Small shop kickflips big business
Utility Board Shop celebrates 15 years of success and skateboarding
by Victoria Farlow
photography by Garrett Gutierrez
Kevin and Jeff Sanchez are riding the waves of success as they celebrate 15 years at Utility Board Shop. Since their opening in June 1995, the co-owner brothers have now started four other stores in Southern California and three in Arizona. Utility, as it is called by loyal clientele, also launched its business online in 2000 and is now the largest skateboard mail order shop. The store carries more than 100 brands of clothing, shoes, skateboards and accessories. Among these brands are skaters’ favorites: Enjoi, RVCA, Girl, Adio, Adidas and Nike.
The Sanchez brothers pioneered the way for skateboarding in La Verne and have nested an iconic Foothill Boulevard home that is center stage for skateboarding enthusiasts. Before they became business owners, the two worked in their father’s wholesale grocery that served restaurants and schools. This experience served as the basis for their future business success in skateboarding. The brothers grew up in Upland, involved in sports, especially snowboarding. Because skate shops were territorial, and there was already a shop in their hometown, Kevin and Jeff looked nearby for a place to call their own. The city of La Verne appealed to them. After two years, a second Utility Board Shop opened in Covina, Calif., and in 1998 a third started in Del Mar, Calif.
The success of these stores led to the launch of Utility’s online shop that Kevin Sanchez says brings much attention to the company as well as opens the store to a much broader audience. With its expansion to the web and a total of eight stores, Utility still manages to keep a tight knit, personable unit that Kevin believes people deserve. People enjoy shopping at a small business rather than large corporations, Kevin explains, because in a small store such as Utility, customers are greeted by your everyday guy or girl who knows about skating and is happy to help.
Vanessa Morris, manager, like most employees, greets many customers by name and is happy to have local youth in the store whether or not they buy anything. “Our shop is a hang out spot,” Vanessa says. “Kids drop in, check out what’s new and chill for a bit.” It is the down-to-earth welcoming sales people who keep Utility running during this economic crisis. “Everybody’s taking a hit,” David Munoz, assistant manager, says of the economy; yet, Utility Board Shop has not only stays afloat but also thrives. “Competition is gnarly,” Vanessa says. “It’s not the product that keeps customers coming back now. It’s how they remember us.” Utility’s corporate team promise is to provide great customer service and a more personal touch than larger stores.
Kevin prides himself on customer service, but how far does Utility’s customer service go? “I remember when Kevin and Jeff were working behind the register,” says Neil Sullivan, of La Verne, a loyal customer during his youth. “These guys were helping me and my friends fix our boards when we were kids. They always showed they cared when they’d help with anything.” Today the staff continues the hospitality that Kevin and Jeff Sanchez established. “Here you go buddy,” says sales associate Luke Schlum as he passes out free stickers to two children. Luke remembers shopping at the board shop before becoming a part of the Utility team. He, too, has lived in La Verne his whole life and hopes to give the same great experiences he had as a young shopper to the present day youth shopping the store. “I remember getting excited over free stickers, and I want to do that for the kids today. It makes them feel good,” says Luke. “It’s like a second family here, and that includes customers,” Vanessa says.
Fashion in the streets
Thomas Killian visits his grandmother in La Verne from Truckee, Calif., and shops at Utility specifically for its fashion and clothing options. It is hard to say if skateboarding influences fashion more so than fashion influences skateboarding. Loose t-shirts are sported by skaters of all colors with their favorite brand names across their chests. Loose or baggy jeans are worn by skaters for comfort. Thomas is a fan of “So-Cal” fashion and prefers it to the trends he sees in Northern California. “Compared to Truckee, La Verne is like L.A.,” Thomas says. “Utility is my route to Los Angeles.” Phil Serrano, from Glendora, is happy with Utility’s sunglass selection. On this day, his friend Laura Schonland is interested in a pair of not in stock sunglasses, and David orders them especially for her.
The 15,000+ square foot La Verne Skatepark and Utility seem to be mentioned in the same sentence. Skaters at the park sport Utility’s gear and t-shirts, indicating that Utility is a definite part of the La Verne community. Skaters pay no fee to enter the park, and hours are based upon Bonita High School’s academic schedule. On Saturdays, Sundays and holidays, the park opens at 7 a.m. Helmets, kneepads and elbow pads are required.
Kevin and Jeff Sanchez brought skateboarding to La Verne, and the brothers and the sport are here to stay. They have built many relationships with happy skaters and satisfied customers who will always return for genuine smiles, positive vibes and family affirmation.