K2 Snowboards is ahead of the maturation curve.

In my five visits over the last four years to the K2 snowboard factory and offices on Vashon Island, Washington, I've found that the more things stay the same at the company, the more they change. The steadfastness is rooted in the staff, with Brent Turner leading as vice president in charge of snowboards.

He's overseen the brand for ten years now, from a point where nobody in the snowboarding industry even took the ski manufacturer seriously, to an undisputed–yet unclaimed–number-two position in the domestic market and a leadership position in the still-fast-growing step-in category.

While occupying a senior management position at the 600-million-dollar public company that recently expanded into the inline, bike, and most recently skateboard and surf markets, Turner is not your typical vice president. He loves to snowboard and he loves to hike. He's called the Iron Lung by the staff for his ability to lead the charge on the company's annual Mt. Rainier hike. Turner can make it up the 5,000-foot vertical accent twice while most of the group barely makes it up once in the day.

While Turner and the other main snowboard staff, including Sales Manager Luke Edgar and Marketing Director Haley Martin, have maintained a continuity for the company, the expansion of the snowboard brand could be a direct result of the changes in the staff's personal lives. And it's not a unique circumstance at K2, it's happening across the maturing snowboard industry: K2 is just seeing it sooner because of its market position, growing staff, and expanding business.

“We've had a lot of people essentially in the same positions even though we've grown tremendously,” acknowledges Turner during an evening interview with SNOWboarding Business. Edgar and Team Manager Dave Billinghurst also answered questions between beers and bites of dinner.

“I've been here for ten years,” Turner adds. “Luke's been here for seven. Haley's been here five or so. Dave has been here for three-and-a-half. So we've had a consistency at K2, and that's been an important part of our success.”

Of course, with this growth and success, the snowboard brand has expanded out past strictly hardgoods and is now seeing success with both an extensive bag program and a quickly expanding apparel program.

“We were tired of calling and trying to get outerwear from other companies,” says Billinghurst jokingly. “We needed to make it ourselves.”

But it goes further. The company is also moving more heavily into the women's and kid's snowboard markets, while trying to maintain its leadership in the step-in and backcountry categories. Although you'll hear specific reasons for continued expansion from the staff, the simple fact is that each is simply a reflection of their continued love of the sport, the lifestyle, and their drive to keep riding.

Women And Children First

“We have more kids in the department than ever, so we're making more kids' stuff,” says Turner, half joking since both Edgar and Martin recently had babies. But Turner's own kids are snowboarding as well, and he was tired of his six year old using strap bindings.

“We have kids' Clicker boots down to size one now,” he says. “That should be good for kids age five and up. In my experience of having my kid use strap bindings, well, I just leave him strapped in and drag him everywhere. So the Clickers will be much easier for him.”

Turner admits adding the smaller sizes was a tough businessecision, but it should pay off in the long run. “The margins in the kids' business aren't what you want to see, but so what? You're investing in future customers,” Turner adds. “So we have a strong kids' board program, strap boots, soft boots, and now Clickers for kids.”

The company has also done extensive work with women's products, first launching the Luna line in the '97/98 season and now expanding farther.

“We've done twelve or so women-only focus groups and another three or four tests of women's products and boots this year alone,” says Edgar.

Through these focus groups, and with the guidance of Haley Martin and Marketing Coordinator Heidi McCory, K2 has been able to implement the ideas its heard from women snowboarders and kept the growth going. Even with the Clicker there's a commitment, and K2's step-in partner Shimano has Carrie Kizuka on staff devoted solely to developing women-specific boots. It's not just limited to clothing and hardgoods either.

“We'll be coming out with the first-ever women-specific snowboard pack,” adds Billinghurst. “So that's a huge innovation for us.”

Still Stepping Up To Step-ins

“We want to be everything there is to be with step-ins,” says Turner. “We want rental, we want highback, we have a low-profile binding, and we've got boots with adjustable forward lean. Basically we're going all out.”

The company jumped into the step-in market at the earliest point and took the heat, but also promoted the hell out of the new boot-binding combination. The payoff has been significant. According to Turner, nearly 50 percent of K2's snowboard business comes from the Clicker system now.

The company has continued to expand the concept with the HB system, which incorporates the highback onto the binding and addresses many freestyle rider's concerns about the lack of flex in step-in systems.

“It showed that we could adapt the basic Clicker platform to a whole other type of binding,” Turner says. “It's not like we haven't thought about it for a while. Some of the very first patents we have on step-ins from five years ago included the highback on the binding. The team riders have really liked it. Plus, some of our competitors have thought that's the way to go regarding step-ins.”

Partners And Licensees

There's some confusion with K2's step-in business, particularly with the company's partner in the project, bicycle-parts-giant Shimano. (see related Shimano story.)

“We have a partnership where K2 is the sales, marketing, and distribution arm of the relationship,” Turner says. “Shimano is the developer and manufacturer of the bindings.” Both companies independently develop and produce their own boot lines.

