Ascension Snowboards Inc., a new snowboard manufacturer in Post Falls, hopes its products will do more than shred the slopes. It hopes they also will help it carve out a niche in the highly-competitive snowboard industry by meeting demand for custom-made snowboards that can be ordered online and delivered quickly.
The three-month old venture, which hasnt made retail sales yet, is an attempt to capitalize on the fastest-growing sports market segment in the world, but it also provides a creative outlet for its employees to express their passion for the sport, says John L. Minor, president and CEO.
I sit here sometimes and think, I cant believe I get paid to do this, Minor says. Its a very competitive industry, but thats good, because then its more conducive to a growing market, and ultimately the consumer wins.
Minor, an avid snowboarder and former Spokane contractor, helped launch Ascension Snowboards last July. Its owned by Minor and his father, Bill Minor, as well as a group of investors.
The company, he says, differs from most other snowboard manufacturers in that a customer can use its Web site to choose a shape, size, color, and graphics for a custom snowboard, order it, and receive it within days. Customers can create their own graphic designs for the boards, and submit those designs by uploading them to the companys Web site, he says.
Minor says he decided to produce custom-made boards partly because consumers in general are starting to prefer customized products, such as computers. The snowboard market in particular is very graphically driven, and customers want the opportunity to express their own ideas and personalities on their snowboards, he says. Also, as a father, Minor says he couldnt find snowboards for his children that met his expectations.
I like to do my own thing, and I want things to look the way I want them to look, and I think others feel the same way, he says. I was also pretty offended by the garbage theyre putting on kids boards, like the blood and guts type of stuff, and watched other parents go through the same thing, regardless of the age level of the kid.
Ascension already has secured several wholesale contracts, and plans to start selling its products to retail customers next month for $495. It occasionally makes skis if the moneys right, and next year plans to begin making decks for skateboards as well as snowboards, Minor says.
The companys manufacturing facility is located in a 4,800-square-foot leased building at 1000 E. Third, in Post Falls. Next month, it plans to set up a retail shop in a roughly 300-square-foot space at the front of that building, where it will display and sell snowboards and other merchandise, Minor says. The company recently moved its corporate office to a roughly 260-square-foot space just east of downtown Spokane in the new Sirti Technology Center, at 120 N. Pine.
Ascension Snowboards currently has six employees and has contracts with four additional people, including a Seattle-based graphic artist who creates some of the snowboard designs, Minor says. The company plans to have a total of 15 employees by December, he says.
Whats great about this is that everybody here eats, lives, and breathes snowboarding, Minor says. Were the crazy guys that take off during the summer to climb Mount Hood and go snowboarding on the Palmer Glacier.
Snowboard displays hang from the walls in the front portion of the Post Falls facility, and about 4,000 square feet of space in the back portion of the building is used to manufacture the boards. In the corner of that manufacturing area, racks of raw materials await processing. On the other side of the building, gleaming, brightly-colored snowboards wait to be shrink-wrapped and shipped. Employees, dressed casually in T-shirts and jeans, work on various stages of production, some cutting pieces for boards while others grind the boards surfaces until theyre smooth.
A snowboard includes a wood core covered on both sides by thin sheets of fiberglass, which are covered on the boards top and bottom by plastic-based materials, Minor says. The material that goes on the bottom of the board is shaped using a router and a template, then a slim, pre-shaped strip of metal is attached to the edges of the base. A graphic artist uses a special printer and ink to imprint a design onto the top piece of plastic material, which also is cut into the shape of the board, he says. The top and base sheets, several sheets of fiberglass, and the wood core are covered with a resin and sandwiched together, then placed in a pressing machine that uses heat and pressure to adhere the materials together and to bend the board into its final shape. After the pressing process is completed, the board is cooled then undergoes a finishing process. That process involves trimming the board into its final shape, cutting off excess resin, grinding the edge and the base, drilling out inserts for the bindings, and waxing the board, he says.
Ascension buys its core materials from a manufacturer in Seattle, and recently bought machinery to make its own top-sheet materials, Minor says. Some of the machinery the company uses was custom-built by a now-defunct snowboard maker in Oregon, he says. The ability to make its own products is important because Ascension is trying to make the manufacturing process almost completely self-contained, so that it doesnt have to depend on unreliable suppliers, Minor says.
This industry is dog-eat-dog, but hardly anyone will tell you that, Minor says. Suppliers have their loyalties to certain companies, particularly to Burlington, Vt.-based Burton Snowboards, the worlds leading snowboard manufacturer, he says.
Making its own materials also allows Ascension to accelerate the production process, so that customers can receive their snowboards within days, rather than the typical wait of several weeks for a custom board, he says. Once the company starts selling its snowboards online next month, it will add a real-time counter feature on its Web site, which will tell customers how many days it will take for a snowboard to arrive at their doors, he says.
It looks like were going to get really swamped, but were committed to getting the products to our customers quickly, rather than the usual three to eight weeks, Minor says.
Ascension has secured a wholesale contract to make 250 snowboards for the Creston, British Columbia-based Columbia Brewing Co. that will feature the logo of its Kokanee beer. The company will use the boards for promotional purposes. Ascension also plans to start producing 350 snowboards next month for another major company, which Minor declines to name.
The company will sell its boards retail for $495, but its wholesale prices will fluctuate greatly depending on the quantity ordered, he says. It will sell its products directly to consumers, rather than through distributors, because it doesnt want to get locked into the distribution business model, he says.
The companys merchandise also includes clothing and hats, ranging in price from $15 to $40, he says. The company plans to produce skateboards because those products will offer increased cash flow for the operation, will enable the company to use some of the scraps leftover from snowboard production, and will provide a way for the company to retain its employees year-round, rather than seasonally, since snowboarding is a winter activity, primarily, he says. Its skateboard decks will start at $15 and increase in price depending on deck design.
Ascension works with Spokanes Connect Northwest, which connects entrepreneurs with volunteer experts in business creation and capital funding. The company already had a business plan in place before starting to work with the nonprofit, but through that organizations springboard program, it learned how to present that plan to outside investors, Minor says.
Before starting Ascension, Minor owned a construction company here. He says he grew frustrated while in construction, especially at how Washingtons state government treats such businesses, and was tired of working long hours away from his family. He had grown up surfing in Hawaii, and says the first time he snowboarded down a mountain he was addicted to the sport. Since then, Minor and his family have spent most of their weekends during the winter snowboarding.
Theres a certain freedom you feel while snowboarding, where people go down the mountain once and get hooked for life, Minor says. I live for that time I spend with my wife or kids sitting next to me on the chairlift.
Snowboarding is an expensive sport, but its popularity has been growing rapidly, due in part to the coverage it has received through ESPNs annual Winter X Games event that started in the mid-1990s, and snowboardings inclusion in the Olympic Games since 1998, Minor says.
Although most snowboard makers now are located outside the U.S., particularly in China, Minor hopes that Ascensions location in the Pacific Northwest will help boost business, because the region has some of the best powder in the world, he says.
With Ascension, Im able to combine something Im passionate about with a business model, and still have time for my family, Minor says. Its a blast.
Contact Emily Brandler at (509) 344-1265 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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