November 14, 2011

The Full Interview With Steve Berra – Part 4 of 4

This interview originally appeared in part in issue 18 of Pop Magazine.

It’s taken a little white to get here but it is well worth the wait! Here’s the final installment of the Steve Berra interview conducted by Steele Saunders. As mentioned previously, Steele has got some crazy audio skills now and has cleaned it up and it’s sounding great! In this section Berra talks about the industry, competition money, selling the Berrics and internet haters. You can read the section below or head over here to listen to it. Steele’s interviews are all available through his podcast as well which you can subscribe to here. Enjoy! Part four will be up shortly.

Photos: Mike Blabac.

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… Continued from Part 3.

… I really have no problem with mall stores. My whole thing is I don’t want there to be only one store in skateboarding in America. I don’t know what it’s like in Australia or even Europe, but I don’t want there to be one chain in America that carries skateboards.

There’s a big risk of that in Australia.
Is there?

All our surf companies are on the stock exchange and you flooded the market, you’re in every shop, then you’ve made every product. So you now make shoes, watches, headphones. So we can’t make any more, so we’ll buy brands. We’ve done that. What else can we do? We’ll buy all the shops so that’s the new thing, so it’s a huge concern that it’s going to be you’re either with them or you’re not.
You’re not in business. I don’t want to see that happen. We have tried, we’re all blazing new paths here so of course we make mistakes, but for the most part if you look at what we do, it’s really not money motivated. Eric and I have never taken a dollar from The Berrics. Any money that’s come in has gone to hire more people and to create more content.

In saying that, it could be something that at the end is going to pop into a huge amount of money.
Absolutely, there’s no secret there. If done correctly but at the same time, that’s okay because hopefully what we’ve done is helped a bunch of pros, a bunch of companies.

I totally get that but as the nature of the skateboarder, you got into it for a part because you didn’t like the organised sports, you’re up for calling people out o their shit. When sometimes you say something like that, it might be like at the end it could be a big thing, so I wanted to get that out.

I don’t want to leave anything to –
If Google wanted to buy The Berrics, obviously we’d be like okay. You don’t start any business to lose money. I can tell you Transworld and Thrasher aren’t in business to lose money. But, at the same time, it depends on what your goals and purposes are as a business, and I always feel like if your goals and purposes are correct and it is really to do the right thing and help out, money will come. It will probably come in buckets and we’ve got to shovel it out of the office, but it hasn’t yet. That’s okay [laughs]. I’m okay with that.

The industry had a big push against blank boards a couple of years ago. They had the campaign. From many viewpoints it backfired, it was against – skateboarding is a rebellious sport by nature. Then the skateboard industry is saying – that to me seemed like a monumental failure.
I wasn’t involved in that at all. I did for a brief time have the viewpoint that blank boards were killing the industry. This was right before I started The Berrics, and I thought if blank boards have taken over the industry, then the industry is not doing what it should to make pro boards interesting, so that was part of The Berrics’ philosophy; let’s do what we can to make the pros interesting, to show how interesting they are, not make them interesting but to show how interesting they are. That will probably increase board sales.
    Right now, it’s not happening. I think we’ve done that to a degree. Lizard King even told Eric himself “As soon as I was on The Berrics, my board sales shot up like crazy.” Same with Shane O’Neill. He sells a lot of boards, and Torey Pudwill has a lot of boards, not solely because of us but I think all we’ve tried to do is create something interesting.
    If a person is interested in something enough, he’ll buy it. The reason why we want him and need him to buy it is because it keeps skateboarding going, not because the industry is a bunch of money grubbing fools. Maybe some are, but at the same time you’ve got to keep the industry going.
    It’s a tough position for shops. I think the industry kind of did it to themselves. When you have a brand who is 70% of their sales goes to a mall store, of course they’re going to say no blank boards. But they go and say blank boards are bad, but the mom and pop stores are going “Hey, stop giving the mall stores a huge discount and making us pay full price.” They order in volume and we don’t.
    The only way we can stay in business is if we get these shitty blank boards and put our logo on it, because kids will buy them. I understand the position that the shops are in 100%, especially after we started Unified, it’s one reason why we did. We hope that in the future the shops will not have to make so many.
    It’s tough for the industry too because how do you tell some monolithic corporation no to a big massive order, when you are just really a mom and pop skateboard brand? No matter how much anyone wants to look at a board company, every single board company with the exception of Element is a mom and pop business. Some are a bit bigger than others, but they’re all mom and pop businesses. It’s hard for them to say no, I’m just trying to get the video done or pay my guys in the warehouse a dollar more an hour. It’s a tough position all around.

