Them thoughts (stop for a moment and think!)

Past two weeks were noisy time in blading for sure. And coincidence is, I was grounded at home by pneumonia for two weeks, with plenty of time to read opinions surfacing around the end of Valo and rise of Them skates. The amount of misinformation and sheer hostility coming from both Jon Julio’s fans and haters shocked me to the point I started to think he would be better off taking that post office job, as there is no hope for a sport with community full of such awful people. After a while I’ve decided to throw my two cents in, not to criticize or praise what Jon Julio is doing, but to combat toxic atmosphere and idiocy surrounding this whole affair.

Not a fan of “wall of text” approach? Carry on, nothing to see here. Want to read an opinion that doesn’t boil down to throwing insults at, or ridiculing someone? You are welcome.

  1. Roces aren’t bad guys in this story.

It’s sad see how many people were eager to jump in to such conclusions without knowing a full story and called to boycott the Roces.

For starters, the fact that Valo was a Roces sub-brand was no secret for years – if you were tricked in to thinking that it was separate legal entity owned and run solely by JJ, blame yourself for your ignorance or maybe him for not making this clear enough, but just get over it.

We have never known the full details of this cooperation, but the speculation was always how much freedom Roces gave to Jon, not if he works for them. Now this became clear – as Jon himself confirmed in MB podcast that he was a contractor in a position of brand manager.

Of course, being on a contract and working for Roces doesn’t make the work he has put in to developing and marketing Valo brand any less impressive. While I’ve never liked (skinned) Valo skates because they were a typical example of fashion over function, I’ve never doubted that Jon Julio is genius salesman and marketer. To take such product and compete successfully on a small market with companies that offer far superior skates in terms of technology and design, is simply a stunning achievement.

What surprised me is the fact that he complained about money made on Valo going to Roces first, not straight to him. Again, this is not Roces being greedy, this is how business operates. There is no need to rage over this. I’m not talking about Julio’s approach – I understand he can be bitter and sad that things haven’t worked the way he envisioned. I’m talking about comments on social media. When you are employed or contracted by a company to perform certain services to them or their clients, the money goes first to your employer, which in turn pays you. That’s true for all kinds of business, from small to large. Roces was not doing anything shady here. It’s sad that such basic concept needs to be explained to grown-ups!

It’s understandable that Jon wanted to have more power over where funds go and that he decided to part ways with Roces as deal was no longer satisfying for him. This is nothing unusual, really. Most of us quit our jobs when we feel there is no future in them or no room for further progress. Some of us are searching for another job; some are opening their own business. Jon chose the latter, and in very niche market with high risk of failure. All I can say is: best of luck to him.

Last thig I think needs to be addressed is ridiculous accusation that Roces “weren’t there” during rough years for blading but Jon was. Truth is, Roces never have stopped support for the sport. It’s only natural that when Valo brand was launched, they ceased to maintain Roces aggressive team or pump money in to marketing of M12 UFS or other skates they were making all these years (see Element 52 for example). Valo was, in fact, an “aggressive skating division” of Roces.

To push both Valo and core Roces brand in aggressive market would be to creating unnecessary internal competition. It wouldn’t make any sense business-wise.

Valo skates were sold as premium offering, with all bells and whistles – team, marketing materials and so on, they were aimed at loyal aggressive audience. M12 UFS and cheaper skates based on generic Chinese molds were sold as basic product that went in to general sports shops and so on.

Jon Julio was there for aggressive skating during these past 15 years with Roces. You cannot separate what he has done from a company he has worked for and which made a product he was promoting.

And it’s only expected that after they’ve parted ways, Roces will reinvent their strategy for aggressive division, potentially even creating a team and even continuing production of skinned M12s (remember, Valo were THEIR product!) – there’s an empty space they need to fill somehow.

And no, this is not an attempt to make money on Valo corpse on their end (like one gentleman suggested on facebook) but simply a continuation of business. We should be happy that they are willing to do something more besides churning out M12 UFS year after year.

  1. It’s too early to say if Them skates will be good or bad.

It is a fact that Them boots are based on an old mold which was used in cheap, garbage bin skates from 90’s. Julio could went with other open-source mold instead but decided to use this one, which admittedly took a lot of confidence in the product – he must have been aware of reputation Sabotages have.

But what were his alternatives, honestly? Let’s try to look at things from perspective of someone who wants to launch a boot company and does have very limited amount of funds.

Would you go for shell which is used to make Cults? After all, one piece soulplate is ready for it and it’s even designed to accommodate a skin. But I doubt anyone would want to launch new version of Nimh/SSM skates, even though this would be much closer to what Valo was. And don’t forget Razors are still selling skates based on this mold. Is market in need of another skate which fits the same as Cults?

Or maybe go for one of these cheap Salomon clones? Nah, it wouldn’t work – there is a reason why these are bad skates and it doesn’t come down to materials only, but to the fact Salomon design was bastardized and altered to the point they feel and skate nothing like original. In addition, any skates resembling Salomons would not be judged for what they are, but for what they are not. It’s not a viable option especially if you want to launch relatively cheap skate without premium materials used in originals.

