Bob Carlson is the founder of Arbor Snowboards which has now morphed into the Arbor Collective. A collection of artists, snowboarders, skateboarders, surfers, musicians, and people that are doing a lot for all their respective genres. One thing I noticed about Bob in the brief time that I spent chatting with him this January was that he not only cares about the impact his company has on the environment but as well as his personal one. Here’s what he had to say about all things snowboard related whether it’s wood topsheets or bringing in reverse camber to Arbors line up.
Angry Snowboarder: In fifteen years as a snowboard company what have been the biggest changes you’ve seen for both your company and the snowboard industry as a whole?
Bob Carlson: I would have to say consolidation. When we started in ‘95, there were something like 300 brands on the market in the US. That has dropped to somewhere between 40 to 50 globally. This change has significantly reduced the noise for customers and created much more opportunity for the surviving brands. Yet, there is still enough healthy competition to drive innovation.
What about Bob?
AS: In this current economic climate what have been some of the biggest adversities and advantages you’ve encountered for Arbor?
BC: From a business standpoint, the biggest adversity for companies working in the snowboard market is the banking climate. Banks remain nervous about the economy. They continue to keep credit tight and lending requirements restrictive. So growth in a seasonal business can be difficult to finance. Success requires a stronger partnership with your bank than ever before.
The biggest advantage for Arbor has been the increased scrutiny our retail customers have put on their product mix. In this climate, retailers want a tight collection of unique snowboard brands that meet the needs of the widest spectrum of customers. They expect sell through and reliable margins. Arbor has had an original approach to the development of snowboards since day one – an approach that is making it more relevant and successful for our dealers than ever before.
AS: You mentioned to me at SIA that you were going with a stronger web presence going into this season, could you further describe what that entails?
BC: We see our website as the centerpiece of our marketing efforts. Everything we do with regards to our team, social networking, media outreach, advertising, etc. is designed in part to reinforce the presence we created at arborcollective.com, where we can best meet our customer’s needs for product, company, dealer, and event information and more. We see Arbor as a collective and the evolution of the brand as a collective effort. The Arbor Collective includes our employees, team riders, artists, dealers, suppliers, and our customers. Our website allows our customers to interact with the collective, provide feedback, and influence its direction.
AS: How beneficial has it been having Nick Visconti on the team with his Tahoe Dangerzone web series? Do you feel that having a rider that has his own media outlet has piqued more interest with your brand?
BC: Right now, Nick is arguably one of the hottest riders in snowboarding. But for us he’s more than just a world class athlete; he’s a partner, a friend, an advisor, and an iconic visionary that we have a ton of respect for. I personally think Tahoe Dangerzone is an ideal platform for Nick and his crew to highlight their perspective on a life built around snowboarding. They are taking advantage of the Internets ability to afford-ably provide unobstructed dissemination of ideas. Today the culture of snowboarding is increasingly gravitating to these decentralized, independent media outlets. We think this evolution is helping to keep snowboarding fresh and snowboarders exposed to the widest range of new ideas. To that end, any association we have with Tahoe Dangerzone is frankly a privilege. Thanks Nick and crew…
AS: Since day one you’ve always established yourself as being as environmentally conscious as you could with your products whether it was Koa topsheets or Bamboo cores. How is it being in your position as a somewhat originator of a green company seeing all these other companies suddenly embracing being eco-friendly?
BC: We’re very stoked to see so many companies embracing sustainable practices and materials. You must realize that we’ve never seen our use of environmentally friendly materials as a competitive advantage. Frankly, it’s not the easiest path to higher margins and profitability. For us, sustainable design is tied to a desire to protect the environments we need to snowboard, skateboard, and surf. Arbor is driven by a responsibility to do our part for the planet. But we can’t do it alone. It has always been our hope that the whole industry would embrace sustainability. If that happens, the boardsports industry could actually have a real effect on improving the environment. Bring it on…
AS: The one thing that I’ve always felt that’s differentiated Arbor from other brands is that while you strive to use green materials to make less of an impact on the environment you’ve always been adamant to make sure that the materials or processes actually benefited the end product and the rider. Could you describe some of the trials and tribulations of going about this and why it’s so important to benefit every aspect involved?
BC: The truth is, we’re not into being “green” just for the sake of being green. With fifteen years of sustainable design experience under our belts, we’re sure about one thing; riders expect performance and relevance, even when choosing a more environmentally friendly alternative. To that end, we work to combine the latest technology and most powerful art with those Eco-materials that allow us deliver better performing products – form still follows function. It has never been an easy task, but nothing worth doing is.
AS: Every company these days seems to have their own alternate camber option, when you were developing your Parabolic Rocker what properties were you looking to gain for the rider and why did you settle on going with one that is more center centric than say a three staged rocker or a combination of camber and rocker?
BC: Great question. The rocker revolution exploded because of how much fun it is to ride a board that has been de-cambered. Reverse camber or rocker eliminates the leverage required to release the traditional outside contact points. This makes a board easier to turn, spin, press, and role edge-to-edge. Early designs didn’t provide enough edge hold. As a result, early rocker models washed at speed, in the steeps, during landings, or when carving a turn. As a result, designers around the industry have been striving to improve the edge hold of rocker designs ever since.
One of the easiest solutions has been to add camber back into the nose and tail of a board. This reengages the the outside contact points. This hybrid “camber and rocker” design does help improve edge hold, but in doing so, sacrifices much of the fun performance originally provided by a pure rocker design.
As a result, Arbor took a different approach. One that preserves a true rocker profile, with all the associated performance benefits, yet provides the substantial edge control when needed. We did this through the development of our System Design, which was created to address the unique physics associated with riding rocker. The two main components of The System, Grip-Tech and Parabolic Rocker, are worth explaining.
GRIP-TECH: to improve edge control we unblended our tri-radial sidecut design to create four new contact points directly under foot. This significantly improves edge control in a simple, more balanced manner. These new contact points make it easy to find your edge when needed, while creating pivot points under your heel and toe. These pivot points improve the speed and initiation of all types of turns, while delivering immediate, more direct edge control when needed.
PARABOLIC ROCKER: a rocker design based on the parabolic arc. The Parabolic design delivers more rocker between the feet and less rocker as you move out to the nose and tail. This allows the board to reengage the outside contacts points only when needed, which is when the board is loaded, at speed, or during landings. Early designs pulled these contact points too far off the snow to be effective, while “Camber and Rocker:” designs bring them back in regular contact with the snow, which reduces the benefits of riding rocker.
The Arbor System strikes a unique “less-is-more” balance that allows our System Designs to take full advantage of their rocker profile.
AS: Does a company have to embrace alternate camber technology to remain relevant to the rest of the snowboarding populace?
BC: Absolutely not. The products offered by the industry need to reflect the wide range of riding styles found within the riding community. Diversity is good for the sport. There is a place for all types of designs in the market. To that end, Arbor has continued to develop and offer a wide range of high-performance camber designs. Arbor’s goal is to support the “to each his/her own” reality that exists on the mountain.
AS: What do you feel is the biggest issue for both the environment and the snowboard industry at this point in time?
BC: Over population!