Company Interview: Hendrick Boards Rolls Toward Animal Awareness

by Matt Athanasiou

When I see animals ride skateboards, I smile. When I see animals saved with skateboards, I request an interview.

In 2011, David Hendrickson founded Hendrick Boards, a skateboard and apparel company devoted to raising awareness about animal causes. He began the company after rescuing William, a Chihuahua-mix who had been poisoned and was only expected to live a few months. Almost six now, William needs regular procedures but he’s still wagging his tail and inspiring David to sell eco-friendly products, to donate to shelters, and to get more people involved.

And more people have. The television show Glee featured Hendrick Boards in an episode this year, and the company has already gained worldwide recognition, selling products overseas. This humbles David, and he says, “Amazing to think people in Japan are wearing a Hendrick Board shirt with my dog on it just to help.”

Chicago Dog Walkers is privileged to bring you an interview with David.

Congratulations on your one-year anniversary. Pairing skateboards with animals to raise pet awareness is a unique but seemingly odd concept that you have made work. Why do you think this coupling has been successful?

I really think it’s the story we have. My dog is my best friend in the world and being able share his story and show people these animals that are tossed aside a lot, we’re able to save animals, give animals like William a voice. They should be heard. We should save them.

Aside from skateboarding, William’s story initially drew me to your company. He’s ingrained in your website.

He’s the reason I’m here. I’m not here because I did anything. I’m here because seeing his strength. Going through this crazy process with William, this journey, surgery after surgery, touch and go for three years straight. If this little dog, this little six-pound poisoned dog has the strength to make it, then we have the strength to do something about it.

David and William

Why sell skateboard and clothing products instead of pet care products to help animals?

The real reason behind choosing skateboarding, longboarding was: let’s not only give animals a voice, let’s give a whole new crowd of these younger skateboarding kids, that, just like the animals, a lot of people write them off. But they do care, and they’re young and ambitious. And through our boards we’re able to show them that through their sport they can also have a cause. That’s where I really see the power behind Hendrick Boards too, is opening up this whole new group to saving animals and connecting them with their local nonprofit.

Has anyone told you they started skateboarding because of your brand and cause?

I have had older people say they’ve gotten back into it because of Hendrick Boards. One of the guys longboards with his puppy. I love seeing that. It’s so cool seeing people getting back into it simply because we help animals.

I’m sure I can guess this one, but has anyone told you they adopted a pet because of your brand and cause?

[laughs] Definitely. It’s not about just coming and buying a skateboard or t-shirt. That’s not our goal. Our goal is to connect people with their local nonprofit. Not only connecting people. Educating them and getting them to adopt. That’s our ultimate goal. To take these animals out of the shelters.

In an interview with the Examiner, you mention that customers were willing to contribute to your cause despite a difficult economy in 2011. Has this remained the same or has 2012’s economy posed new challenges?

Being a new company we’re always going to have challenges. The thing that is unique about us is it does make people want to buy our product. It’s not only that we give back but we give back in pretty big ways. It’s pretty rare that you can find anywhere that donates ten dollars from every t-shirt [to shelters]. These are things that people are normally going to buy anyways.

Do customers choose which shelter their contributions go to or are there specific ones working with you?

What we do is we create partnerships with nonprofits across the US. Based on shipping addresses we would connect [customers] with their local nonprofit. We’re working with over 150 nonprofits across the US, but we’re always getting people suggesting their favorite, their local, the ones they know. Ninety percent of it is us connecting them with their nonprofit. We’re getting a new crowd, the young people. They know about animal causes, and about shelters but not about the fight that local rescues have to go through every day.

From what I understand you do not have a brick and mortar store. Why stick to online sales?

We’re in retail stores, a few retail skate shops. Breaking into retail is something we’re working into. It’s nothing we want to jump into as a new company. Needs to be a step in the right direction. None of our donations will ever go down. We’re always going to donate this much no matter what. If retail doesn’t fit that, we’re not going to do it.

That’s respectable. Also respectable is your goal to save 10,000 shelter animals by the end of 2012. How close are you to achieving this?

We’re probably close to halfway there. This month will be our biggest month ever in donations. We have some amazing partnerships coming up with some huge people. Not only big names but big organizations. We have one with Animals Asia who is actually fighting bear farming in Asia and all across Europe. We’ve created a special line just for them dedicated to their fight against bear farming. We’re introducing people in the states who didn’t even know. We’re introducing them to a new animal cause.

Besides your website and social media, how do you promote the brand?

We do events with local nonprofits. I volunteer every weekend with a local nonprofit and we blog about it. A lot of it’s organically. Like anyone else finding us they happen to stumble upon us.