On a different point, would you put Workshop in on a mom and pop?
No, Workshop’s owned by Burton; it used to be, it’s still run like one [laughs]. It still has the budget of one.

I like to be the voice of the cynical person reading it.
Absolutely, but even with the Workshop, even with someone like Burton owning the Workshop, Burton’s still owned by one dude. It’s not a bunch of fucking shareholders. But mind you, I know nothing of the Workshop/Burton deal. I know nothing of Burton except for the fact that it has a huge hold in the snowboarding industry and that it’s owned by one dude.
    To me, I don’t know how they work at all so I could be talking out of my ass, but to me it’s like at least it’s owned by one dude, and that dude started off as a mom and pop brand. That’s something to be said. Look, you can do it, anyone can do it. They just have to do it. That’s all Jake did.

With that advertising campaign against blank boards, and then you juxtapose that against a few of the pros involved in that campaign, like flossing, they’ve got their big-rim cars, and they’ve got their TV popping out – there’s no fucking way. I’m a skateboarder. I want to buy a board. My car doesn’t have a TV popping out.
So why do I need to buy this guy’s boards to contribute to his other TV. I don’t disagree with that. I think those days are done. I think with the economy melting down and that’s one of my things of what we do here. You don’t ever see this big materialistic aspect to people flossing in The Berrics. You never see me, I’ve never been that way, Eric’s never been that way.
    It is tough for a kid to see that when their parents are losing their jobs or can’t pay rent or whatever. I completely agree. You have to be sensitive to something like that, but you also have to understand that whatever one of those guys were flossing all that, that was probably the most money – he may look rich [laughter], but it’s because that fool just started making money and made the worst purchase of his life, like Jereme Rogers, buying a Maserati when he has no business buying a Maserati. He did not make that kind of money. But it looks from the outside “this guy’s a fucking millionaire,” and he’s eating Ramen noodles, living in a one-bedroom apartment, but he’s got a Maserati or some shit.
    That’s where the image of skateboarding comes in and can really backfire on you to a degree. If you’re just trying to sell an image or trying to sell your skating, it’s tough. That part of skating I never really liked.

What happened to that guy?

Jereme Rogers, mentally. You would have known him when he was a little kid.
Yes, I went to Australia with him. I threatened to beat him up when I was in Australia.

Not to make light of it but I’m pretty sure Gator could sell more models now.
Than Jereme?

I don’t know. I don’t know Jereme any more, to know. I used to know him really – I was the one that got him sponsored. I saw him in Boston on a DVS tour and was like we need to get this kid on DVS. I don’t know what happened to him.
    I think the illusion of hip hop. I think there’s a big illusion in the world about a lot of things. Hip hop, rock and roll, skateboarding, wrestling, it’s one big phony show. You have your guys at the top of hip hop like Jay-Z and Sean Combs, those guys make money. Do they make money like the real dude who makes money on Wall Street or tech company guys? No, but they’re fine.
    Tony Hawk makes money. All the other guys, big pro sports players, they make good money. All the other guys make this living that’s good for the neighbourhood you grew up in, [laughter] and probably better than your parents.

It’s a weird up and down; the industry is doing it maybe almost as tough as it’s ever done it. But the contests are bigger than ever.
Yeah, in the worst time ever. Why are they bigger than ever? Like their purse prize?

If you’re looking at graphs of contests and sales or whatever, they’re not in line.
No, not at all. I’ve asked myself that question a lot. You have the Maloofs, which are two billionaires putting up money, $100,000 to win a contest, pro bowlers win more than $100,000 at a contest. Calling it the Maloof Money Cup I thought was something I didn’t like. I’m not into that. Why not just call it the Maloof Cup? I don’t mind the contest in any way but if asking why – that’s big for skateboarding, small to them.

