By MICHAEL LEDER
For more than 15 years, Ambush Boarding Company has rested in the bosom of Kennesaw, Ga. What started as a family dream in California has evolved into a Kennesaw cultural staple and an Atlanta legend among skateboarders and wake boarders.
Once it was just another small American business that struggled to get on its feet; the business shared a wall with a Mexican restaurant. At its peak it had three locations, including one that was inside a skate park. Today, Ambush is the most well-known
extreme sports shop in the greater Atlanta area and Georgia. Tomorrow, it could
be the next big thing again.
Back in the fall of 1993, Lee Elliot was just a simple weekend laborer at the Berkley University track stadium in California. He walked the local tiny shops in the area with his father; there were individual shops for music, skateboarding, wakeboarding, snowboarding, footwear and apparel.
They came up with an idea, deciding to start up a shop that sold everything under one roof. Thus the seeds for the mightiest skate shop in all of Georgia were sown.
A Name Formed From Phone Book Logic
The logic behind the name “Ambush” was simple; back in the early and mid-90s the phone book was huge and whoever was listed first was called first, so the Elliot family sat down and came up with as many names for a skate shop as they could that started with the letter A. Lee Elliot’s father, Chuck, sooner or later spouted out Ambush and forever on, the name rose above.
Opening on Friday the 13th in June of 1997, Ambush has been anything but unlucky.
“I know that Friday the 13th is a pretty unlucky day, but it is a day that you can advertise on and everyone will remember it,” Elliot said.
They started with mostly family to staff the store, including Elliot’s brother and father. Eventually they grew large enough to require outside help and thus hired three additional staff members at Ambush’s first location. The first location lasted one year until it was outgrown.
Once up and running, Ambush has never looked back. The store was extremely successful during the late 90s and early 2000s. Flexing their brawn, they decided to step up and opened up two new stores while moving their main store into a bigger place than the original 1,200 square foot location. One store was 65 miles away in Gwinnett County and the other in a Cobb County skate park called Rampage. With all three stores running to capacity, the owners decided to start their first and only pro team to date.
“In 2001 we started our professional wakeboard team,” Elliot said.
They also got deep into internet stores that now total three different websites. They survived and thrived at this location for five years. During those five years, they also
made another important addition to the Ambush Boarding Company: the addition of
a warehouse store. The warehouse store is where all of the online orders are taken into account and fulfilled. It is located only a few short miles from the main store in Kennesaw, but is home to about 10 times as many employees.
“Our most profitable website is Buywake.com,” Elliot said.
Currently, Ambush Boarding Company has only one location, and it sits in its own building in Kennesaw, more than 10 times the size of the original store. It has been open
at this location for 10 years and has 13 employees who help run the store.
A Great Working Environment
One of those employees, Rhett Whatly, has been working for Ambush for more than three years. Aside from being a part of the Ambush Wakeboarding team, Whatly works in the
warehouse and is in charge of social media relations while he isn’t helping to fill online orders.
“It’s a great team to work for, I mean, the working environment is the best that I’ve ever been in and I love working for a grassroots, homemade kind of company, too, man,” Whatly said.
It’s people like Whatly who make Ambush go round on both levels. Whatly is 25 years old and is a wake boarder and skateboarder. He is a Kennesaw State University communication major with a concentration in public relations.
“I have worked in the shop as well as the warehouse, so I know Ambush pretty intimately and they are going to last it out for another 15 years easy,” Whatly said. Many of the other employees at both the store and the warehouse are younger men that are involved in one extreme sport or another.
Just as important are the many different kinds of customers who make up the fabric of Ambush’s customer basis. The largest key demographic for Ambush for both the main store and online store is the 12-20 year-old bracket for skateboarding of middle-to-low income backgrounds. The other key demographic for both stores is the 18-30 year-old bracket for wakeboarding in middle-to-high income backgrounds.
Elliot said that skateboarding has always been the store’s main lifeline and customers like Brian Bagwell have been helping pump that lifeline for years.
“I’m 28 and I’ve been living in Cobb County for most of my life, and for most of my life I have been a skateboarder and customer of Ambush,” Bagwell said.
He is just another lifelong customer that Ambush has come to adore and prosper for over the years. Customer retention is extremely high and also extremely profitable at Ambush and is a testament to the grassroots-type company it is said to be.
Another key to Ambush’s reputation is the donations and event support it gives to two charities: The Josh Butler Medical Fund and the Prodder Willie Foundation. The Josh Butler Medical Fund was started for an Ambush team rider who was shot; the fund helps pay all of his medical expenses. The Prodder Willie Foundation of California is a foundation that helps support those who have a hunger syndrome.
Promising but Challenging Future
The future for Ambush is a promising one filled with the care of the community and the help of young people. Elliot who is also a graduate of Kennesaw State University says that the biggest challenge facing the company is “staying current with the culture of the business.”
He also dreams of having a bigger web presence as well as a smartphone application to help facilitate the needs of customers. He also dreams of turning the store into more of a showroom with an entertainment approach. The environment would be one that people would want to go to and then go home and buy from.
People can buy things from their toilet now – it’s crazy,” Elliot said. Other things to look forward to are the numerous events the store holds, from autograph sessions to team demos.
Elliot started off in a small time place and has ended up in a big time world. Ambush Boarding Company has a strong foothold in the Atlanta area and will continue to be a force to reckon with for years to come.