free trip to Lake Ronix.
I also have much respect for Vans, Adidas, and Fox. They’re always looking for unique ways to create demand for their brands at the shop level by updating fixtures, doing giveaways, hyping up employees with sales contests, flowing gear to key salespeople, hosting events in our area, and helping us out at our own events. We receive a great deal of support from those three brands.
What trends are you anticipating for the summer? Have you made any adaptations based on those forecasts?
Summer is almost over for us as school goes back in session in our area at the end of July. But, we have been experiencing good success with skate shoes with a toe cap (Converse, HUF, Vans, Adidas). We projected that those styles would be hot this summer and our projections were fairly accurate.
However, the biggest change we made to our buying strategy this summer was to buy within a tighter budget that was more in-line with our sales. This year, we have focused more on sell through and profit margin than revenue. In years past, we bought based on gut and our own personal revenue goals, but got stuck with inventory levels that were too high. Now we have a better formula for projecting sales, creating an open-to-buy budget based on those sales, and buying within that framework. It’s not as fun to talk about as trends and new products, but it has really helped our business so far.
How do you reward your customers?
The biggest way we reward our customers is through reliability. If we make a promise to them, they can count on us living up to our end of the deal. We’re always honest with our customers and never sell them something they don’t need. We educate them on every facet of the products we sell so there are no surprises down the road. And, we take care of their warranty claims, returns, etc. kindly and efficiently.
Ambush offers a few niceties to show our customers how much we appreciate them. As I mentioned above, we take our loyal wakeboard customers out for a ride behind our shop boat. We organize demos and autograph signings with the brands we sell (both wake and skate). We host outings at our local skatepark to bring the community together. And we offer a frequent buyer program for both skate shoes (buy eight pair, get one free) and skate decks (buy twelve decks, get one free).
We will also be expanding our rewards program to include both in-store and online purchases and ways to earn reward points for a variety of interactions such as likes, shares, check-ins, email list sign-ups, ratings and reviews, etc.
How do you keep momentum in the off-season?
We don’t really have a true off-season since we offer products that span the entire year. Skate hardgoods, footwear, and apparel are a year round business. We’re actively engaged in wakeboard sales from March through August and our snowboard season spans from September through February. We do have two slower months (September and February) where one season will slow down before the other ramps up. During those months we use the down time to plan and implement our Holiday and Summer programs respectively. We use the time to take a deep breath, remerchandise the store, and strategize for the busy times of the year.
What pulls you into a store?
The factor that has the most to do with whether I give a store a chance or not is word of mouth. If someone I trust gives me a recommendation on a shop or restaurant, I’ll definitely give them a try. So, reputation is what pulls me into a store and, if the store lives up to their reputation, I keep coming back. Visually, I like small, boutique stores, which is a little ironic given the size and scope of Ambush Board Co. If the store is in a trendy part of town and has a humble yet hip look to it, I’ll walk in and check it out. I live close to an old, Civil War era downtown area that has been redeveloped into a trendy shopping/restaurant/bar district. The retail on that street always piques my interest. I’m drawn to those smaller, boutique style shops in our industry as well (Relief Skate Supply, Tyler Surfboards, Port LBC, and Faith Skate Supply, to name a few).
What’s your most memorable or proudest moment while skateboarding or wakeboarding?
Whenever I can spend time on a board with my brother. Ambush Board Co. (along with BuyWake.com, BuySkateShoes.com, BuySnow.com, and CheapSk8Shoes.com) is our family business, so there’s a lot of weight and responsibility on our family. We work our butts off trying to keep our business successful and seldom have time to ride together. When we do, I cherish every moment of it.
What’s the funniest thing you’ve ever heard in your store?
We hear more funny/strange comments than funny/haha ones. We call the two work stations where we build skateboard completes for our customers “The Confessionals.” People will tell you anything when they have five minutes of your time with no interruptions. We hear it all from people’s sex lives to people’s financial troubles to all the crazy things they have done in their lives. A woman came in a couple of months back bragging that she sold the diamond out of her engagement ring, replaced it with a fake one, and went on a shopping spree. Sad. It also amazes me how many dads come in the shop and tell us to our faces that they have skated the Mega Ramp.
If you could trade places with anyone for a day, who would it be?
Chris Burkard. I’m a huge fan of his photography and would love to be in any one of the millions of places on this earth that he has shot. Plus, he’s never too far from the ocean so he can always surf at a moment’s notice.
If you could travel anywhere this weekend to skate or wake, where would you go and why?
I’d head to Manhattan Beach, CA. Only my immediate family lives out here in Georgia. I miss the rest my family and I would love to be able to surf in the morning and spend time with them in the afternoon/evenings. Plus, I’d like to take my kids (ages 3 and 15 months) out there and meet that side of the family for the first time.
What are you most looking forward to this summer?
Ambush Skate Camp. We have a great group of instructors that love skateboarding and have a passion for growing the scene and bringing skateboarding to the youth. I love what it does for our community. I love seeing the enjoyment on our instructors’ faces when they see a kid fall in love with skateboarding during the camp. I love building that relationship with a prospective new customer that we can cultivate for years, and I enjoy the partnership we’ve built with our town through our camps.
Thanks to Lee Elliot for such a great interview. It’s been a pleasure getting to know you and Ambush Board Co. a little better. To keep up with Ambush and follow their passion, check them out on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. And if you’d like your board sports business to be featured in a future Retailer Spotlight, let us know!