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In the 1990s, “Skateboarding is not a crime” was a popular sticker slogan demonstrating opposition to local ordinances that banned skateboarding in public places. In the proceeding decades, skateboarding and other action sports like surfing and snowboarding evolved from counterculture to mainstream, as evidenced by the growing popularity of the annual X Games.
Capitalizing on the popularity of skater culture, two limited-service concepts have partnered with action sports–focused groups to turn young enthusiasts into community-minded citizens and loyal customers.
In the Santa Cruz, California, area, brothers Kevin and Brian Dueck, multiunit Yogurtland franchisees, have teamed up with Grind Out Hunger, a nonprofit organization that motivates kids interested in action sports to raise money for local food banks.
“When we looked at the opportunities for donations and giving, we looked at organizations that directly impacted youth, because that’s who our demographic is,” Brian Dueck says. “We looked for an organization that had the same values, demographic, and energy we did.”
The Duecks liked that Grind Out Hunger’s goal is peer-to-peer action. “It’s kids feeding kids and kids creating a positive influence on other kids,” Dueck says. “Grind Out Hunger empowers the youth of our local area.”
Grind Out Hunger sells specially designed Yogurtland skateboard decks (boards sans wheels) at its skate shop, and the proceeds help feed the hungry. In addition, the Duecks’ four Yogurtland locations hold in-store fundraisers to benefit the organization, and, as part of Grind Out Hunger, the brothers have spoken at school assemblies to help motivate kids.
Similarly, hot dog concept Wienerschnitzel teamed up with skateboarders to help the less fortunate. Wienerschnitzel’s action sports partner is Skate for Change, a nonprofit organization that encourages skateboarding youth to give back to the homeless in their communities.
In April, J.R. Galardi, chief visionary officer for Wienerschnitzel and the son of the chain’s late founder, drove around in a Wienerschnitzel-branded RV with Skate for Change founder Mike Smith to speak with high school groups. The month-long road trip, dubbed the “Hot Dogs for the Homeless” tour, made stops in Texas, Arizona, California, and Nevada. During the day, the Wienerschnitzel RV and its crew visited high schools to grill hot dogs, give away merchandise, promote Skate for Change, and ask kids for donations. In the evening, the “Wienerbago” teamed up with high school kids inspired by the tour’s message of giving back to serve hot dogs and distribute warm clothes, hygiene kits, and other necessities to area homeless.
Galardi says he realizes the Hot Dogs for the Homeless tour is a bit unconventional.
“People get caught up in traditionalism,” Galardi says. “Just because something has been done for 50 years doesn’t make it the best thing to do. Everyone should give back if they have the means. We’re just taking a different angle. We’re taking something these kids are already passionate about and using it to give back.”
Smith says having someone like Galardi give up a month to help people is an opportunity that doesn’t come along very often.
“It’s hard to get corporate America to do anything beyond writing a check,” he says. “Having him be willing to drive the bus and cook hot dogs shows kids we’re not just going to talk about it; we’re going to do it.”
Kevin Dueck says groups like Grind Out Hunger resonate with young people.
“When you show kids that they can take something they love and turn it into a way to help people,” he says, “they stay committed longer.”
But he adds that while Grind Out Hunger is a great fit with Yogurtland customers, partnering with action sports–oriented groups may not work for all limited-service concepts in all places. People who didn’t grow up with action sports can’t always relate. But that’s changing.
“Action sports are becoming more accepted as actual sports and not just something skater punks do,” he says. “It’s not just a baseball, football, basketball mentality anymore. And Grind Out Hunger shows just how much good action sports can do.”
Gail Bower, marketing and sponsorship strategist and president of Bower & Co. Consulting LLC, says businesses need a strategy to make the most of their efforts to give back, and a strategy of partnering with action sports groups could be effective for some brands.
“There are tens of thousands of nonprofits in the country and a business does not have an unlimited supply of dollars, product, or human resources, so each business has to figure out what is going to work the best for them,” Bower says, adding that the Duecks’ partnership with Grind Out Hunger and Wienerschnitzel’s Skate for Change initiative both seem like good fits.
“Both are really clever, interesting pairings,” she says. “The organizations’ audience is younger teens to early 20s and [the restaurants] are pursuing teens, families, young adults, and kids,” Bower says.
By teaming up with action sports groups, Wienerschnitzel and the Duecks’ Yogurtland stores are building an audience, shaping a brand image, and becoming aligned with doing good in the community, she says.
“Kids aligned with something like Skate for Change are doing something they feel passionate about,” Bower says. “Rewarding these kids for giving back and contributing the way they are is a way to market to them in a direct way.”