There is also a shell which is used by Rollerblade to make a (new) Swindler boot. A number of cheap “stamp-brands” like Alchemy also used this one. Thing is, while shell itself is rather okay, the generic soulplates and cuff are bad. That’s why Rollerblade developed their own bespoke soulplates and cuff to polish the skate to a higher standard. The same would be required from anyone willing to enter the market with such skate. This would not only cost the money – it also means competing with similar Rollerblade model, which would most likely be sold at lower price (as they can order bigger volumes in factory and most likely can get better terms as a part of large corporation – more leverage when negotiating the price). So yeah, not good.

There is also a case of shell used by Trigger (they are open source as far as I know) or making a skate using a carbon shell, which cuts the initial cost of investing in new molds. I’ve actually considered this as most logical option for a small company, but after a conversation with Oli I’ve changed my mind.  First of all, cost of manual labor is high as such skates require assembly by hand, by skilled workers, which takes a lot of time and you cannot produce such skates in high volumes unless you have enough funds to cover cost of additional workforce. Even then, there are limits – factories do have a certain capacity of production lines, after all.

Next factor is cost of these skates – this is not the kind of basic, affordable product you need to take your business off the ground, up and running. It’s a good option for people who manufacture skates as side job and on per-order basis and consider this as extra source of income or even a hobby, but not for someone who wants to make a living out of it. Actually, even people who make custom speedskating boots (which easily can be triple the cost of high end aggressive skates) do not limit their business to inline skating – they are also making boots for ice skaters, bikers, tour skiers and other sports. The market for high price product is way too limited in one sport alone. Bottom line – you would have really hard time getting your investment back in time to not go bankrupt if this would be your main job.

These are just some examples but I hope you can see my point – it’s not easy to make a good call regarding which boot to use.

Of course there are other open source molds anyone can use but maybe they didn’t meet Julio’s requirements regarding design (he clearly wanted a raised heel shells) or cost, or even materials available to choose from in factory.

While I don’t buy the “diamond in the rough” narrative, I understand that JJ had very limited choice and that he needed a shell that will be unique and cost effective. The fact it turned out to be a Sabotage shell is unfortunate when it comes to brand image, but it counts where he will take it from here.

You can make skates out of many different plastic compounds and that can make huge difference in terms of quality. For example, there are many cheap copies of Rollerblade Twister (freeskate) out there, all of which look almost the same, but use low quality, cheap materials, which make them nowhere near as good as original. Plastics degrade quickly, skates break. Originals, while by no means perfect, are much better.

Same goes for liner – materials used, especially foams, are can vary in quality. You can achieve acceptable results here using a bit cheaper materials (Seba skates liners use lower grade foams for example and work okay for most people), but you cannot go for the very low and expect it will perform and last the same as liner made out of better ones.

So, the fact Sabotages were crap back in the day doesn’t necessary translate to Them skates being bad just because they are built using the same template. There can be a night and day difference between boot made using lowest grade materials and premium quality ones.

However, Them skates will be a basic product which will compete with the likes of Cult, M12 UFS, Sway, maybe VII or Genesys at best. There is only so much you can squeeze out of lower bracket price so don’t expect premium quality skates just because it is Julio’s company.

I doubt we will see a recall padding in liner (like one used in Salomon skates or in newest MyFit liners and Powerslide skates) or high-grade, environmental friendly PVC free plastic reinforced by addition of glass fiber. But I also don’t expect these to be near as bad as original Sabotages, either. For starters, they have much better designed soulplate.

Try to have realistic expectations. Don’t hype it up as best skates ever just because it’s a product with a legend of blading behind it. Don’t write it off because it’s based on the same mold as bad skates from the past.

If you are not sure if it’s worth getting a pair but want to support Julio, simply wait for reviews, take a trip to a shop to try them, take your time, see them at Winterclash if you can. Don’t like them but want to help Julio? You can always buy other product with Them Goods label.

Remember – no amount of goodwill can turn a skate you don’t like in to best one for you and no one can blame you for this!

  1. Them skates won’t be a start of a revolution.

In aggressive skating, there is ongoing point of view that blader-owned is a remedy for all of the sport’s problems. But let’s be realistic – JJ needs to focus on getting back money he invested, to pay his bills and put food on the table. This is a priority for any small business owner – it’s not a charity, you need to do everything you can to stay afloat. Next priority is securing the funds to make next batch of skates and selling these. To slowly build a sustainable brand.

Realistically, there is almost no chance for quick expansion. JJ won’t be able to develop new molds for a long time (counted in many years even if he will have a successful run with the company), it would take a lot of time and work for him to be able to pay his riders decent salaries so they can focus only on skating, he won’t be able to make a second, higher price point skate soon. Nor he can bring back/revive aggressive skating or make it more popular and attract more people in to the sport. If he was not able to do this with Roces for 15 years, he won’t be able to with a smaller company.

But truth is – no single person is able to make such change on their own.

Doesn’t matter if it’s Jon Julio with low price point skate based on old technology and released by himself, or Franky Morales with high tech, expensive skate made by Powerslide. This isn’t a job one man can do, to put it simply – but that’s a topic for another piece.

Peace and keep rolling.