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It’s easy to make fun of Grenade. Between Danny Kass’s antics, and the company’s complete makeover, one has to wonder what exactly is going on over there?Â Then, when you add in the fact that almost everyone in snowboarding has worked for, hung out at, or done business with Grenade, yet only a few people know what’s really happening, it gets even easier. In fact, I heard last week, CEO Joseph Condorelli bit the head off a live bat. True story.
You believed me for a minute didn’t you? After all, Joseph is an outsider. A loud-mouthed New Yorker who came from a business background, having never set foot on a snowboard, to run a snowboard company that at the time, was on the brink of disaster. And even though he supposedly didn’t know what a “beanie” was, he’s worked day and night for two solid years to keep the company afloat and thriving. Yeah, it’s not the same Grenade we all hung out at, now it’s a growing company that might actually be around for years to come. Love him or hate him, this is Joseph’s side of the story.
How did you get involved with Grenade? Did Matt meet you at the bar or something?
I became involved with Grenade when I was a network consultant for a software company. One of my partners was working with the company to install the back end software. I met Matt and Danny as they were trying to ship their first season from the new warehouse–needless to say, we’ve met at a few bars since then.
What is your background?
My background is technology–I’ve spent most of my time consulting small to medium-sized businesses.
Had you ever been snowboarding before you became the CEO at Grenade?
No, I am a bit older and came from New York City. Â Snowboarding became widespread after I had already been a skier.
Can you snowboard now?
I can stay up and fool around but still have a hard time stopping–two knee surgeries deep, but I’m still interested. When we get some spare time I might go with Danny for a few weeks of R&R and learn from the best. That would give you something to blog about–true comedy. I’ll see if Rip Zinger is available to film it…
Is there any knowledge from another industry you’ve brought to Grenade that’s helped move things forward?
Danny has the passion and the creativity that drives the spirit of the company everyday. I bring all the knowledge and experience from every business that I’ve ever been a part of–that combination brought this company back to full strength.
This is where the magic happens.
What has been the biggest mistake made in Grenade’s existence?
I feel like that kind of question would lead to an overly simplistic, or fantastical, sound-bite answer. Every decade-old company has had its fair share of ups and downs. We are constantly assessing and evaluating all of our business and creative practices and adjusting them to become better at what we do. Perhaps at times we’ve complicated things that are simple, but from that we’ve learned and grown. We have a very strong brand trademark, and sometimes we haven’t leveraged that in the most efficient way, so right now we’re trying to focus the brand on being Grenade.
Do you think people in snowboarding are scared of you?
Often people are shocked by my transparency; I am blunt and can be explosive and aggressive –I admit that is where my personality fails. But I’ve worked to build real friends in this industry–I try to find the people that understand my style and have the patience to get to know me. There’s nothing to be afraid of when we’re building strong, honest partnerships.
Ever killed a man?
Ha! No. I am loud but not deadly. Actually, I’m a bit of a scaredy cat.
Have you ever made an employee cry?
My personality draws other strong personalities; if they have, I haven’t seen it.
How are these tough economic times treating Grenade?
Timing is on our side, actually. If the economy had been this bad two years ago we might not have made it. We have doubled our Spring/Summer apparel sales. We’re pretty stoked about our expanding footwear division and street line.
Obviously things could have been going better when you took over, how did you get the company back on track?
I actually did only one thing: I persevered when the going got rough. I worked later and longer. I pushed every person I could get my hands on–some burned out, unfortunately–but we didn’t have the luxury then for anyone that wasn’t committed to the survival of the company. We made it.
Still in business, and a full bar at the office. Not bad, I’d say.
Was the MMA industry receptive to the Grenade Products you’ve produced?
We tried one set of hoodies and tees, and yes they were, but ultimately it wasn’t a good fit for us. We’re still expanding and exploring other action sports–right now we’re developing some Motocross gear. Of course our largest expansion has been introducing our Spring/Summer apparel line, which is closely related to the skate scene. Danny’s always been a skater, so that was natural.
What is your response to people who’ve criticized Grenade for this expansion?
For the last 2 years I had a goal and a job to do, and I did it well. The company is open when it should have been closed. At the same time, I understand that some of our long-time fans have had trouble adjusting to our growth. Their concern speaks to their love of the brand, which is fantastic, but hopefully our most loyal fans will understand that we have to grow to survive. They can still get their Grenade gear at their local shop, but now they can also get some of it at the mall. It’s good business.
Why did you guys desert the 82nd street warehouse (complete with Dagger built Skate Park)?
I wouldn’t call it desertion, we downsized. The overhead was too high. A lot of small businesses go under by virtue of not being objective. We’ve worked too hard to go under based on keeping our loved, but an unnecessarily large, warehouse. Also, we’re better at designing gear than packing boxes.
Is the skate park still in there?
No, it is not–we donated it to Epic Snow and Skate here in Portland. They just held an event to break in the “new” bowl. The park was too sweet to sell with the warehouse. There are pictures on our blog.
Boba Fett and some boxes greet visitors to the new Grenade office.
Where are you located now? Is Grenade still doing all its own shipping and warehousing?
We relocated to the waterfront off of Macadam Ave, still in Portland. We’ve set up shop in a 100 year-old office building; professionals and doctors surround us. It’s hilarious, especially in the elevator. Where most offices have waiting rooms, we have a cardboard cut-out of Boba Fett wearing Grenade gear and a fully-operational sticker manufacturing station. Last week Danny was in town and parked the RV across ten spots in the parking lot. We bring a lot to the neighborhood. For shipping, we’ve partnered with a logistics handling company.
What’s it like being in a board meeting with Danny Kass? Does the Dingo get to hang out too?
Actually Danny, Dingo, and myself have some of the greatest meetings of all time. They have a unique combination of ideas and passion that you don’t always see in a professional setting. People should know how heavily invested they are in the company. We make things that they wear and they rep. Working with them has been a great reward and an experience that I would have never had in other businesses I’ve worked with.
Worst part about working with snowboarders?
I have had the privilege of working with some of the finest men I have met in along time–there’s not really a downside. The snowboarders that I work with are fun, energetic, creative and engaged.
All business, all the time.
Be honest. Do you really think Danny will make the Olympic team again? I mean, Danny is amazing, but have you seen the crap these kids are doing now?
I would be surprised if he doesn’t. I think Danny is at the most stress free point in his life–and if I’ve learned anything over the last 3 years, snowboarding is all about freedom. My man Danny is free at last. He’s training now.
Have you considered getting a Grenade tattoo?
No, but maybe some jewelery. Can’t you see me flashing some logo bling?
If you could give the snowboard industry as a whole one piece of advice, what would it be?
Have fun. Shred as long as you can and try to find a place to place that passion when you’re not on the mountain. Everyone’s got to hustle, but if you’re doing what you love and working harder than the next guy, you’ll find success.