How to Start Your Own Snowboard Brand

brandmain

Words: Dave Tran

You love snowboarding more than life itself. You love everything about it; the lifestyle, the fashion, the progression of your skills each time you ride, the camaraderie that you have with your friends and crew. Geeking out each year when new products come out and seeing which brand is the most core so you can jump on the bandwagon before everyone else does. You love it so much you want to start your own brand.

Having started Monument Snowboards back in 2001, I may have a tip or two for you.

By my senior year in college (1997), I had written a business plan to open up a snowboard shop. I flew out to Colorado and rode the trees for the first time (and fell into a few tree wells); and came back 10 times better. I bought all the magazines; I bought as many videos as I could. I kept all the magazines for about 14 years, every single one of them.

I studied each ad. I studied each snowboard shot. I read every story and kept up to date on industry. I geeked out on the sport; plain and simple.

When I started the riding in 1995, I was hooked on a few underdog/core brands. By 2001 they were gone. An opportunity came for me to start a snowboard brand. I was running an online snowboard shop for two years, and thought how much more sense it would be for me to start my own brand.

I had been learning PhotoShop since 1995 (when it only used to be on like eight 3.5 inch disks, bootlegged, and pre-Adobe). I could do all the designs, make a website, sell some decks. Easy, right? Some of you may already know this, but if you didn’t, here are some things to take to heart.

Have some humility.

36305541

If you start your own brand, don’t put yourself on the team. This is the most important rule. The brand isn’t a way to inflate your ego. Just remember, the brand is an extension of you. That should be more than enough. It’s about the brand, not you.

Just because you have PhotoShop doesn’t mean you are a designer.

yobeat

The original Yobeat logo. Made in MSpaint and unearthed by Illicit Snowboarding

The artwork should convey the message and that message should represent what the brand is about. Don’t put stuff out there because you think it looks cool. If you don’t know about anything about art, find someone that does. Buy your domain name, get a hosting company, and get a legit email. Get your site professionally done. This is a business in an industry where trends and brands are more fickle than the fashion industry.

Costs

pile-of-money-wallpaper

What does it cost to run a snowboard company? If you have a snowboard factory, each one is different in how you incur costs. There is a per design fee, which is per board, per design/mold. That can range between 50 to 250 bucks a board depending on where you are.

If you want custom molds, the cost to build a particular mold could cost anywhere between 1000-2500 bucks per mold. Finding a reputable factory will save you more money in the long run (less warranty returns). There are minimums; some factories have minimums where you have to have 75 per size/model. Some have lower minimums, so think about that when you come up with your product offerings.

If you do the tradeshows, it costs $1100 to have a yearly membership to join SIA. If you have a 10×10 booth, it costs about $1200 or so for a booth in Denver. Then you have to worry about building out your booth to make it stand out against the big boys.

To do it right, you’re looking at least $750 in materials, and that doesn’t include the time. Then you have to have samples of your boards made. You have to have enough samples for your team, in addition to your sales reps and international distributors. With this in mind, you’re probably looking at least $15k with shipping at the very least; for a small brand.

ISPO in Munich costs a bit more then SIA. You add in flights and hotels for either tradeshows, and you’ll be in the poorhouse pretty quick. That’s easily a minimum of $4k in travel, hotel, and ISPO costs.

Add catalogs, web site… that’s another few grand. If you really want to do this right, you should take all of this into consideration, it’s not just making a few snowboards for your friends and hopefully other people will buy them.

Do things that make sense.

perfectsense

I worked a day job to fund Monument. I would work 8-9 hours a day, and then come home and put in another 8-9 hours. It’s hard because I can’t focus when I’m super tired, but I learned how to live off of 4 hours of sleep for like 10 years. Have an exit strategy so you don’t sleep four hours a night for 10 years. I loved it that much that I did. You may not.

Don’t go to tradeshows if it doesn’t make sense for you to. The show folks will tell you, “Shops are looking for consistency, you have to go to the show each year for them to notice.” The key is booking appointments before you go. The key to being successful with that is having sales reps that can do this for you that understand the region they are in.

The bottom line is it may work (going to the big shows), it may not work. Adapt to your situation and don’t do stuff because folks are telling you to. It’s already hard enough for a small brand, it’s harder to be at a show when deadlines for the big brands are before the big shows. That means shops don’t quite have the budget for you. Book appointments before you go to any of the big shows; and if you don’t get above your minimum number of shops to break even at least, then don’t go.

Understand the Sales Cycle

tradecycleimg

Tradeshows are in January. Orders are due January-March. Brands put in their production orders at this time. Scour the sales rep lists and pick up some sales reps to represent your brand over the summer. Have the reps join the regional rep associations and have them do shows and hit up the shops to find out who the best shop rider is. Flow the kid a deck to help you get the word out on your awesome brand. Do the regional shows, and do the big shows if your brand has the momentum for it to make sense to be at a SIA or ISPO. We did things backwards, so hopefully you don’t make the same mistakes we did.

Find a reputable factory.

india-child-labour_1570360i

Product quality is just as important as manufacturing quality. There are a lot of factories overseas. There are a few in the states. Get a sample deck. Ride it. Make sure it doesn’t delam because they used a cheap epoxy or resin. Make sure that every detail on the deck is to your standards. Again, ask for samples and inspect them. Inspect the factory. Make sure it looks clean and ask what materials they use and how it compares to the industry standard. Then look up those standards and ask around, see what other brands are made there.

We had a factory that not only built shoddy boards one year, and they sold our decks out the back door a few years later. I threatened to expose them if they didn’t refund all my money back on what I paid. I threatened to hunt them down at ISPO to pay them a personal visit (hotel room and booth as show). I made them sign an agreement that said not to do it again and made them give me back some money. That wasn’t fun, and I was prepared to do that as well.

