Last year was the soft launch for Niche Snowboards out of Salt Lake City. Bringing their own style and technology to the environmentally friendly forefront of snow sliding. I was able to catch up with the founder Dustin Morrell to talk about how the brands doing after it’s first year, what it’s like bringing environmentally friendly products to market, and some of their licensed technology.
Angry Snowboarder: For someone that hasn’t heard about Niche what can you say about your guys story from inception to entering your first year in the marketplace?
Dustin Morrell: I started making custom boards out of my home. I loved sublimating the graphics and putting a board together but soon found out that making a conventional board is bad for the environment and your health. We started searching for more Eco friendly materials and Niche was born. The idea was to find Eco materials that would perform just as good as conventional materials. After over a year of pressing boards, riding, testing and riding some more, we knew we had something. Our boards were amazing to ride and outperformed conventional snowboards in many aspects. Our prototype equipment in Salt Lake City could not facilitate serial production so we looked for a manufacturer that had our same values and could meet Niche’s high standards of construction. We researched various manufacturing facilities and chose GST in Austria. GST has been renown for high quality boards and green production methods so it was a great fit for Niche. GST did extensive testing on our boards and confirmed that the Eco materials actually outperformed in various aspects. Our Niche crew has been an important piece to our success. Our team riders give invaluable input on riding characteristics and, lets face it, they make this shit look good! Our Creative Director Ana has a strong passion of snowboarding and the environment and found some amazing artists to kick off our graphic line. We were lucky to snag Greg Hughes from Lib Tech as our VP of sales and marketing. Greg knows just about everyone in the industry and will help move Niche to a global force. We have a strong group of sales reps and distribution that know the industry and believe in our mission. We are stoked to be in many key shops for our first year on the shelves. Niche can be found throughout the US, Canada, Korea, EU, and Australia.
AS: Do you feel that having someone with Greg’s experience and knowledge puts you in better position than most other upstarts especially in this economy?
DM: Greg has brought a lot to the table and is invaluable to our team. His industry knowledge, contacts, and dedication has definitely been a catalyst for Niche. We would not be in the position we are without everyone who has been involved, including those who have worked behind the scenes, but Greg has pushed Niche into over drive. The whole Niche team (riders, artists, accountants, Creative Director, consultants…) are key to Niche’s growth that without anyone, we would not be where we are today.
AS: For a first year company are you noticing any significant areas that have a better reception and growth for you guys than others?
DM: About 4 years ago I came out with a line of snowboards that were not any different from anyone else in the industry, except for the graphics. The reception was not great but I learned a lot from this experience and turned to custom snowboards out of my home. Custom boards helped me learn the manufacturing process and sourcing of materials that led to the innovation of Niche. A lot of people have asked how we came out with all of this on our first year but it’s been a long time in the making with research and testing of our materials. Our advantage comes from introducing new innovative materials to the industry that are Eco friendly, high performance, durable, and ride like nothing else out there. For awhile, this industry has been stagnant in technology advancements creating a good opportunity for Niche to break into the market. A lot of companies have done a few Eco friendly things on a couple board in their line but we have taken this to a new level with our Snappy Sap, Hemp Hop, Digiprint topsheet, Magmafiber and recycled edges, sidewall and base material. Every board in our line is Eco friendly; this is what Niche represents.
AS: Are we as an industry going to start seeing a bigger shift to more environmentally conscious materials and building practices in the near future?
DM: I would hope so. Any effort that companies can make to preserve our environment and keep us shredding is good for all of us.
AS: Going along with that are there any trade offs to the benefits?
DM: Different materials provide a different ride and feel. Our Eco materials provide unique characteristics like vibration dampening and pop but they also give our boards impact resistance and longevity.
AS: Since SIA how has the reception been for you with shops both nationally and internationally? Are you doing anything specific to foster growth at the core retail level?
DM: We have had a great reception in the US and internationally! Niche has a lot to offer and it’s unique. We support the core retailer by not selling direct. Our only market is the brick and mortar stores. Shops should not be left out of the equation as they are the life blood to this industry. Every retailer is different and our reps work to fit Niche into their location.
AS: Compared to other start ups you’ve had more high level publicity. How has the reaction for you been to that and do you feel it adds a certain level of pressure that if you had more of a soft launch you wouldn’t have?
DM: Niche has something unique and it has generated a lot of buzz. We wanted to come out of the gate strong and spent a couple years getting everything ready before release. We are excited about the response and don’t see it as pressure but an opportunity.
AS: You guys just licensed Magnetraction from Mervin Mfg. what was your reasoning behind this and will GST be making the boards with it or will that be sourced out to Mervin?
DM: The wavy edge is a great addition to Niche and provides our customers with another option. GST makes all of Niche boards and that will not change with our Magne-Traction.
AS: Any other new tech that people should be aware of that you’re working on down the line?
DM: Yes, and you will be one of the first to know.
AS: Final question what have you seen as being the hardest part of starting an environmentally friendly company in this economy and where do you see the biggest challenges for yourself going into year two?
DM: The economy is struggling and we have all felt that but we are grateful to the consumers that support the environment and Niche by purchasing a quality board that is Eco friendly. Our biggest challenge is getting the word out. Once you have ridden a Niche you will feel the difference and hopefully tell your friends. There is a lot to choose from when purchasing a board but only one Niche.