The show Glee featured Hendrick Boards on their 2012 spring premiere. How did this come about?

One of their people on set heard about us and told the prop master about us and it just kind of worked its way up. FOX contacted me literally a week before the show was going to air and said they had another company in mind, but they really wanted to use us because we’re a young company, because our ideas and our morals as a company fit Glee. In a little less than four or five days I had to make twenty-three custom skateboards for Glee and eighty shirts and stickers. The whole nine yards, everything. Obviously the pay off was worth it. We’ve been such huge fans. We got to meet the cast. We had all the guys riding our skateboards around the set.

What was the first thing you did when you learned this news?

[laughs] Called my mom. She started crying. I’m a huge momma’s boy, so the first thing I did was call my mom. Then I called my brothers.

What’s the best way for people to contact you?

Facebook. I’m huge on our social media. We do all this ourselves. Say hi on our boards or message us. We respond to every single comment. People can sign up for a newsletter on our website. We try to do one every couple weeks. It doesn’t always happen because we’re doing a million other things, but you can sign up for our newsletter.

David with brothers and co-founders Darren and Donny.

Read more about the company, William’s story, their projects, and purchase products on their website. Also say hi to them on Facebook and Twitter.

Matt Athanasiou writes poetry, nonfiction, scripts, love letters, notes, random words, and fiction, mostly fiction. You can read more about his words on his blog There Was a Matt and follow him on Twitter @mattisnotscary.


Fine News Rolls In, as Fine Weather Rolls Out

Good afternoon. Warm days buckled to frigid weather this week, so keep moving when you’re outside with your pup!

Today is a short post to update the previous one, where we interviewed dog walkers Mike Russell and Matt Lemke of the band Suns. Their band raised enough money through Kickstarter to fund their first full-length album, When We Were Us. Congratulations to them, and a big thank you to anyone who donated. We will have details about purchasing the album when it’s near completion. Follow them on Facebook to stay current with news regarding the album and upcoming performances.

And watch the website over the coming months for updates to the Walkers About Town and Tales About Town sections. You might even learn something unexpected about your walker or fellow walkers. We also have plans for our other social media pages, so be sure to follow us on Twitter and Facebook.


Walker Interview: Band Suns Harness Communities Through Touring, Internet, Dog Walking

by Matt Athanasiou

Welcome to the Chicago Dog Walkers Reader. We plan on using this space to write about all manner of pet, animal lover, and Chicago Dog Walkers topics. Appropriately, we’re kickstarting the blog by interviewing two walkers, Mike Russell and Matt Lemke of the band Suns, about their experiences using websites like Kickstarter to bring their music to a wider audience. We also chat about dog walking and singing while you work.

Kickstarter fosters the idea of community-sponsored art; artists only receive funding for their projects if they find enough supporters to donate. This seems like an unorthodox approach to produce an album. Why did you guys decide to travel this route with your upcoming first album, When We Were Us? Was everyone on board from the start?

Mike Russell: Just to stay as independent as possible. We’ve been in situations with record labels and management and stuff before that didn’t really … that environment doesn’t foster as much creativity as you can if you’re on your own.

Matt Lemke: It was a pretty mutual decision between all of us. Basically we’re all really broke. That’s another big thing. We have friends that used it. A band that’s never really done anything, and they needed money to get going to get their first EP. And they raised money. We’d seriously be eating canned food for the next year if we had to pay for this. Which is still a potential. We might have to.

What’s been the biggest advantage to joining Kickstarter?

Mike: It’s kinda yet to be seen, but we are up to a thousand dollars so far and we’ve been doing it for ten days. That’s pretty good. We’re doing alright with it. We’ve only got twenty days [eleven days as of this posting] to get another four grand, but the biggest advantage is it’s working.

Any downside to this community-driven approach?

Mike: Not as of yet, but the only foreseeable problem is if we don’t meet the goal and all of those people who’ve donated will have to get their money back. They’ll be bummed out that they’re not going to get the record pre-ordered.

With social media and websites like Kickstarter, you can get a project funded and produced with all of your marketing done for free. You can even perform via the Internet to connect with fans outside of Chicago. Does this take pressure off touring and building relationships while traveling, or is touring something the band enjoys and believes in having a physical presence as well as an internet presence?

Matt: Absolutely. We all really like to be on the road. Forget all your bills and stuff. It’s good to build relationships. There’re some people that book our shows that we talk to through email—it’s good to finally get a face to the anonymous person. I think touring is definitely huge.