Some of the confusion stems from the fact that the K2 reps sell both boot lines to the same retailers. But the companies are working hard to differentiate the products even farther next year; plus, both are marketing the Shimano name more to develop brand awareness.

K2 and Shimano aren't the only companies building boots for the Clicker system. The company has licensed out the product to several partners including Nitro, Raichle, and Northwave (who hasn't introduced any Clicker product yet). But K2 wants to limit its licencees to those players.

“Retailers don't need an infinite number of choices,” says Turner. “But between K2, Shimano, and the other three strong brands to choose from, how many more do they need?

Pushing Farther Into The Backcountry

Much of K2's marketing has revolved around backcountry over the last several years, and they'll continue to expand the program. With new Clicker-compatible touring skis complementing the Clicker cramp-ons and snowshoes, the company believes it offers multiple choices for riders who want to get into the backcountry.

Much of the staff hikes for their turns, and Edgar has summited many of the Northwest peaks. But K2's the first to be aware of the true market potential.

“It's such a small part of the market, but at the same time it's what we're all into,” says Edgar. “As far as what our team is in to, it's a pretty small influence. We have to make sure we limit how much emphasis we put on it, but it has defined what we are. There're a lot of companies out there that wish they had an image at all. At least we stand for something. We stand for backcountry and for innovation.”

“One thing about being bigger than we used to be is we have enough resources so we can do some things that maybe don't directly contribute big bucks to the bottom line,” says Turner. “But there are a lot of ways to measure the success of a product other than just the sales.”

Continued Growth Struggles

Being part of the larger, public corporation would seem to put pressure on the snowboard division to expand at a fast rate. But while Turner says there is an emphasis to grow, the snowboard division isn't leveraged across product lines.

“In any large company, no matter who they are–especially a public company–growth is the mantra,” says Turner. “You've got to grow.

“We've grown every year for the last six years. Some years phenomenally–like 30, 40, or 50 percent. Some years, it's been only ten or fifteen percent, but we've always grown within that range.”

But the company hasn't sat on its laurels. It knows it has to earn the respect over and over in the highly seasonal business. “We've realized you're only as hot as you are that month,” says Edgar. “I mean you can sell in really strong in the spring and then not sell through in the fall.”

“I think there are few companies in the business–Burton's maybe the exception–that have a lot of carry-through momentum year to year,” adds Turner. “For everyone else, it's like, 'Okay, it's a brand new game. Did you win or not?'”

Listening To Others

Although the staff has seen the need for more products with its maturation, K2 has paid close attention to its market and its needs.

“We really try to listen to our retailers, reps, and riders,” says Edgar. “We do focus groups all year long and the retailers are really the ones telling us what people are coming in and asking for, and it's our job to respond to them. That's where our brochure came from and other things like that.”

Retailer suggestion was also the genesis of the bag and apparel programs. “Every year for five years we asked retailers if we should do apparel,” says Turner. “And they always didn't want it. About a year ago, we didn't even ask the question, and they asked when were we going to make outerwear. They said they could sell it because of the changes the consolidation has ;But between K2, Shimano, and the other three strong brands to choose from, how many more do they need?

Pushing Farther Into The Backcountry

Much of K2's marketing has revolved around backcountry over the last several years, and they'll continue to expand the program. With new Clicker-compatible touring skis complementing the Clicker cramp-ons and snowshoes, the company believes it offers multiple choices for riders who want to get into the backcountry.

Much of the staff hikes for their turns, and Edgar has summited many of the Northwest peaks. But K2's the first to be aware of the true market potential.

“It's such a small part of the market, but at the same time it's what we're all into,” says Edgar. “As far as what our team is in to, it's a pretty small influence. We have to make sure we limit how much emphasis we put on it, but it has defined what we are. There're a lot of companies out there that wish they had an image at all. At least we stand for something. We stand for backcountry and for innovation.”

“One thing about being bigger than we used to be is we have enough resources so we can do some things that maybe don't directly contribute big bucks to the bottom line,” says Turner. “But there are a lot of ways to measure the success of a product other than just the sales.”

Continued Growth Struggles

Being part of the larger, public corporation would seem to put pressure on the snowboard division to expand at a fast rate. But while Turner says there is an emphasis to grow, the snowboard division isn't leveraged across product lines.

“In any large company, no matter who they are–especially a public company–growth is the mantra,” says Turner. “You've got to grow.

“We've grown every year for the last six years. Some years phenomenally–like 30, 40, or 50 percent. Some years, it's been only ten or fifteen percent, but we've always grown within that range.”

But the company hasn't sat on its laurels. It knows it has to earn the respect over and over in the highly seasonal business. “We've realized you're only as hot as you are that month,” says Edgar. “I mean you can sell in really strong in the spring and then not sell through in the fall.”