Wouldn’t it be like [snap fingers]?
It’s like you asking me to borrow about $20 or $10.

I think less.
You’re right, way less, like a nickel. I think that’s what Rob’s trying to do with Street League, is create something – we’re all trying to do one thing, grow skateboarding. I don’t not appreciate the Maloof’s efforts to grow skateboarding. I think it’s great and they have the money to do it, but they’re not connected to skateboarding.
    It’s like do you want a bunch of people owning skateboarding that didn’t ever have anything to do with it, from retail stores to contest series to product to media? Or, do you want people that really understand skating to stick with it, and hopefully are smart enough to grow it into a business? Everyone wants to see it be big. I’d love to see skating as big as football and basketball, and see guys like Shane O’Neill make $10 million a year. Of course.

In the primary for the Daewon part you mentioned, that he was the most voted or second most voted, and he wasn’t in the competition; what’s up with that?
He was just filming. Daewon is very shy. You wouldn’t think that but he’s very shy. He’s going to be in one of the Battles at The Berrics. He loves The Berrics. He’s just shy.

You seemed visibly down about it in the clip.
With Daewon?

I think that was for the camera. [laughter]

What’s the craziest out of line proposal someone’s come to you for the site? You mentioned the hypothetical about Google buying, but if someone like –
Has someone come in to offer to buy the site?

Or just like it’s Sprite, we’ll sponsor it but everyone has to be drinking Sprite in the clips.
Not a lot to be honest with you. We have been offered to buy the site. But we haven’t sold it because it wouldn’t do anyone any good if we did. We get calls from kooky TV shows that want to film in The Berrics. We just got an email – did you get that 3D email yesterday? They want to do a whole 3D program on The Berrics, film in 3D. But stuff that they think skateboarding is as a result of X Games and stuff, and that we would be interested and/or could deliver it all, which we can’t.

Were you surprised with the amount of negative feedback you got from the Unified Canteen project?
Yeah, but once a drilled deeper, it came from 20 people. I can’t divulge really what we’re doing because people that have the manpower and money – Eric and I pay for this ourselves. We went from doing it in my bedroom to we have 22 people on the payroll now. I can’t tell people what we’re doing ultimately and where all this is leading to because I don’t want anybody to do it.
    There’s 100 conversations a week going “How can we take out The Berrics,” so we have to keep a lot of stuff close to our chest about what we’re going to do. What they didn’t understand was how the Canteen and Unified were going to work together. The only problem that’s happened since then is we’ve had a lack of manpower which is changing right now.

In the opening promo for it, when you’re speaking to the camera –
It got everyone’s attention, didn’t it?

It was a little bit like this is what we’re going to do, but you didn’t’ mention that there was going to be a cost for the store. Do you regret that at all, not mentioning that at the time?
We did that about four in the morning after working all day long, so no I don’t regret it at all. The people that spouted off about it, how do you think we’re going to pay for the program? Is $50 a month really that expensive? Or at the most, if you’re a medium size mail order and you want to do better, and you know all the kids are going on The Berrics, and to advertise your mail order to two-thirds of the country for $400 a month, you can’t do that in print magazines. You can’t have the same position. Is it really that big of a deal?

It’s not at all.
To the guys who are being very critical.

I know I said before, that’s the nature of the skateboarder.
That’s the nature of a very small percentage of the skateboarders.

