From the mag, issue #66: 20 Years of Big Air Lab.
Davide Rossano, 360 flip // Photo Davide Biondani.
Starting a new project is easy, ’cause you’re full of energy, ideas, and motivation. Everything takes off perfectly. But continuing over time requires passion, will-power, sacrifice and lots of hard work. And hanging in there for 20 years is a whole other story altogether, it’s another dimension. Having drive and passion aren’t sufficient at that point, you need exceptional skills, a continuous flow of new ideas, a consolidated work team, and especially an immense love for your work.
Big Air Lab turns 20 this year. It began in 2002 as a small skate shop in Osimo, on Central Italy’s East Coast. Over the years it has contributed first-hand in setting a solid foundation for the local skate scene, with the construction of Ignopark, a gigantic concrete skate park which was the first of a series of concrete parks built all over the region.
Luca Crestani, frontside noseslide // Photo Davide Biondani.
In 2012 Mario Paolillo, the founder, went all out: he moved the shop to a larger venue, created a super solid work team with Luca Crestani to take care of skateboarding and Luca Grattafiori to take care of marketing and communication. They immediately built a huge bowl with pool coping inside the shop. Four years later, in 2016, they built a perfect street plaza behind the shop with palm trees. Definitely a dream space always available to skateboarders. They are a unique and incredible example of a skate shop doing something real at its own expense for the skate community. To be honest I don’t know whether there are many other shops like that in the world. For this reason alone it deserves all our support and respect.
Mario and his squad are a volcano of ideas, and at times their own collaborators have to contain all this exuberance. Maybe the secret to Big Air’s success lies in never stopping, tackling new challenges, and constantly finding new ideas to anticipate the times.
The Big Air Lab family has recently expanded its skate team. We had the opportunity to hang out with them during the filming of their new video, shoot some photos, and have a chat with Mario, Luca Crestani, and Luca Grattafiori about what it means to keep a skate store alive for 20 years.
Happy birthday Big Air Lab!
Elmo fakie ollie // Photo Davide Biondani.
MARIO PAOLILLO – OWNER.
How does Big Air Lab being around for 20 years make you feel?Makes me feel good! But honestly, I never looked back and it makes me proud of the path we’ve walked in these 20 years.
What’s the secret to remain motivated for so long?Motivation and passion are essential to figure out how to start a business. You end up making lots of mistakes, but with determination and a pinch of madness you learn to achieve your goals. Of course you shouldn’t hurry things too much. Plus, if you have a team like ours and want to grow, results come spontaneously.
What are your two greatest satisfactions in all these years?The first was probably to convince a small municipality like the city of Osimo to create the current Ignopark. I remember it like it was yesterday. It was one of the most beautiful inaugurations of my life! The second one is having opened the current BIG AIR LAB in Camerano in 2012. Thanks to a larger surface area than at the old store, we were able to realize most of our dreams, such as the Bowl and the Plaza. This generated profitable growth and allowed us to allocate more resources to events dedicated to skateboarding.
Elmo, nosebonk // Photo Davide Biondani.
The world has completely changed over these 20 years, and actually over the last two years too. How do you tackle new challenges both as a shop and as a work team in order to remain in business?Yes, things have definitely changed radically, and so have customers. There is a growing need for attention and new proposals. The team and I interact daily on how to deal with new challenges, and despite the advancing years we’re still on the ball.
You’ve set up an incredible shop with an insane skate plaza and a huge indoor bowl inside the shop… and so much more. What’s next for Big Air Lab?We’ve had some projects lying around for a few years. Unfortunately Covid slowed us down a bit but it doesn’t worry me because I know that sooner or later we’ll be able to complete them as we have always done on our journey.
Federico Zagaglia, half cab heel flip // Photo Davide Biondani.
LUCA GRATTAFIORI – MERKETING DPT.
How long have you been working for Big Air and what do you do?I joined the Big Air fam in 2014 and I mainly take care of the company’s marketing and digital activities.
How has day-to-day life at the shop changed in these past few years, both work and marketing-wise?