Do your research. Factor in costs, shipping costs, material costs, and shapes. Don’t pick it based on costs, and what they say they can do. Factories will promise anything halfway across the world. We have been working with our factory since 2006 and it’s been awesome.

What’s your gimmick?

The 2003 BillBoard Music Awards - Arrival

Each brand has its own gimmick. Some have a mascot/logo that represents what their brand should be about. Some position themselves as a technology leader. Do you have a badass team? You core enough? Others position themselves as the most fun brand in the world. Some are anti-establishment. One makes a killing just based on the fact where the brand is from (regional support). Something has to draw folks to your brand. Make sure it stands the test of time; don’t change your direction/gimmick each year based on trends. Be a leader, not a follower.

Don’t change your theme each year. There’s nothing worse than a chameleon brand that changes its identity each year. If you want want to be known as a technical company, then stick with it. Folks want consistency, and you want to make the folks proud to represent your product.

Build a strong fan base.

OnlineFanBase2

If you do this right, your brand will get some exposure. Do it smart, and build it organically. Don’t give out free snowboards in hopes of free publicity or to whom you think are trendsetters or influencers if you know they bounce from brand to brand. They’ll bounce to the next brand as soon as they hear the word “free” from another company. Make the brand mean something to folks.

One brand I know of gave away free snowboards because no one would buy them – as long as folks paid for shipping. They were awarded some award at a trade show. The owner plastered themselves all over their own site (with no ties to the industry, which is kind of self-serving). Self-hyping your own brand and patting your own back doesn’t build you a strong fan base. Build something that folks can relate to and help support.

You don’t want folks to jump on the bandwagon: those folks are the ones that could easily jump off. You see brands that make a huge splash and do things to try to flood the market with their product for free or on the cheap, but the brand loyalty is very low for those brands. Those brands are looking to make a splash and make as much money as possible for the two or three years and cash out. You want a loyal base, and that takes a little time.

Don’t say you are Rider Owned and Rider Operated.

Snowboard with steering control

C’mon. This isn’t the 90’s.

Focus on your product offerings

019-Marketing-500-300x300

Don’t do what everyone else is doing. Focus on your strengths and stick with them. Provide enough of an offering so shops can look at your line and be stoked on it. If you try to extend the brands offerings without really proving yourself yet, you’ll be spreading yourself too thin. If you do make snowboards, do only snowboards. Don’t try to do bindings, or outerwear. I contemplated all of this for years, but if I’m already spread thin with snowboards, how am I going to focus on bindings and outerwear?

Know what’s in your products and how they are built.

It’s not as glamorous as it may seem.

4f8f9a6aa0e63fd98f56c5880983438040feadc700c1de2c5ee8940f4c69de07

It’s a lot of work. You will most likely snowboard less if you have a snowboard company to run. You can’t be partying every night in your resort town. Folks are depending on you and honestly you’ll be spending a lot of time and money into this business. If you’re like me, you did the web programming, you did the designs, you did the marketing, you are in touch with the team, you’re editing video, you’re shooting and editing photos, trying to manage the social media accounts… Not only did I have a day job, but I also had side programming jobs that I used to help fund Monument too. I lost 17 lbs in 3 weeks back in 2000 when I only had time to eat once every other day.

Remember it’s a business. Just because you own a snowboard brand doesn’t mean you’ll get to snowboard all the time and get free snowboards. You’re paying for them: each and every one of them. Tell your mooching friends they’re not getting any boards for free.

Who’s your Hype Man?

flavor-flav-back-to-school-reality-tv__oPt

Flaaaaaavor Flav! I hated to be featured for anything when it came to the brand. I always felt like I didn’t know enough even though I knew what exactly what was in our boards, how our boards were built, and how they rode. Reps just know how to use the right marketing jargon to make the mundane features so damn sexy that everyone wants it. It’s their job. Find your Flavor Flav. Find your Beau Beau. They can hype up the product in a way that makes sense and isn’t too over the top that someone’s bullshit meter goes off. You need to find that perfect middle ground.

Some folks have an eye for things. Some folks have a flair for things. If you don’t have either, have someone else do it for you. Don’t drive your brand into the ground because your ego was too big to hand off stuff to someone else that could do it better.

Finding the right rep is hard. Those guys have the best interest of the shops and their own brand to make sure that everyone does well. They are all good guys and represent the brands very well. Don’t hire the first guy that sends you an email. Ask around for the person’s reputation because that will be your reputation.

All in All

 

It’s surreal to go to a Team Challenge, and Super Park after reading about them for so long. It’s awesome to take photos of your team, and use those photos to build your web site and brand, catalog, and marketing materials. It’s awesome to fly out and ride with the team, film them, hang out with them, and share so many stories for years to come. Yeah, I had to sit around a lot with the video/camera but you know what, you learn so much by doing things by yourself. It’s awesome have a crew of guys helping you out because they believe in what you are doing. Without them, I wouldn’t be here today. Stick to what you’re good at, and stick to your vision.

That’s how you build a good brand.

Be prepared for a lot of sleepless nights. And whatever you do, don’t piss off Bridges.

16 replies
  1. adam
    adam says:

    One of the best articles I have read on yobeat. thanks for the info and shit this makes me want to help out. I know you said stick to making boards but I think t shirts are a good way to get brand recognition.

  2. upstatemike.
    upstatemike. says:

    “Tips from a from 15 year old brand that’s somehow still alive even though you’ve never seen one of their boards in real life”

Comments are closed.