Imagine you went to work every day doing something rewarding that you were truly passionate about. Those jobs can be rare, so rather than searching for that elusive role you could create your own. That’s exactly what Portage la Prairie’s Gavin Barrett and Joel Baker did, opening Scam Skate on Graham Avenue in downtown Winnipeg.
Their business didn’t start out in a typical way though, as they were only two grade 11 students who decided to start printing t-shirts. The custom designs became popular in their high school and they soon got their products onto the shelves in a local skate shop. These guys were onto something, and they didn’t stop there. Rolling up their sleeves as true entrepreneurs, they graduated and began to make custom skateboards, longboards and more apparel for their sport.
In 2013, Scam Skate was born and has been growing ever since. Priding themselves on their craftsmanship and customer service, the guys ensure every board leaves the shop with very high standard. They design all the merchandise themselves and make each board by hand, often going above and beyond the typical industry standards. They tell us that the quality of the wood can make a real difference in a deck, so they ensure their supply is inspected and chosen carefully. The materials are precision cut and then pressed in machined forms for a perfect bond to cure properly, inside the forms to make a better end product.
Adhering to such quality standards is impressive since every business knows that time equals money. Their happy customers are what is truly important to them, and that will hopefully continue to bring great success for this Manitoba duo.
Steve Langston from Winnipeg’s Dirty T Shirt Productions visited the guys to learn more about their business challenges, rewards of owning a new business and what it’s like to be a young entrepreneur in our province.
In one word, characterize your life as a business owner.
What does your typical day look like?
Joel: Come in, answer emails, print shirts, press boards, design boards, answer emails, forget to eat, answer emails, make stuff, go to bed. [Laughs]
What do you find most rewarding about your role?
Gavin: The most rewarding thing is being my own boss and not having to answer to anybody.
Joel: Choosing what I do every day is super rewarding. I get to design things which I’m super passionate about, and I get to make something from start to finish from scratch – being the one to hand it to the customer, see their joy and excitement and know that it was our hands that made that happen.
What’s the most challenging thing?
Gavin: The most challenging thing is salary, you know – trying to get by on a very small amount of money.
How do you stay up to date with trends in your industry and field?
Gavin: We stay up to date with the trends mostly through a lot of social media. We have a lot of platforms that we use for the business, so we keep up to speed with those.
How does technology impact your business?
Gavin: Technology is everything for us. It’s all the machinery we use for our boards and the technology we use for screen-printing.
What are your top 3 applications or tools? (i.e. tech gear or apps that help manage, organize, stay informed etc.)
Joel: Instagram, Givit and Photo Editor.
What advice can you give to other businesses or young people considering starting a business?
Gavin: So much. We see so many young people and people like us coming through here trying to start businesses, and there are so many things they need to do differently to get off the ground. The first thing is you have to really commit and you have to take that leap. It will never work if you don’t take that leap. It’s always good to build up to it and make sure you’re ready, but if you don’t go full time at your own business you’ll never make it work. Unless you have a revolutionary idea that’s going to change the world!
Joel: It’s extremely important to take all possibilities into consideration when making business-related decisions. I can’t stress enough how much impact every little decision has on your business. It’s also important to carefully gauge how hard you commit to your decisions. Under-committing will never get you off the ground, but over-committing will make you plummet towards it. Stay humble, work hard, grow consistently and never make choices that will compromise your personal happiness.
What’s a top skill you need to be a successful business owner?
Joel: Creative problem solving, motivation and persistence are key.
Do you have any business books or bloggers that have been influential for you?
Gavin: Yeah, my two favourite books are 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey and Like a Virgin by Richard Branson.
Joel: The Art of War by Sun Tzu is by far the most influential book I’ve read. Though it isn’t a conventional business book, I find that every line of it can be helpful when used in a business context.
What keeps you up at night about your business?
Gavin: All the stress in general. The couple times that we’ve had a dissatisfied customer or somebody say something negative about us on social media – it really gets to me, and I know I shouldn’t let it, but I can’t stop thinking about ways that we can get the rest of the people on board and make that customer happy the next go around.
Joel: Work. [Laughs] I used to be worried about money, but not so much anymore. Now it’s mostly decisions about our next step forward. There are so many directions we can take this business and deciding which one to go with next can get a lot of gears going on up there at night (points to head). I can physically leave work at the end of the day, but it’s almost impossible to leave it behind mentally.
What are your favourite places to go and things to do when not working?
Gavin: I love getting out skating and going longboarding at Garbage Hill. And then we have skate nights on Thursdays – I love going out with the guys and watching them do crazy stuff.
Joel: If I’m chilling, you’ll find me jumping on my trampoline, relaxing with a beer by the fire or skating downtown with the Scam team.
What music are you most likely listening to on your earphones?
Gavin: I like a lot of punk – a band called Silverstein, NOFX and The Wonder Years – stuff like that.
Joel: Probably rap or science documentaries. Most likely hard rap or Carl Sagan speeches. [Laughs]
If you missed the Manitoba Entrepreneurs: Scam Skate video, check it out below to see Gavin and Joel in action at their shop.
Do you have your own entrepreneurship story in Manitoba? Tell us in the comments below and we may feature your business on an upcoming post.