Salomon North America announced October 4 that it recalling and discontinuing its Pilot snowboard step-in boot and binding system.   

Tom Wright, president of Salomon North America, says the global decision involves the Pilot snowboard boots and Pilot snowboard bindings that have been delivered to dealers, as well as product that has been sold to consumers.

“Pilot prototypes and initial samples performed to our expectations,” says Tobin Teichgraeber, director of snowboarding. “However, when the product entered mass production, unforeseen mechanical problems developed relating to entry and exit. While all product has not been affected, Salomon isn’t willing to accept anything short of 100-percent reliability. Since this cannot be guaranteed, we have decided to discontinue the product.

“Building innovative products and raising the bar in design have always been hallmarks of Salomon,” he continues. “We’ll continue to push the innovation limits and further invest in the future of snowboarding to improve the riding experience for everyone.”

The recall comes almost a exactly a year after both Burton and Rossignol/Emery/Original Sin announced separate recalls of their step-in systems. Both of those involved retrofitting of parts in the bindings, but didn’t lead to the cancellation of the products. Those two recalls had already shaken some retailers’ confidence with step-ins in general and their purchases of the products. Salomon’s recent recall didn’t do a lot to help things out for the category, although the company did get high marks from retailers from the way they handled the situation.

Retailer Reactions“Salomon has handled it great,” says Linda Robertson, manager of Epic Surf and Snow in San Diego, California. “We demoed the system and really liked it. It’s kind of a bummer that it was cancelled, because people were coming in and asking for it.”

The shop also sells Switch and Clicker step-ins, and Robertson feels the recall won’t affect the category: “Step-ins are the way of the future.”

At U.S. Outdoor in Portland, Oregon, Assistant Manager Arsenio Torres feels a little more mixed about the recall. “Only time will tell,” he says about how the recall will affect the market. “People were stoked on the Pilot and how the boots fit. And that’s what we focus on–how boots fit and not step-ins in general.”

Surprisingly, the recall has affected more than just shops that carried the Pilot step-in system. Because of the recall and its substitution of conventional soft boots for step-ins, Salomon has no boots left for other retailers’ reorders.

“The recall has sucked out everyone else’s stuff,” says Jami Godfrey, owner of Cool Runnings in Ardmore, Pennsylvania. “It’s killed us. Because we’ve had three bad winters, we didn’t place a lot of boots ordered to begin with. We wanted to place some reorders after we saw what was selling. But all the companies have played it a lot closer to orders this year, and nothing’s available now.”

What Went WrongTeichgraeber says things started out well for the Pilot program. The company began with designs more than four years ago, and on-snow testing had been going on for three years, with numerous focus groups and design modifications in the process.

“Our samples and prototypes that we’ve been riding for more than eighteen months met all expectations. At the end of July, I rode the system for a week, and it still met all expectations. But when we entered mass production and reached capacity output, we experienced unforeseen mechanical problems with the entry and exit of the system.

“In early September we first started to see the problems and then initiated a program to find a solution,” he coontinues. “In mass production, we did quality checks, but production volumes changed as the production increased, and later in the cycle we noticed the problems. When we did, we tried re-engineering the production but couldn’t find alternative solutions.”

He says that not all products coming off the assembly line were affected by the problems, but the company wanted only 100-percent reliability, “And the products didn’t meet expectations 100 percent,” Teichgraeber adds. “When we realized we couldn’t fix the problem, we decided the best course of action was to recall product as quickly as possible.”

He says the company had just begun shipping the Pilot and maybe only a small percentage had actually hit shops: “Fortunately, we were a little behind in delivery.”

He says that the U.S. and Canada had ordered more step-ins than Japan or Europe, but that the total orders were only a small percentage of the total boot and binding numbers the company plans on doing. “The impact of the recall to retailers and consumers is minimal because we’ve taken care of this early on,” he says.

The company is trying to shift orders from step-ins to strap bindings and boots, but those are oversold. “Over the summer we’ve ramped up production of soft boots and bindings,” Teichgraeber says. “But it’s tough. We don’t have much to give people. We’re growing a little faster than we anticipated.”

He says that there’s been a significant investment in the step-in program, but declined to be specific. The company had set up the production line in one of its factories near its headquarters in France. “There is a monetary loss, and we have to deal with this. For Salomon, innovation has its risks. We’ve always prided ourselves on pushing the limits of innovations. With that, there are consequences.”

This is the first recall for Salomon that anyone in the snowboard department can remember, although the company has had products that made it to trade shows and were canceled.

In addition to the manufacturing and R&D costs, the company had been pushing the Pilot system in its recent marketing program. It was the main story of last year’s trade show for the snowboard program. Salomon had also done some early season advertising for the Pilot, which included running two different adds–one spread and another single page–in several different magazines. Plus, the company had extensive information about the product on its Web site.

“We feel it was the right decision,” Teichgraeber says of the recall. “For now, we’ll not present a Pilot step-in system for the ’00/01 line. But we’re looking forward to constantly being present with the evolution of boots and bindings.

“In retrospect, we’ve handled the situation correctly,” he continues. “The emphasis right now is on the retailer. We have to take care of that relationship.”