I don’t think so. I think skateboarding is always about independent thought and thinking for yourself. It’s sort of to question authority and whether you like it or not, you’re in a way the “authority” now. You’re a very influential, powerful person in skateboarding, without overstating it but I think that’s the nature of skateboarding, to question –
Yeah, absolutely, but I get thousands of emails a month and so I think to a degree it depends on what age you are. The 12 year old, yeah it is, but he doesn’t quite totally understand. It is to question authority, and yes we are an authority to a degree, but we’re not the cops. It’s like some of the older guys in their twenties or whatever who love the magazines, of course they’re going to protest; or loved videos, of course they’re going to protest.  
    I would too. I did until I realized this is where things are going. You can either be the guy that doesn’t recognise where things are going and sit there and talk about your great days at Emb, or you can –

That’s not at all what I was getting at. It was more that I don’t think it’s back to that point of when you’re like “Me and Eric have never taken a dime out of it,” but for me watching it, when I saw the first clip I said that’s awesome. Then there was another clip saying – I wouldn’t have thought a second about it, any controversy, if it was just like we’re going to do this thing, it’s going to cost a really small fee. But the two clips combined –
Yes, you have to understand we’re doing this at four in the morning, trying to get it filmed, and posted to launch the thing. Explaining the whole thing it’s an eight minute clip. It’s also we’re experts now because we’ve made mistakes. I don’t regret not saying it but at the same time I don’t even care if I did or didn’t say it. What it did do was it got everyone’s attention. I was certainly tired that night, that’s for sure. Me and Daniel were up trying to fucking film that thing, kept trying to remember what I’m going to fucking say. [laughter]

Second last thing, what happened with Donovan?
I think ultimately – it’s tough. We all really love Donovan. I think ultimately someone was in his ear about what we were or were not doing for him. He just decided to go somewhere else. There’s a lot to it, but out of respect for him… He wasn’t happy so he left. I think someone promised him some more money somewhere else, that has a lot more money than we do. How it was done was not awesome, that’s it. I know he’s said some bad things about us, but whatever.

I just want to say when I do an interview I have to think like I want to get everything that ever person picks up is like “I can’t believe…”
Everyone wants to know what happened with Donavan.

Probably more so. Let your imagination run wild. Easy [laughter] That’s about it. I know you’re super busy and you’re like overly generous with your time.
It’s funny because there are a lot of things on the site that people want to ask that I can’t really dive into without looking like self aggrandizing. I can’t say stuff on the site because it’s our site. It’s nice to be able to answer questions. All day long I could take up chubby Canadian blogger guy’s criticisms of what we do when he has no clue really what he’s talking about. But it’s easy to make up shit about people and fill in whatever you want so that it makes sense to you. So it’s nice – but I don’t want to address those things on the site because I don’t think it’s a forum for it. I don’t like to bring a negative aspect to the site.

For the majority of people who look at it, they’re not issues.
I know, that’s the thing that’s crazy. Why bring it up to where they go “Wait a minute.” So there’s no point in bringing it up. It’s tough. What’s wild is that so many people just don’t understand that we’re really here to have a business and do cool shit. We’re skaters, and it’s funny some of the things that some kids, people that know better should be sending me emails, made about the advertising. Do you see UFC ads on here or hotdog ads, or any of that shit? This is all skateboard brands that you guys supposedly love. Why would you be mad about that?
    To me as a skater and a person who grew up loving skating, the ads in the magazines were the best part. It was the way you could see a photo without having to see writing on a quarter of the page. We also have to stay in business.

When ads are done right, it’s part of the magazine. When you look back you’re like I remember that thing in Big Brother, that was an ad. That wasn’t in the mag.

You might not even care, but what do you think the biggest misconception about Steve Berra is?
I don’t really care.

I think you do. I think you deeply care.
[Laughs] I don’t know if I do that much. I care – if I really cared I wouldn’t do anything that we do. The criticism would prevent me from doing it. But of course, when you hear on the SLAP message boards someone put “I’m going to rape and kill Steve Berra’s daughter if he puts another video part out like that again,” to me I care about that, and I care why SLAP, I don’t even want to mention SLAP. They don’t deserve it.

I think that’s unfair. I think you’re taking 5% of – I think when you say the internet or you group people together –
I’m not; I’m saying SLAP message board.

But I think that as a group is – I think you’re grouping everyone on that message board together.
Let’s say the people who – I don’t know everyone on the message boards. I only get sent links of people of the guys that hate me. I don’t go on SLAP message boards, but I am aware of the things they say, of which they couldn’t be any more wrong, and that’s the sort of thing that can be bothersome. It was in the beginning; it doesn’t really bother me now because they’ve just been wrong on so many things. But when someone does say that about my daughter, that’s’ bothersome. When guys who run that have that as a part of their things they sell advertising against, I don’t need to do that with The Berrics. I don’t know all the rest of the guys that talk about skating on those boards.