“I think there are few companies in the business–Burton's maybe the exception–that have a lot of carry-through momentum year to year,” adds Turner. “For everyone else, it's like, 'Okay, it's a brand new game. Did you win or not?'”

Listening To Others

Although the staff has seen the need for more products with its maturation, K2 has paid close attention to its market and its needs.

“We really try to listen to our retailers, reps, and riders,” says Edgar. “We do focus groups all year long and the retailers are really the ones telling us what people are coming in and asking for, and it's our job to respond to them. That's where our brochure came from and other things like that.”

Retailer suggestion was also the genesis of the bag and apparel programs. “Every year for five years we asked retailers if we should do apparel,” says Turner. “And they always didn't want it. About a year ago, we didn't even ask the question, and they asked when were we going to make outerwear. They said they could sell it because of the changes the consolidation has had on the market.”

Edgar adds: “Our first year we came out with really high-end pieces and our retailers were super stoked. They're going to see how we perform. If we sell through, they're going to have more confidence in us and the products. We're taking feedback already. We just learned that you can't put hangtags on the zipper because when you try it on, the tag gets in the way.”

Distribution Dilemmas

With its drive to gain market share in the past, K2 has always had an open distribution policy. But the brand has continued to cater to more than just the specialty retailer by offering an expanded product line from the high to low end.

“We've basically held with the type of distribution we've had for ten years or so,” says Turner. “For us, the specialty retailers are key. If you're not an important brand with the specialty retailer, you're not going to go anywhere.”

The snowboard brand is not pressured to sell-in against K2's other products. “Just because a shop bought K2 skis doesn't mean we want them to buy a snowboard,” Turner says. “We independently market our different brands. So the different product groups at K2–bike, snowboard, inline, and ski–go our own directions. There're possible synergies that we don't take advantage of, but overall as a snowboard company, ski company, inline skate, and bike company, we're stronger because we all pursue business as if we're independent companies.

“There are compromises on occasion in distribution and other areas, but by and large, we pursue the snowboard business as if that's all that matters to us.”

Being sales manager, Edgar deals with the retailers directly. “I remember four years ago, John Logic at the Snowboard Connection saying, 'Luke, you've got too much distribution in Seattle.' And I said, 'Let's see, John. I opened this shop before you, and I opened that shop before you. John, you were the last K2 dealer in town. If anyone's going to complain, it's them against you.'

“I don't think any company is perfect with distribution. Even the biggest companies have their problems, and we have our challenges, too. It's just a matter of making sure everybody sells through and continues to grow the sport.”

Indeed, the formula is that simple: if your products sell out of the shops, they'll come back and order more. With more product offerings, more innovation, and a little bit of continuity, K2 will see continued growth in the market. But they won't really say much about it. They'd rather talk about their last snowboard hike, new addition to the family, or new product–all of which would probably be much more interesting anyway.

has had on the market.”

Edgar adds: “Our first year we came out with really high-end pieces and our retailers were super stoked. They're going to see how we perform. If we sell through, they're going to have more confidence in us and the products. We're taking feedback already. We just learned that you can't put hangtags on the zipper because when you try it on, the tag gets in the way.”

Distribution Dilemmas

With its drive to gain market share in the past, K2 has always had an open distribution policy. But the brand has continued to cater to more than just the specialty retailer by offering an expanded product line from the high to low end.

“We've basically held with the type of distribution we've had for ten years or so,” says Turner. “For us, the specialty retailers are key. If you're not an important brand with the specialty retailer, you're not going to go anywhere.”

The snowboard brand is not pressured to sell-in against K2's other products. “Just because a shop bought K2 skis doesn't mean we want them to buy a snowboard,” Turner says. “We independently market our different brands. So the different product groups at K2–bike, snowboard, inline, and ski–go our own directions. There're possible synergies that we don't take advantage of, but overall as a snowboard company, ski company, inline skate, and bike company, we're stronger because we all pursue business as if we're independent companies.

“There are compromises on occasion in distribution and other areas, but by and large, we pursue the snowboard business as if that's all that matters to us.”

Being sales manager, Edgar deals with the retailers directly. “I remember four years ago, John Logic at the Snowboard Connection saying, 'Luke, you've got too much distribution in Seattle.' And I said, 'Let's see, John. I opened this shop before you, and I opened that shop before you. John, you were the last K2 dealer in town. If anyone's going to complain, it's them against you.'

“I don't think any company is perfect with distribution. Even the biggest companies have their problems, and we have our challenges, too. It's just a matteer of making sure everybody sells through and continues to grow the sport.”

Indeed, the formula is that simple: if your products sell out of the shops, they'll come back and order more. With more product offerings, more innovation, and a little bit of continuity, K2 will see continued growth in the market. But they won't really say much about it. They'd rather talk about their last snowboard hike, new addition to the family, or new product–all of which would probably be much more interesting anyway.