Wheels in motion

Securing the UK distribution rights for Heelys has seen action sports distributor, Shiner, uplift its business in wheeled sports. Helen Jacobs went for a spin?
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In 2001 Shiner approached US firm Heelys with a sales pitch, which subsequently landed it the UK distribution rights to the footwear with “a wheel in the heel”.

The family business has distributed some 70 brands of action sports products since 1976, including skateboards, snowboards and roller skates, BMX, inline skates and associated clothing plus footwear and protective accessories.

So taking on Heelys has been a natural progression for the Bristol-based firm. Seven years on and it is confident the branded footwear is here to say.

“We contacted Heelys and asked to be their UK distributor. We said we’d do our best to sell between 2,000 and 3,000 pairs in the first year. We hit target,” recalls Shiner’s director, Charlie Allen.

“Sales then went from 3,000 to 10,000 and then 30,000 before jumping to 300,000 and then 650,000,” Allen says.

And with a target audience aged between five and 12 and positioning in sport stores, toy shops, and specialist skate stores, multiples such as John Lewis and shoe shops, it’s no wonder Heelys are on all those kids’ feet.

“Heelys is a sporting good as it’s made up to a high standard but it also fits into other areas as well. Its appeal is in its stealth action – people don’t know you’re wearing them until you lean back.”

“Most of our products have a wheel as form of propulsion, so getting roughly one million kids into Heelys has now got them looking at other wheeled products,” Allen adds.

“They’ve taken Shiner from strength to strength. Our inline and quad skate business has increased by 400 per cent and our skateboard business has gone up 100 per cent, so business is booming.”

Never-the-less Shiner still believes in supporting the brand with extensive advertising and marketing campaigns, hence slots on Nickelodeon during school holiday periods scheduled throughout the year, Heelys Magazine and online activity.

There’s a new venture in the pipeline aswell, with Roller Disco, which could see Heelys branded discos being held across the country, giving kids “a place” to take their wheeled trainers other than the supermarket. The option to hire a pair at a reasonable cost might also be on the cards.

“Heelys are set to stay. Every year there are about 750,000 kids getting into Heelys plus kids buying their second and third pairs. You could call it a phenomenon that has taken hold of the country.”

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