Mike: Our main priority is to tour. I think everything that we do is predicated to getting back on tour. That’s all we’ve ever wanted to do. Facebook is useful. A lot of these social media sites are useful in promoting, but really the way you get people to come to your shows is by playing shows in their town.

Builds up gas bills.

Mike: It usual evens out. We somehow manage every tour to get paid, at least some, from every show and we make ends meet. It’s always a good time.

How has working with Chicago Dog Walkers, namely Marc and Denise, supported your band?

Mike: Immensely. I don’t know where to begin. They’ve given us time off every tour. They’ve made it work. This was at a time—I’m subbing now—but a time when three of us had routes. So they’re filling three routes at a time for weeks and weeks. I’ve told Mark multiple times he’s the best boss I’ve ever had. The guy’s great. Denise is awesome.

Matt: After being on the road for a while and coming home and being broke, I’ll kinda go with my tail between my legs to Marc. He’s never like, “You shouldn’t have gone on vacation.” He’s like, “Yeah no problem.” He’s like the dad I never had.

How else has the job benefitted your careers as musicians? 

Mike: Free time. Walking around all day, I pretty much listen to whatever songs I’m working on to bring to the band. When we demo them and everyone’s working on their parts and stuff, everybody can have that time to walk around during the day and think about songs.

Matt: My route’s up in Wrigleyville. We live in Logan Square, so between my house and my route, there’s ten to fifteen venues, and I’m passing out flyers, and there’s a Reckless [Records] on my route that I can stop at and drop stuff off. Kind of kill two birds with one stone.

Would you recommend this to other starving artists looking for part-time work?

Mike: I’d recommend this job to anybody. It’s awesome. Even in the winter. If you love dogs, there really isn’t a better job. Unless you’re looking for a ton of money.

Matt: You can make a lot.

Mike: Potentially. But you gotta get a huge route.

Definitely. Do you sing to dogs while walking them? What’s a go-to tune for promenading with pooches?

Mike: [laughs] No. I don’t think I’ve ever sang.

Matt: I have. I’ve noticed as of recently that I have certain voices and things I’ll do with different dogs.

Mike: I have Nicknames. I call Ruby “Rubetube.” You know, I might have sang to them a little bit. I don’t know. I’ve never thought about it. We sing to my dog all the time. She loves it.

She have any favorite tunes?

Mike: It’s kinda complicated. She kinda has her own song. I don’t really feel like singing it.

Matt: She likes R&B. If you have a smooth voice.

Hypothetical one for you: A client wants to pay you to play a dog party. Are you barking choruses or politely backing out with your tails between your legs?

Mike: I’d play a dog party no problem.

Matt: Definitely. As long as I can dress up like a dog.

Mike: And if they had party hats. And they got to eat a giant dog cake.

Who’s the drill sergeant when it comes to making sure everyone’s on time while touring? Who’s last to the party?

Mike: We’re horrible. That’s the bad part about this band. We’re late to every show. We’re unorganized.

Matt: The only time it kind of happens is if someone wakes up crabby and they’re like, “Hurry up.” Other than that, we stay up late every night and usually wake up around noon.

Mike: It’s not the best way to travel but it’s relaxing.

Disregarding donation amounts, which pledge package are you most excited about on your Kickstarter page? Are there any packages you considered that didn’t make the cut, but if someone offers the right price you would still be into giving? 

Mike: We joked around about for a thousand dollars bringing the person on tour. That I’d still do. We travel on a school bus. We have enough room. If someone was going to give us a thousand dollars I’d be down with bringing them out for a couple weeks. The one I’m most excited about is the potluck dinner, because that’s going to be awesome and fun and delicious.

Matt: I like that too. I’m so willing to make food for strangers. Hopefully we don’t make them sick.

Anything you want to add about Kickstarter?

Mike: All we want to add is please consider donating. It’s a really good cause. We’re trying to do this an honest way. Any amount of money helps. Even a dollar. Whatever anybody can do would be really great. Thanks.

Any words for current or future Suns supporters?

Mike: Thanks for your support and thanks for being interested in us. It means a lot. It’s really important for us to play music. Anybody that supports that is a friend.

Matt: And don’t be shy.

Mike: Come talk to us at shows. Or on Facebook or Twitter or whatever.

Suns are Mike Russell, Matt Lemke, Kody Nixon, Nick Enderle, Clinton Weber, Andy Schroeder. Speak with them on their Facebook and Myspace pages. Learn more about their Kickstarter packages. Read about a dog-walking experience from Kody.

Matt Athanasiou writes poetry, nonfiction, scripts, love letters, notes, random words, and fiction, mostly fiction. You can read more about his words on his blog Let’s Pretend I’m Lying and follow him on Twitter @mattisnotscary.