A local skate shop in the Bay Area of California is making headlines with an innovative way to encourage its student customers to do well in school. Orbit Skateboard Shop in San Leandro, California, gives out free gear to any student with a 3.0 or higher GPA. The top prize for straight A’s is a brand-new deck. For a 3.9, you get a set of trucks, a 3.8 gets you a set of wheels, and the list goes on, with legit freebies all the way down to a 3.0.
The man behind this generous reward system is Sal Saad, who took over Orbit in 2001 and implemented the system in 2002 to immediate positive response. After seeing the GPA program on Reddit, we reached out and got a chance to chat with Sal over the phone from the shop to find out a little more about Orbit, his background, and what inspired him to implement such a great policy.
“In ’02 my children were 9, 7, and 2,” Sal tells us. “At home, how would I dangle the carrot in front of them to do good?” He says would set incentives for them to raise their GPA, with solid rewards to match their progress. “Instead of being strict on the grades, I made it fun,” he says. It worked so well he realized he could take the concept and make it even more impactful. “I was like, ‘Ah, what if I do this at the shop?’ And that was the birth of the GPA program.”
Sal is from Brooklyn, and he moved to California in 1998. His background is retail, not action sports, but he came to love the intersection of those two worlds. “I’ve been in customer service myself since I was 10 years old,” he says. He took over the shop in 2001 — at the time Orbit was one of his wholesale clients, and it worked out that he was looking to make a change right when the original owner was also looking to make a change. He found the principles of good customer service translated, and his approach helped build an engaged and amazing community at Orbit. He himself began to longboard, and his three children are deep into skate. They also work in the shop.
The program was an instant hit. Parents from all over started bringing their kids — 30, 40, 50 miles away at first, Sal says. But in the almost 17 years that the GPA program has been going, it’s grown much, much bigger. Sal says over 10,000 kids have walked out of Orbit with free gear. Last summer, a 12-year-old girl from Washington, D.C., came to the shop with her family. She had discovered Orbit and the GPA program, and because she’s so into skateboarding, she decided she wanted to take advantage of the program too. So her family made it a part of their vacation plan. Sal and Orbit hooked that family up. “It was just a great feeling,” Sal says. “The parents were like, ‘Wow. We’ve seen our daughter happy, but this is up there in the top three.'”
One of the key features of the GPA program is that it rewards every GPA from 3.0 to 4.0, no matter what. It’s truly a motivator, not some gimmick. “There’s no fine print,” Sal says. “I grew up with fine print, and I’m sick of it. I’m sick of the hustles. You walk in with a 4.0, no questions asked, it costs you nothing. Here’s your deck, congratulations. We shake your hand, we have a big bell, we ring the bell, all the staff starts clapping and singing like in a restaurant for your birthday, and the kid leaves. That’s it.”
The one caveat is that it’s only valid on the final, year-end report card. “I do that so I can entice the kid. What’s the most important one? Not the one in March, not the one in January. You’re not fooling me. The one that counts is in June,” Sal says. Incentivizing kids to do well all year makes everyone happy. “I’ve had principals call me and thank me. I’ve had guidance counselors walk in here to see if it was true, shaking my hand and thanking me. Parents thank us all the time,” Sal says.
He was very thoughtful about which reward to give out at each level. “I looked at it as grandeur. What’s grand? So one of the most important things is a deck, you know? By size, it’s the biggest. So in my mind, 4.0 is the highest, great grades, so you get a big item in your hands. And from there, what’s the next thing down from there? The trucks.” Everything fell into place down the line, Sal says. For a 3.6 and a 3.5 you get a T-shirt and hat, respectively. And 3.4 down to 3.0 earns you an Orbit Fun Pack, which consists of stickers, DVDs, a Tech Deck, and other fun surprises.
But by far the best outcome from all this for Sal is the people he’s met and the stories that have grown from it. One in particular stands out for him: Amber started coming in to Orbit when she was still in grade school. Sal says she quickly became a regular. “I’m personable with my customers; I like talking to them and getting to know them. Sometimes they open up,” he says. As a dad, the subject of school and grades is often at the top of his mind when he meets young customers. Amber was one of those kids who Sal recognized as super smart but struggled a bit with grades, and he didn’t hesitate to use her passion for skating and Orbit to motivate her. “So I said, ‘Amber, bring me your report card.’ She brought it in. She had a bunch of C’s.” He started setting goals with her to steadily improve her grades, with the rewards for success being free gear from Orbit. “She comes back three months later with her progress report, and lo and behold she met every goal,” Sal says. “I kept doing that until we took it to all A’s.” Amber went on to go to college, and she now works at Orbit part-time as well. Check her and Sal out in this video about Orbit:
So there you have it. If you’re a parent of a student who needs some extra motivation, or if you’re a student yourself, take Sal’s lead and find ways to motivate and encourage that yield real results. Whether it’s a trip to Orbit to grab some free gear, or some other motivator. And be sure to check out Orbit online right here.