A great name can do a lot to promote a brands image or it can also hurt it. When you’re in more of a niche market this especially rings true. Jessica from Snowbunny snowboards gives us her take on brand names, broing down, and a few other things going on in snowboarding. Check it out.
The term Snowbunny definitely isn’t a term that instills being of a level of riding that is “hardcore”, even with that you’ve still got a solid niche market for yourself. What challenges do you still have to face with your brands name? Anything you would have changed if you could do it over again?
There are a ton of good brands out there that are going after the core market. Rather than trying to compete with them, I’m offering something a little different. Most hardcore snowboarders wouldn’t be caught dead on a board called Snowbunny. Luckily for me, there are also lots of girls out there who love the name. Last year, I did make some “SB” boards so I’d have an alternative available for girls who didn’t want to ride a Snowbunny. The SB’s sold well, but I decided the name was boring. Instead, this year I’m adding a new brand called “Star.” It’s is going to be a little more shred-ish, I guess.
I like the name Snowbunny. I think it’s fun, and cute, and kind of pokes fun at the whole image-centric world of snowboarding. Whether or not they love it or hate it, everyone remembers it, which is always good.
Being in a niche market you’re relatively sheltered in certain aspects because of your size and marketplace, even still what are some of the challenges you’re encountering with this economy and how are you dealing with it?
I haven’t had any set-backs because of the economy. In fact it’s been quite the opposite. Last year was really profitable for me, despite the fact that I only made a few changes to my business model. This was partly because Snowbunny is so unique, but mainly because I keep my prices low, which is what most people want these days. I don’t sacrifice quality for price, I’ve simply cut out the proverbial middlemen. I only sell my boards direct, either online, or at ski and snowboard expos. My customers get a killer deal, and all the profit goes right into my pocket. I think it’s a pretty good system.
The one thing I did do differently last year was to expand my presence in the Canadian market. That helped increase my sales AND I got to spend more time up North (I love you Canada! You guys are great!!)
The women’s side of snowboarding is one segment that sometimes gets over looked especially by brands that will only expand into the women’s segment when they feel that x number of dollars warrant it. What’s your take on the whole good ole boys club mentality and how some companies are still just shrinking and pinking decks? Who do you think is doing some positives to spread the women’s message in snowboarding?
I don’t claim that Snowbunny is doing something truly revolutionary, and it’s not the only company that’s offering high-quality, female-specific gear. All the larger brands, and many of the smaller ones, have a really good range of product for women. These days, the only companies who are still “shrinking and pinking” guys’ boards are a few small brands who can’t afford to create female-specific shapes.
I think the Good Ole Boy mentality creates more barriers for female-specific equipment in general, than for Snowbunny in particular. I’ve had fathers who are shopping with their daughters say, “My daughter is a strong athlete. She doesn’t need a girls’ board.” I try to explain that women’s boards are just designed to fit better, it has nothing to do with ability level. Some of them listen, but some of them just refuse to hear it. It’s frustrating to see a girl who wants to buy one of my boards get shut down by her boyfriend, dad, etc. simply because it’s a girls’ brand. Unfortunately, I’ve seen a lot of guys, and even some girls, who think that if a snowboard is made specifically for females then it must not be any good.
I’ve hardly ever encountered any problems with the Good Ole Boy mentality within the industry, which I call the Bro-Factor. The one time I did have a problem, I just took my business elsewhere, which made it his problem, not mine. Other than that, most of the guys I’ve met have been really supportive, if a little baffled, about what I do.
On top of offering a more price conscious model what other steps are you taking to get girls and women involved in snowboarding?
As a tiny company, it’s just good business to make sure every single person who buys something from me is happy. I spend time talking and emailing with every customer to help her figure out what size and type of board will be best for her. Hopefully, one of my boards will be a good choice for her. If not, I might tell her about alternatives from other companies that I think will work for her. If she’s a first-timer, I usually won’t even let her buy a board. I tell her to go rent one first, and make sure she’s into it before spending the money.
I also like to answer my customers questions about snowboarding in general. I do this partly because I want them to know that I’m there to help them, not just sell them something, and also because it’s fun. For beginners, I stress the importance of taking lessons. I tell them that snowboarding has a steep learning curve, and to keep that in mind if they start getting frustrated. I tell them about my own experiences, and what a hard time I had at first. Sometimes I even tell them how much snowboarding has changed my life. I talk to a lot of older women, mostly moms, who want to snowboard, but think they’re too old. I tell them to get a bunch of safety gear so they won’t feel so nervous, and then get out there!
I’m up on the hill all the time, and I meet lots of girls who are hoping to get sponsored. I give them advice about their careers, and try to mentor them. I’ve even helped girls get hooked-up with other companies. I’ve also been an instructor with Burton’s Chill Program, so I’ve had the opportunity to introduce some at-risk girls to snowboarding. It was challenging – on my first day I had to break up a fight – but also super-rewarding.
I guess I just really love snowboarding, and everything it’s done for me. I want to help as many girls and women as possible to fall in love with it as much as I have.
I know you’re not offering any anti-camber in your decks yet. But what is your take on this whole technological trend towards boards that don’t have standard camber? Is it a true revolution or just a passing fad?
In a retail environment, it can be hard to get some customers to understand the benefits of reverse camber, particularly if they aren’t experienced riders. It’s not as intuitive as, say, a step-in binding. I definitely think it’s here to stay, but I don’t think traditional camber is going to disappear as a result. I think they’ll continue to be sold side by side.
A lot of companies are throwing around how “Green” they are in regards to production processes. Are you doing anything to be “green” and how much of this trend is just marketing spin to make people feel better about their purchase?
I grew up in Berkeley with a hippie mom. I never had to “go green” because I’ve always been green. Recycling and trying to live as sustainably as possible have always been second-nature to me, and that carries over to my company. I’m not utilizing any green manufacturing processes yet, but I do work to keep my carbon footprint as small as possible. Of course, the greenest thing I could do would be to discourage people from snowboarding at all. Unless you’re riding your bicycle out to the backcountry, and then hiking for your turns, snowboarding is innately polluting. On the plus side, snowboarders are more conscious of global warming than the general population because they can easily see how they’ll be directly affected by it. When you’re faced with the knowledge that your local resort might not be around in 40 years, the scope of the problem really starts to hit home.
You started out as a female specific goggle maker and have expanded into soft goods, boards, and bindings, what’s next in terms of growth?
I don’t want to grow, actually. Right now, my company is structured so that I only work for a few months out of the year. I don’t make a ton of money, but I get to spend my winters snowboarding in BC instead of working. Growing the company to the next level would mean giving that up, and it’s just not worth it to me. I think things are perfect they way they are.
If people get one thing out of what Snowbunny is doing what would you like that to be?
Snowboarding is fun! Everyone should do it: nerds, jocks, gypsies, and especially girls : )