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Wave boards: Downmarket focus yields fresh design concepts

Inexpensive designs for the recreational market present the best possible growth opportunity for industry.

Suppliers of skates and skateboards in China are espousing several strategies by observing market demand and realigning R&D initiatives in response. The majority is targeting niches and the opportunity to set trends by focusing on alternative and inexpensive designs.

Wave board
  Caster boards from Yongkang Haili have a load capacity of 100kg and come in various colors.
Although they can ship globally, makers in 2009 were unable to secure footholds in specific higher-margin segments as most models were aimed at the low end. Despite this tepid reception, exports to the latter sector dropped only 5 to 10 percent last year. This is because most enterprises continually boost deliveries to potential outlets such as the Middle East, South America, Russia and Africa where inexpensive models are well-received. Some companies are even taking fewer orders from buyers in the US, Japan and Italy, as they demand premium parts. According to makers, putting emphasis on high-grade components raises outlay.

In 2010, the industry is expecting a 10 to 30 percent turnabout in exports as economies continue to rebound from the financial crisis. The impending increase in material rates, however, may push up prices by 5 to 10 percent.

Recreational segment remains strong
Products & prices
Recreational segment remains strong

In keeping with the industry's continued focus on the low end and midrange, designs for recreational use dominate releases in the inline skates category.

For instance, many new models have boots in pink, red, blue and other popular shades to attract younger users. The heels, uppers, and the exterior shell utilize ABS, EVA, PE, PP or PU, hard materials that help support the ankles.

The vamps or the interior lining are commonly woven into a mesh to allow ventilation. Plain soft textile such as polyester and nylon are used, but some versions combine different fabrics. PU leather strips are sometimes added to the nylon mesh in creating patterns. High-density sponge is fitted into the insoles to help cushion impact. EVA can be employed to absorb shock better.

The outer shells have two parts, the front and back, which are attached to the chassis. Both sections can be unscrewed and reset to the desired length.

A pair of skates for novices often has three or four size configurations. Some models can be readjusted from 31 to 34 or 39 to 42. Professional inline skates, meanwhile, come in fixed sizes to enhance the fit. Steel is generally adopted for the chassis, although high-end versions employ chrome or carbon steel, or aluminum alloy.

In the board category, meanwhile, caster boards are becoming more common. The products are similar to skateboards, but instead of four fixed wheels, they have two casters and dual decks connected by a beam.

A key factor for the line's popularity is its versatility in construction. Surfaces have eye-catching graphics applied using heat transfer, silk-screening or other simple printing techniques. The deck of each wheel can be fashioned into contrasting shapes. Caster boards are also less costly to produce and use ABS or other readily available materials.

On the other hand, traditional four-wheel skateboards rarely come in novelty shapes and use expensive wooden decks that require a complex lamination process. Further, these target the upper segments of the domestic market since most overseas buyers of such styles prefer popular brands.

Products & prices

China-made caster- and skateboards, and inline skates are commonly bundled with accessories such as storage bags, tool kits and demo CDs.

For caster boards, a basic model is priced at $6 to $8. Its two platforms come in plastic, usually ABS. A metal beam that contains a steel spring connects the decks. Each steel truck has a PVC or PU wheel.

Upscale variants are quoted at $9 to $14. Their trucks are more durable and use higher-grade metal such as carbon steel. PU wheels have a hardness of about 70 to 80A.

Basic skateboards are similarly priced as the more expensive caster boards and use the same materials for the truck, wheels and bearings. Layers of domestically procured maple or birch make up the deck.

Models available for $14 or more boast of imported maple or birch platforms. Their aluminum alloy trucks measure 126 to 146mm long, while the 95A PU wheels are 52 to 56mm in diameter. Stainless or carbon steel bearings conform to ABEC 7 standards.

Some suppliers also export electric types in wired and wireless configurations. Such units employ low-power motors with up to three variable speeds.

Both low-end and midrange inline skates come with a track of four wheels per boot. Each wheel has a diameter of 84 to 110mm. Those for speed racing, meanwhile, have a track with five 64 to 76mm-diameter versions.

Priced at $15 to $25, low-end skates employ fabric boots. Some have rigid sides but most are semisoft, with shells made of PP or ABS. Mostly adjustable, the chassis are built from PP or steel. PVC wheels use ABEC 5 steel bearings.

Going for $26 to $50, the boots of midrange models use fabric or synthetic leather, or a combination. They are usually semisoft with ABS, EVA or TPE shells. The chassis, which can be reset to the preferred length, adopt steel, aluminum or magnesium alloy. The wheels are fabricated from PU and fitted with ABEC 5 or 7 carbon steel bearings.

At $51 to $80, high-end skates have boots made of fabric or leather and high-density foam. High-grade carbon steel, or alloys make up the frame. The wheels are of superior PU and fitted with ABEC 7 carbon or chrome steel bearings.

This article "Wave boards: Downmarket focus yields fresh design concepts" is originally posted in Global Sources.

Note: All price quotes in this report are in US dollars unless otherwise specified. FOB prices were provided by the companies interviewed only as reference prices at the time of interview and may have changed.

Disclaimer: All product images are provided by the companies interviewed and are for reference purposes only. Those product images featuring products with trademarks, brand names or logos are not intended for sale. We, our affiliates, and our affiliates' respective directors, officers, employees, representatives, agents or contractors, do not accept and will not have any responsibility or liability for product images (or any part thereof) which infringe on any intellectual property or other rights of a third party.

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