Anyone familiar with snowboarding knows its evolutionary line is shared with skateboarding, with legions of enthusiasts commonly engaging in both sports. One such bi-athlete, Andy Wolf, moved to Salt Lake City in 1994 to snowboard professionally, but found he couldn't indulge in his other passion, skateboarding, because of the snow-covered surroundings. Wolf toyed with the idea of a snowboard/skateboard hybrid that would allow for skate tricks without bindings on snow. Naysayers only fueled Wolf's determination: While finishing his snowboarding career in 1999, he produced the first snowskate in his garage.
Wolf's decade-long involvement with big snowboarding camps in Mount Hood lent itself to R&D, and professional snowboarder friends received coverage in magazines when they gave his snowskate a try. Soon, Wolf was building a roster of big-name snowboarders, like J.P. Walker and Jeremy Jones. Sending out a simple black-and-white promotional video with a one-page catalog and order form, Wolf thought if he sold 1,000, he'd be ecstatic. Premier sold 5,000.
A licensing arrangement with the Yoshida Group in 2000 allowed Premier to tap into Yoshida's existing sales and distribution force. Sales for 2002 are expected to be about $2 million, and Premier's popularity has mountain resorts constructing snowskate parks in response. With plans to introduce an all-season line of products, Wolf, who grew up and now lives in Portland, Oregon, remains introspective of his parlay from world-class athlete to business owner: "I'm pretty damn lucky."
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How did you figure out how to create your snowskate?
Andy Wolf: I went about it a little backwards. Because I wanted to keep the price under $100 retail, that's how I sourced my materials. I went and sourced a bunch of different types of plastic; I had to narrow down from 2,000 types of plastic to find the ones that were really easy to work with, affordable, and still had a glide characteristic.
Where did you get the start-up money?
Wolf: My only investor was a friend of my dad's who gave me some money upfront. I went into it just thinking I'd sell a couple of units, just for the kids as a novelty item. I really believed in it but I didn't know it was going to take off like it did.
Have you had to deal with any copycats?
Wolf: There have been a few knockoffs; we just settled one lawsuit. We set up a fairly aggressive licensing program to license some of the major players in the different categories. Our plan is to have two or three brands in each channel of distribution: specialty or core, sporting goods and then the mass. Carlton Calvin, who spawned the craze of Razor scooters, will probably be handling the whole mass channel because of the connections and experience he's had.
Did being a former professional snowboarder help or hurt you in starting this business?
Wolf: I think it went both ways. I know there was times when people thought, "He was a pro-snowboarder--all he knows how to do is ride a snowboard and play Nintendo." But it was still a job; I had to handle my business, do my own deals, set up my traveling. I also had some experience repping and working with the reps for the companies I was sponsored by, which helped out a ton dealing with shops. I already knew what an order form looked like, how to do credit apps, all that stuff.
More times than not it worked to my advantage because of the connections in the industry. Being associated with all the athletes who are friends and acquaintances never hurts because a lot of these guys are next to impossible to get ahold of. If you were just to start something and you didn't even know them, they're not even going to talk to you.
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This article was originally published in the November 2002 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Got ID?.
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