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Substance Skatepark is a multi-location skatepark with two home-base locations in Brooklyn and one in Hawaii. Owner Andrew Gelles started teaching skateboarding when he was 16 years old. In some ways, he says, it’s the only job he’s ever had. As his customer base grew, he started an outdoor skateboarding camp that quickly booked up. “That filled up and then we had the same problem where I couldn’t keep teaching. We ran out of slots in the camp, and when the weather’s bad there’s nowhere to go. So, we opened our first indoor facility in Brooklyn,” said Gelles. That space quickly filled and Substance expanded to another across the street — one space dedicated to vert skating (vertical skating) and the other, street skating.
Making sustainability a priority
His community of skateboarders was slow at first to embrace sustainable initiatives, but ultimately it was a natural transition. “Skateboarders, most of us grew up with so little that we were very resourceful,” said Gelles. “The skateboard community gets it, they have it ingrained in them already, they just don’t know how it all works necessarily, you know?” The night before our interview, one of his customers pulled in with a U-Haul and offered a four-by-eight-sized piece of birch, hoping the skatepark could make good use of it as he was moving and didn’t need it. To thank him, Gelles offered him two day passes to the skatepark. He says these are the little things that are a reflection of the community.
Substance Skatepark prioritizes sustainability by donating 1% of its sales to 1% for the Planet, which supports forest and ocean conservation. They also only offer vegan products for sale, and no plastic bottles, opting for glass instead. “I was hesitant the first year. I thought, ‘What if we don’t make a profit?’ And we didn’t the first year. But I think the rewards will come back tenfold,” said Gelles. “We don’t have a high ROI that I can directly see or quantify, but I can go to bed with a clearer conscience and you can’t put a price tag on that.”
Moving forward, he has plans to find opportunities to make his supply chain more sustainable by looking for opportunities to partner with charitable organizations. Gelles envisions being able to offer customers skateboard purchases where a portion of the proceeds could go to kids around the world who don’t have access to skateboards.
Ramping up the business
All of the Substance Skatepark locations are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The business offers both day passes as well as key member access, where customers who purchase a subscription can have unlimited access to any of the locations for $120 a month. “To bill customers, we use recurring invoices and the Square system has really helped with that. Without an easy email recurring turn-on, turn-off system, I wouldn’t be able to operate a business the way I have,” said Gelles. He sees the subscription model and building a community of subscribers as key to the skatepark’s growth path and the opening of future locations. For now, Gelles takes the same approach to sustainability and building community as he does the business. He credits this outlook as a way to differentiate his business from large competitors with larger budgets. “If you build it, they will come. Getting into this was risky, getting into it during COVID and not heading for the hills and throwing in the towel was just horrifying, but if you build the space and you do it right, give the customers that extra 110% … they will support you forever,” said Gelles.
Next up, he says he wants to sign a 30-year mortgage. He says it just makes sense for the price per square foot and the revenue per square foot for Substance Skatepark. In this way, he says sustaining in the environmental sense and sustaining a business feel like they have a common thread — investing in the long-term.
Editor’s note: Since Andrew Gelles’ interview with Square Substance Skatepark is looking for a new permanent Brooklyn location.