Kendrius Smith and Brandon Smith are learning more than just the carpentry skills involved in making skateboards in the small storage space that Salemtown Board Co. calls home.
The boys work on sanding and assembling the skateboards, but owner Will Anderson is also outfitting them with tools they can use in their futures, such as attention to detail, responsibility and a good work ethic.
Anderson opened the company with his friend, Jacob Henley, in late 2012. Their hope was to use their love of skateboarding to mentor and provide a positive role model for the at-risk youth in their Salemtown neighborhood.
“I don’t think there is a better context for those relationships to be cultivated and for mentorship to happen than the context of small business,” Anderson said.
Salemtown is among a growing number of companies locally and across the U.S. that are known as social enterprises. These are for-profit companies that have a social mission embedded into their business plan.
According to the Great Social Enterprise Census, more than 60 percent of these companies were founded after 2006, with nearly 30 percent being founded since 2011. Most, like Salemtown, are small enterprises with fewer than five employees.
Some other social enterprises in Nashville include Triple Thread, which hires former offenders for employment and job training; FashionABLE, which helps create sustainable business for women in Africa; and Thistle Farms, which sells bath body care products handcrafted by women who have survived violence, prostitution and addiction.
And Salemtown is gaining attention, especially with the company’s recent appearance on the national “CBS This Morning” program.
Kendrius was Salemtown Board Co.’s first employee and recently graduated from Hillwood High School.
“(Kendrius) is striving, like any young man, to figure out where his spot is in life and where he fits,” Anderson said.
With a little bit of help, Kendrius discovered new options for his future and hopes to study sports therapy in college.
Although Anderson does not claim to be an expert on the social issues he is trying to deal with, he hopes that others will be inspired by what he is doing.
“What I want to be telling young people is not only be doing something that you love,” Anderson said. “But how can you be doing something that you love that proactively makes the world a better place, even if it’s just something small.”
In the past two years, the business has expanded with a line of t-shirts and other merchandise. Anderson said the increase in profits is allowing him to grow and help Kendrius save up for college.
At the stop, each of the boards are cut, sanded, painted and finished completely by hand and are branded with the signature Salemtown “S.” The boards come in cruiser, hybrid and longboard styles and sell for around $200.
In less than two years, the Nashville skateboard maker is growing and creating jobs where they are scarce.
Steven S. Harman / The Tennessean
Anderson’s long-term vision for Salemtown Board Co. is to provide as many jobs as possible for people who need them and has a few more boys in his neighborhood that he is hoping to hire.
“The big picture goal is to be good for the city,” he said.