Myself, I don’t post. I check it every day because that’s the frontline of skateboard gossip.
A lot of it’s wrong.

If you say that whole thing then a lot of people that have said nothing are like “He’s against me now.” I just mean if you generalise.
I can only speak for what I’ve read about from the people that have said stuff about me. I don’t browse through it. If you talk to anybody in the industry, they’ll go “Oh fucking guys that hate everything on the site.” I think that’s a small percentage of peoples’ viewpoint in skateboarding. They’ve called so many wrong it’s amazing.
    I don’t really care about stuff like that because if I did I’d stop what we were doing, because they hate everything. They may like The Berrics, but they hate me. Who do they think comes up with all the ideas? [laughter] I don’t really care about that.
    I don’t know what the biggest misconception is about me. What is the biggest misconception? [background: that you are incredibly wealthy because of The Berrics.] Yeah true [laughter] they don’t know that I’m short selling my house right now and that I am moving and have put everything into The Berrics as possible.
    If I didn’t believe in it, I wouldn’t keep doing it. I’d write a movie or something, do something else. I just think that we’re onto something and I like it, but you’re right; I think a lot of people – and employees, “Oh man you work at The Berrics, you’ve got Berrics’ money.” Little do they know.

Just say you went and wrote films. Do you think the venom would be worse on an IMDB about your films rather than what you do at The Berrics?
I don’t know; that’s a good question. It depends on what I write. Probably, I’ve seem to become a polarising person. I guess because I have a viewpoint, so maybe.

I think with the internet that brings out the worst in humanity, that unedited, anonymous.
Absolutely, so don’t get me wrong. To a degree, especially in the beginning, it would bother me when someone would send me a link like “Dude, have you seen this?” And it’s like fucking 10 pages of a message board saying “Berra, with all his money could do this…” and how little they know, that we’ve been in here 365 days a year for three fucking years, more than three years, 15-17 hours a day, almost every person in here as they kept coming on board. People want to know why we are where we are? It’s because we put in two years of work for someone’s eight months.
It’s a pretty skateboard centric where if you actually paid the going rate it wouldn’t happen. If you didn’t’ have a friend do the website for you and –
Fuck now, exactly, like Danny our programmer, who’s put just as much time into this as I have, he does it because he loves skating. He doesn’t do it for the check. Eventually part of my biggest thing is I want these guys to get paid what they would get paid if they worked at Bank of America or some big corporation doing their job. That’s my dream, to be able to pay these guys what they’re worth. They wouldn’t do that for –

Pay them legitimate Berrics bucks.
Exactly, they wouldn’t do a nine-to-five and work midnight to three in the morning and get paid like a nine-to-five, if they didn’t love skating. I think that’s the bottom line, with anything it’s like why do you do this? Because you love skating. Why do we all love skating so fucking much? I don’t know.
    I don’t see it in any other – that’s one of the reasons why we haven’t sold the site. If we sold the site, we’d be employees of somebody and they would never understand it’s not a medical supplies company you invest in, and in two years you have a 45% return. You may never get a 45% return. You may only get a 5-10% return on the money you invest on buying a business like this, maybe. But you have to understand that’s not why anyone does it.
    That’s why I think we’ve kind of always stayed within our realm, because if a big media company comes in and buys us or a big retailer comes in and buys one of the other companies, it’s bottom line numbers. Those numbers mean if they’re not being hit, people lose their jobs. That means people don’t make a living. No guy from a bank or a hedge fund investor or venture capitalist understands passion because they’re “mathletes”.

Having to make a profit in the short term kills the long term. Any businesses that have been bought, once you float on the stock exchange and you’ve got that demand, that kills long term survival.

Yeah, because they’re so worried about acute profit. We haven’t gotten into that game yet. [laughter]

Thanks for your time, man.

by POP Magazine