Burton and Emery go the distance to service customers.

Just days before the Thanksgiving holiday-traditionally one of the busiest retail sales times of the year-retailers, resorts, rental shops, and consumers received a bombshell announcement from binding manufacturer Emery. All SIS step-in 1998/1999 Adult snowboard bindings, which are sold under the Rossignol, Original Sin, and Emery trademarks, would have to undergo an immediate quality-control inspection.

The root of the problem was with the transmission bar on the bottom of the SIS binding-a part that was subcontracted out by Emery. On certain affected bindings, and in specific high-vibration conditions, misalignment of the transmission bar could result in the rider stepping out of the binding.

A month earlier, on October 30, the much-anticipated Burton SI system was also recalled when flaws in the automatic engagement system were discovered. This problem forced some riders to manually lift the engagement tabs to lock in, instead of having the tabs automatically engage when the rider stepped into the binding.

How big of a problem were these two recalls? Burton National Sales Manager Clark Gundlach declined to give an exact number of SI bindings recalled worldwide. However, industry estimates says this number is probably around 40,000 to 60,000 units-with one estimate as high as 100,000 units.

With the Emery recall, Pascal Joubert des Ouches, snowboard marketing manager for Rossignol, says 60,000 to 70,000 units were affected: 15,000 pairs for Rossignol U.S., 5,000 for Rossignol Canada, 5,000 for Original Sin, with the remainder from international Emery and Rossignol sales and from MLY’s U.S. distributorship of the Emery SIS system.

The total cost of the two recalls could easily exceed one-million dollars.

Both situations allowed the affected companies to show customers the lengths they would go to solve the problem as rapid-response plans were put into place.

Burton Calls ‘Em Back

With the Burton SI recall, retailers and consumers were instructed to second-day ship the bindings back to Burton’s Burlington, Vermont-based headquarters.

Vice President of Marketing Dave Schriber says the retro-fit could have been fixed in the field by retailers, but it was easier to have the bindings sent back immediately (before too many were sold) to get it taken care of.

“It is totally not a safety issue, it’s a convenience issue,” he says. “There are two orange indicators that tell you when you’re in. There is no possibility of a false positive. Sometimes you have to wiggle your foot to get it to engage, and sometimes-no matter how much you wiggle-there’s no way it’s going to engage so you’d have to reach down to engage it. To us, that’s not a step-in. But we’ve got the fix and it’ll be lightning quick.”

There was no good time to catch the problem, but sources at Burton say only about 35 percent of the step-ins had been shipped before the recall. “It’s still early enough in the season when not a lot of people are out riding yet,” Schriber adds.

Burton promised retailers and consumers that the bindings would be repaired and shipped back by second-day air within five days of their receipt in Vermont. Although this goal was not met in some instances, most retailers generally gave Burton high marks for how it handled the situation.

Repaired Burton SI bindings feature a hologram sticker on the highback.

The Worst Possible Time

The SIS 1998/1999 adult snowboard bindings recall couldn’t have happened at a worse time-for a number of reasons. The Thanksgiving weekend represents the launch of both the busy shopping and snowboarding season, and most product had already shipped.

Rossignol, MLY, and Emery also placed a lot of emphasis on the rental market when it came to the SIS binding, and had negotiated some SIS-exclusive rental deals with some resort.

If these rental shops didn’t have product, each customer turned away would represent a llost rental sale the SIS-exclusive shops could’ve billed the brands for-which could’ve easily climbed into the tens of thousands of dollars.

“We made it by the skin of our teeth,” says Marc Bujold, the U.S. snowboard division manager for Rossignol, referring to keeping these important customers open through Thanksgiving with product to rent. Bujold says the retrofit was proceeding on schedule and that 75 percent of the bindings had been fixed by the first week of December. “We haven’t received any negative fallout,” he says, “but we really had to jump through hoops to get it done.”

Indeed, Bujold says that when it came right down to it, Rossignol spent the money necessary to minimize the impact of the recall.

“We hired a full-time employee to handle the 1-800 number, we flew in fourteen of our Rossignol reps so they could see and understand the problem, we worked two shifts on the Thanksgiving weekend turning screws, we made more than 100 counter-to-counter courier drops to get the needed equipment to reps so they could drive to our rental accounts and keep them open.”

Bujold says these reps were given carte blanche to use the necessary resources to make the repairs as quickly as possible. “I told one rep, ‘You need five guys to make repairs to the Heavenly Valley rental operation? Hire ‘em!’” says Bujold.

And who will be picking up the tab for these costs? According to Bujold, a separate budget was formed to keep track of expenses and when the recall is over, Emery will receive an invoice for this amount, which Emery’s insurance will ultimately pay. This will also be the case at MLY, according to Sales and Marketing Manager Mark Miller, who says he was nearly finished with his company’s 2,000 retrofits on December 1.

“We aren’t going out and spending money like crazy to f*** Emery,” says Bujold. “We’re doing this to service our customers and to minimize the impact it has on their business.”

Since Rossignol owns 30 percent of Emery, the recall renewed speculation that Rossi would endeavor to purchase the remainder of the company from Owner Robert Emery. Indeed, Joubert indicated in late November that this purchase might be imminent. How the recall will affect the asking price is open for speculation-but a fire sale could be in the cards.

-Sean O’Brien and Robyn Hakes