With the growth of the business, the work team has also grown which has led to more defined roles and a more streamlined, profitable work management. On the marketing side, digital has had a huge acceleration in recent years and this has positively influenced our marketing processes in support of our physical store and e-commerce.
For about a decade, some brands supported and used the coolest core shops as a showcase. How has or how is this trend changing?
It’s still a growing trend for companies. Creating local content and putting a product inside a shop that has a strong image is simply more real than putting the product itself on a web page. Grassroots!
What’s the recipe to become a cool shop and stay in business for 20 years? There are quite a few examples of top shops that are suffering in today’s market…
I don’t think there is a universal recipe. But passion for our work and an eye for what’s going on and where the market is headed are certainly two important ingredients to stay in business for all these years.
Nicole Palmieri, frontside noseslide // Photo Davide Biondani.
Is there still a place for core shops in today’s market? How can a skate shop survive nowadays?
Yes, definitely. Core skate shops are the truest link between companies and skaters. Companies themselves have in my opinion the duty and the interest to keep core shops alive.
You recently expanded your team with very solid additions. Is having a solid skate team still important in skateboard marketing?
I believe that our team riders are an extension of the image of the store itself and at the same time they are the most core part of who we are and what we do. Supporting our scene is the lifeblood of our past, present and future business.
2021 was a year when sales of skateboard hard-goods literally exploded. How are sales doing right now and what do you think trends will be like in the following months and years?
Compared to last year, it’s impossible to deny that there has been a small turnaround regarding sales of hard-goods. But it’s quite physiological post covid and after the 2021 boom. But the good thing is that the scene keeps on growing with new kids.
You did various collaborations over the years among which a very important one with Nike SB. What’s boiling in the pot for Big Air Lab for the foreseeable future? What are you working on?
The 10th edition of the Street Jungle Contest just ended and at the moment we are focused on a couple of projects for the winter season. At the same time, we are also working on multiple events and product-centered projects for next year.
Luca Crestani, frontside boardslide pop over // Photo Davide Biondani.
LUCA CRESTANI – SKATEBOARD DPT.
How long have you been working at Big Air Lab and what’s your role?
I began construction of the pool inside the new shop in Camerano in 2012 and from then on I’ve tried to contribute to the project by expanding the skate school I had already created in 2007. I also manage part of the team and core events.
What does working in a skate shop like Big Air mean to you, having contributed to making it become what it is today?
I feel more like a collaborator of Big Air Lab, because I don’t actually work in the shop. I’m the main guy in charge of the skateboarding section and I think I’ve partly contributed in giving the shop an even more credible image in the eyes of the skate community. I’ve always made myself available professionally to the Big Air project because I’ve believed in it from day one and I’m proud to be part of it.
Luca Crestani, frontside bluntslide // Photo Davide Biondani.
Skateboarding used to be only for diehard dreamers, but has since become something you can teach in courses. Since you’ve lived through all of these phases, how do you see the current state of skateboarding?
Lately skateboarding has achieved levels of notoriety that nobody expected. It has grown a lot, and certainly both the skate school and the shop have benefited from it. Having been recognized as a sport has inevitably changed the rules of the game. After the Olympics especially, interest has grown on the part of many companies (that have nothing to do with skateboarding) and all of a sudden skaters have become role models to follow or imitate. Before we were just considered outcasts and scorned upon simply because people thought we were too “old” to still be playing with that stupid wooden board.
What’s the recipe for a skate shop to make it in today’s market?
For me a skate shop should first of all be a meeting place where you can hang out with friends, meet other skaters and have good times together. That’s exactly what we focused on at Big Air Lab when we built the pool and the plaza. We created a hangout place for all skateboard enthusiasts and people just getting into skateboarding. There’s surely no recipe that will work for everyone. You have to constantly adapt to your local reality and scene. The scene here has always been rather small as we don’t live in a big city. But what has always worked for us is our ability to renew ourselves by constantly offering our customers something new and unique to make them want to come back over the years.
Words, interviews & photos Davide Biondani.
Check Big Air Lab’s SPECIALWEBSITE celebrating the 20 years of the store.
Video by Mattia Tommasoli.