Winner of the Good Retail Awards’ Bricks ‘n’ Clicks Award, Roller Girl Gang, has designed a unique and outstanding approach to combining instore retail with their online store and building a community. Modern Retail had the pleasure of speaking with Melissa Blackwood, Founder of Roller Girl Gang about her inspirational approach to retail.
Meet Roller Girl Gang
Roller Girl Gang has used both online and offline channels to meet their customers’ needs, creating a diverse community that is able to learn and engage on a range of platforms, as well as in person. Alongside creating an innovative instore experience, they have used their online channels as a hub for those that have an interest in roller skating, regardless of their level of experience.
Knowing your customers
Roller Girl Gang began when Melissa spotted a gap in the market for something she was passionate about. Having this understanding of the market has enabled Roller Girl Gang to offer something that meets their customers needs perfectly.
“It’s so important to know your customers. I think you can’t fully have a niche and understand your customers’ needs and how to solve their problems, unless you’re walking their exact path. It started around solving my needs and the needs of my friends. Roller skating is an activity that isn’t particularly accessible in terms of where you go to try this, especially pre-pandemic. It wasn’t always easy to meet a group that were roller skating as adults and now as definitely have a growing adult-only community of people!”
Offering more than just products
Roller Girl Gang is much more than a physical shop and online presence; the business has worked to connect and support those with a passion for roller skating, from all backgrounds. This has been done through events, roller skating sessions and much more. As an example, the 2023 Valentine’s Ball was the first time that Roller Girl Gang has sold joint tickets instead of just individual ones, which proved to be incredibly popular.
“As a coach, I’ve seen a lot of personal development in people and with my background in teaching, we’re always looking to improve what we’re doing. I’ve noticed that my approach has changed as we’ve seen this surge in interest in roller skating. It’s almost like mindset coaching at the beginning, so people try to leave their frustration at the door when they take their normal shoes off and put wheels on. The biggest step is often booking in and turning up.
“The youngest person I’ve worked with was under 2 years old – they came to a family session and we have these tiny adjustable skates. I also once did a private family session for a lady’s 80th birthday. We’ve had a couple in their 70s who wanted to come and start learning, but regularly have women in their 50s who come along. The majority of our attendees depend on the type of event or session, but people who want to learn are often in their 30s or 40s, while those who just want to pop skated on and give it a go are sometimes slightly younger. We support people to try at whatever stage they are on their journey.“
Creating a website that is more than just an ecommerce site
Roller Girl Gang’s website has a ‘Learn Online’ section, teaching people how to skate on the website if they are unable to attend sessions in person. This is an example of how they have tried to support the community of those with an interest in roller skating, regardless of location. Melissa explained how this began.
“We were trying to meet the needs of folks who couldn’t attend sessions during the pandemic, because we believe in teaching people really solid foundation techniques that they can apply, whether they’re outdoors, indoors, at a roller disco, at the skate park or whatever it is they want to do. The problem is developing a good technique requires a lot of time, effort and practice and learning as an adult is something that is frustrating. Re-learning self-compassion is one of the biggest things that we have to re-learn for this activity.
“This section of the website was for all the troubleshooting tips, so if people are learning by themselves and can’t access us in person, then they can still learn from a qualified coach.”
Overcoming retail challenges
Melissa explained some of the greatest challenges that have come with growing her retail business and brand.
“Everything has evolved over time. One of the biggest challenges is the cash flow, because buying stock for the shop is expensive and I am not willing to compromise on what I believe we should sell. We are only interested in selling high-quality goods that are as sustainable as possible and part of that sustainability is making sure they are going to offer people longevity, so whatever price point people can afford to purchase their equipment, they can be assured they will last as long as possible.
“People can hire our equipment if they’re not ready to invest yet. Everything has to be right for the individual. We’re also happy to send people to second-hand marketplaces to find something that will work for them within their budget. It’s so important to have a properly built skate.
“We are trying to support the community as best we can as we’re only one small shop, so we know we can’t support every roller skater in the UK, but we can offer advice and support for everybody that we have the pleasure of coming into contact with.”
When asked for her highlights since launching Roller Girl Gang, Melissa shared a few that stand out.
“I was on Susan Calman’s Grand Day Out on Channel 4. The editing was really hilarious and at the end of the session with her, she said to me she felt really safe with me and that’s almost like the biggest compliment that somebody could give me and our team. We know roller skating is a somewhat risky activity, but creating a physically and psychologically safe space is something we’ve been striving to do in all our spaces – our shop and our classes.
“We have these amazing moments in our shop where someone comes in and shares their story and it makes all the challenges worthwhile.cIt’s a very nurturing little space. We can’t buy in bulk or compete with online giants, but we can give people a really memorable, personal experience and put them at the centre.”
Winning at The Good Retail Awards
“Winning the award was a significant highlight since launching Roller Girl Gang – it was really good to hear some of the judges’ comments. My team around me are individual thinkers and we all resonate and have the same values which is really important, but we also offer a critical opinion so we can continue to improve. Being able to hear comments from the judges of the Good Retail Awards has been so helpful to understand how another person views Roller Girl Gang. It makes all the hard work so worthwhile”
Catherine Erdly, Founder and Retail Strategy Consultant of the Resilient Retail Club, commented on Roller Girl Gang’s approach: “I love this business – what a fun, community-inspired space! In terms of their website and in-person presence, they have managed to carry over the same feel of their online space to the inclusive, up-beat feel of their store.”
Holly brings a wealth of experience in both print and digital publishing. As Modern Retail’s Content Editor, Holly is passionate about helping independent retailers to thrive in today’s ever-changing market.