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For 17-year-old skateboard shop owner, business comes first

Posted on 25 April 2017 by calvin

By STEPHANIE FOX
Skateboarder Max Kuker learned his sport when he was just 6-years old, skating California parking garages, riding with his father on his dad’s big board. Kuker was a natural and by the time he was 12, he had gotten interested in downhill boarding, where skateboarders speed down steep hills, dodging cars along the way.

There wasn’t much of a downhill skateboarding scene in the Twin Cities, then. Downhill skateboarders couldn’t find a lot of what they needed at the existing local shops, most of which catered to street skaters. And, Minnesota doesn’t have a lot of serious downhill opportunities, with the closest good hills a few hours drive away. “But, it’s the community that makes Minnesota a great place for all skateboarding,” Kuker said.

Kuker’s father began encouraging him to start a skateboard enterprise. John Kuker had owned successful recording studios in California and Minnesota and knew how to run a business. His grandparents ran an insurance company. John thought that young Max could operate a company, as well.

The younger Kuker began by running a small online skateboard business that stocked small items and a forum where skateboarders could exchange ideas, but the idea of opening a brick and mortar store seemed more than he could handle. After all, he was only 14-years old and in high school.

And then, his father—his mentor—died at only 40-years old.

For a while, Kuker kept running his online store, buying and selling, often while in class, something that didn’t endear him with his teachers. But, he kept putting off expanding his business.

“And then something happened,” he said. “I remember waking up on Mar. 3, 2016, and saying to myself, ‘I have to do it.’ I had a crappy online store, and the landlord next to my house had space to rent. I said, yes.”

His father’s memory became his inspiration.

Within three months, the new store, MXKskate Shop (MX for his first name and K, his last initial) opened, seed money provided by his grandparents. Now, at age 17, he’s still too young to legally sign contracts, so Kuker’s grandmother, Pam Deal, became his business partner. “She’s 20 percent, I’m 80 percent,” he said.

MXKskate interiorPhoto right: The store’s interior, at 3543 E. Lake St., is painted in the theme colors of black and white, with the MXKskate Shop logo decorating the back wall, right behind the racks of boards for sale. (Photo by Stephanie Fox)

Kuker had a unique vision for the store. He’d experienced a less than friendly reception at some stores and wanted to offer something different. He wanted to create a welcoming place for all skateboarders, even beginners, and to carry more product lines for downhill fans as well as street skateboarders.

“I want to get people into the sport. I want to offer someplace where the kids can come in and ask questions and a place where we can answer them,” he said. It wasn’t about making a lot of money, he insisted. It was about creating community.

Kuker dropped out of high school to concentrate on the business, planning to get a GED sometime in the future. He tried online high school classes, but they didn’t work out.

“I really hated school,” he said. “It wasn’t valuable, and nothing I was learning helped me in what I wanted to do. Actual life taught me things that were of more value.” And, he said, he had to focus on the business. He noted that none of his employees have college degrees.

Sponsored rider Nicolas Sofai, shop owner Max Kuker and Oliver Hersey, shop employeePhoto left: Sponsored rider Nicolas Sofai (seated left), MXKskate Shop owner Max Kuker (standing) and Oliver Hersey, a shop employee. (Photo by Stephanie Fox)

When the store first opened, Kuker hired two of his high school friends to work in the store, part time. They were getting some business from nearby South High School, bringing walk-in customers and the curious. But the storefront wasn’t adequate, and he started looking for another location.

Then, one of his employees noticed a space for rent on the corner of Lake St. and 36th Ave., the former home of East Lake Electronics. Kuker grabbed it. The place needed a lot of renovation, Kuker said, costly, but necessary. ”We did a lot of interior work. We re-did the ceiling. All the walls needed a complete painting. It was pretty bad.” The store’s interior was painted in the theme colors of black and white, with the MXKskate Shop logo decorating the back wall, right behind the racks of boards for sale.

The new shop opened in April 2016, just in time for the summer season.

“Compared to the other location, Lake Street is treating us right,” he said.

Many of his customers are part of the 18 to 23 year old demographic but lately, he said, he’s been seeing a lot more younger riders interested in downhill, especially 13 and 14-year olds. “The kids are growing into it,” he said.

Kuker is now spending most of his time at his store. “Owning a business means I don’t have much time to skate,” he said. Instead, he’s focused on sponsoring riders—he has 20 from around the country—and making ‘cool videos,’ which he distributes and shows on the big screen television at MXKskate Shop and on their Facebook page.

He keeps up with market trends by talking to patrons, asking every customer he sees to tell him what they want and need.

So far, the shop is breaking even. He pays his four employees and his bills, he says, but not himself. “I don’t want to take cash from the business.” He makes a little money finding and flipping old skateboards, acquiring them at cheap prices online or at garage sales and reselling them.

His heroes are not skateboarders, they’re family. “They’re all good at what they do,” he said. “My mother just opened a vintage store on W. 7th in St. Paul. They are my inspiration for running my business.”

“And, the Midwest has an insane skateboarding community. The quality of the people is high. Everyone wants to help each other. They want to help teach the kids. And, it’s a great place to find people to skate with.” In places like California, with great hills, it’s all about ego, he said. “Here, it’s about having fun.”

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