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One Way Boardshop sits empty in Orcutt’s Oak Knolls Shopping Center, the blank windows and bare walls a stark testimony to the loss of a longtime fixture in the community. 

Area kids grew up with One Way, which officially closed its doors Dec. 30, not only buying their boards and trucks, skate shoes and board shorts there but picking up a heightened sense of right and wrong from the spiritual vibe of the place and the people who worked there.

Almost every weekend there was some kind of event happening. Renowned skaters paid visits to perform and inspire the younger generation. Benefits were held, and local rising stars found support through sponsorships.

“It was a little bit of a bummer, but it was bound to happen,” Dan Pankratz said of the closing. “My brother and I started another company we were focusing on in 2015, so we were looking at closing it anyway. Things just weren’t working out.”

The new company, called Exchange Collective, lives in cyberspace, and the twin brothers who brought One Way to prominence say it could help the small local mom-and-pop, independent brick-and-mortar shops compete in a retail world increasingly dominated by big-box stores and online distributors.

One Way Boardshop began when brothers Dan and Dave Pankratz bought an existing Orcutt skate shop, changed the name and built it into a four-store chain at its peak.

Dan Pankratz said a combination of factors led to the shop’s closure — the difficulty of competing with big chain stores, the rising popularity of online shopping, the rapid expansion of the business just as the Great Recession hit, the increase in overhead, and the drain on revenue from weekly special events.

“We had an event every single week,” he said. “That was money coming out of our pockets. Sure, we got a little more business on those days. But we lost money on every single event.”

The Pankratz brothers aren’t new to having a business close its doors, but that doesn’t make it any easier to handle.

First attempt

Originally from Modesto, the brothers moved to Santa Maria with their family in 1995 and attended their senior year at Righetti High School, graduating in 1996.

Shortly after graduation, at age 19, the brothers and a couple of buddies opened their first skate shop in Santa Rosa.

“It lasted seven months,” Dan said.

In April 1998, Dave moved to San Diego, while Dan moved back to the Santa Maria area and started working at a store called Skaters Paradise in Orcutt.

After two years, Dan bought the store and changed the name to One Way Boardshop. He was 22.

He was joined by Dave as a partner, and soon they moved from the 2,000-square-foot store in Orcutt to a 6,000-square-foot shop in the Crossroads Center in Santa Maria.

“We reinvested every penny we made at that time,” Dan said. “We were doing really well at a young age. We decided we wanted to do something significantly bigger, something that would have an impact on the community.”

One of those things was working with youth.

A group called the Christian Skaters had formed in 1999, and Dan had become involved with that group virtually from the beginning.

“That’s what sparked me to stay here, what we were doing with the youth,” he said. “I had a strong passion to share my experiences and hope with them. You do the right things, no matter what happens in life. Things can be bad, but you have to have hope.”

With the shop now gone, so are the kids who would hang out there and learn such lessons from the brothers.

“That’s one of the saddest things about One Way closing,” Dan said. “I think people are more upset about that than the shop being gone.”

Expansion and crash

In 2005, the brothers did something significantly bigger when they opened a 6,000-square-foot shop in Ventura, and within two years they signed a lease for a 6,000-square-foot shop in San Luis Obispo.

They also opened another shop in the Santa Maria Town Center and soon built an indoor skate park where the Christian Skaters met weekly for Bible study.

“We saw Circuit City go out of business,” Dan said. “That was an omen right there. … When the economy crashed, with the inflation of landlords’ rent and the deflation of people not spending money … Ventura was the first sign. Ventura was the first to go.”

Closing the Ventura store, the brothers moved all the inventory to the Santa Maria store.

But their store in the Crossroads Center had been on a month-to-month lease, and the landlord found another tenant who wanted the space on a longterm lease.

“We knew that could happen,” Dan said.

All the inventory from the Crossroads shop was moved to the mall store. Then the San Luis Obispo shop was closed, and all that inventory was moved to the mall, too.

“That was around 2009,” Dan said. “But the mall wasn’t really working out.”

It wasn’t long before One Way was back in the Oak Knolls Shopping Center.

But seeing the slow demise in retail — with many small independent shops, not just theirs — the brothers came up with an idea.

“The independent guy is the pioneer,” Pankrartz said, explaining that the small shop owner comes in, builds a market, offers customers good service and help after the sale through a personal relationship that develops over time. “The guy with the deep pockets sits back and watches.”

The “guy with the deep pockets” is the big-box store, the national chain retailer who can undercut the independent shop owner’s prices through sheer volume buying or even sell products at a loss to bring people into the store.

“When he moves in, he has the ability to outlast the independent because of his deep pockets,” Dan said. “What do they have the independents don’t have? That’s the ability to stock big inventory.

“We said, ‘How do we fix this? They’re our customers but all of a sudden they’re going online because we don’t have the color they want.’”

Answering that question led the brothers in 2015 to develop the Exchange Collective, a software platform that’s loaded with customers’ inventory.

A new model

Through Exchange Collective, people can go into a store, see and handle the products, try them on or out, choose one and pay for it in the store, then have it delivered directly to their homes.

“A retailer can only stock, say, 20 brands of shoes,” Dan explained. “But with this, he can stock samples of 200 shoes. A customer goes in and finds the shoe he wants but it’s in black. He wants blue. He swipes his card, gives his address and the shoe arrives at his door.”

A former employee of the San Luis Obispo One Way store who is a software designer came on board and helped the brothers put the platform together.

“My brother and I started making that our main focus,” Dan said. “Not that we neglected One Way Boardshop. … Some friends wanted to see One Way Boardshop survive as it had been, so they took it over.

“But the business wasn’t there to support it,” he continued. “So I came in in the month of December to help liquidate. One Way is still there online — if you go on onewayboardshop.com, it has $40 million of inventory on it.”

At first, it was tough getting small retailers to buy into Exchange Collective, Dan said, and last summer his brother moved to Carlsbad because his wife got a job there. But things are looking up.

“We now basically have over 150 retailers signed up for the platform,” Dan said. “This year, we had a big chain get involved. We have all the major surf brands on our platform. … The running community has now reached out to us. We never had them before.

“It’s been pretty exciting this year,” he said. “December was excellent. Exchange Collective did double what we projected. We feel we’re on the right track.”

Dan said it’s possible a brick-and-mortar One Way Boardshop may come back, however.

“We believe in the future of retail,” he said, noting that when people buy online, it hurts the local economy. “If the money doesn’t stay local, the community suffers. Exchange Collective can be the conduit that helps the community.

“If we don’t make digital tools for the mom-and-pops, only the big-boxes are going to win,” he added. “Either we have independent retailers and a cool shopping experience, or big retailers who deliver by drones and you never leave your house.”

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Mike