Slow And Steady: How Glissade Manufacturing is surviving the industry shakeout

It’s the classic tale of the tortoise and the hare. A slow-growth company, plugging along at its own pace, eventually crosses the finish line ahead of competitors who tried to rush to success. That’s the picture Greg Pronko, founder of Glissade Manufacturing, paints of his slow but steadily growing company in Northern California. Capitalizing on its niche positioning as one of the first suppliers of long boards with the Glissade line, eventually the company grew into the freestyle and freeride categories with the Crap and Harvest lines, respectively.

The Glissade office and factory are located in Chico, one of the oldest cities in the state. This quiet little college town surrounded by orchards and farmland was one of the stops on the pioneers’ supply route through NorCal. “It’s a little oasis in the middle of orchard country,” Pronko says. “Everyone knows each other in town, and we’re away from the hustle and bustle of the Bay Area.” Population is approximately 100,000 when Chico State University is in session, in the summer it’s home to 80,000.

All ten full-time employees working in the Glissade office came to Chico to attend college. The advantages to running a factory in this location are numerous. “The cost of doing business in Chico is good,” Pronko says. “Rent, cost of living, and running a factory are all low.” And being merely two hours from Tahoe and one hour from snow- covered volcano Mt. Lassen (which according to Pronko has some insane hiking and backcountry riding), offers endless research-and-development opportunities.

The manufacturing facility is located in a 20,000-square-foot warehouse, with additional space in an adjacent warehouse used for storage, building tooling, and other necessary support for the board- making operation. “We build all our own equipment,” says Polymers/R&D Engineer Mike O’Reilly. This stems back to Glissade’s early years when equipment and materials needed to make snowboards just weren’t available.

“When we started, there were no supply houses out there to offer us what we needed,” O’Reilly continues. “It’s almost as if we evolved on a separate island from the rest of the industry. Everyone else copied what the ski companies were doing technologically, while we figured out our own processes, materials, and basically learned from our own mistakes. It hurt us in that we never had a lot of money for advertising, but the advantage is that our boards have a completely different look and feel than what’s out there.”

Because they’ve succeeded this far without the help of outside vendors, both Pronko and O’Reilly say that now they won’t even talk to standard industry suppliers when they call.

“Our main goal is to stay on the cutting edge of technology,” says O’Reilly. “We try not to use what other vendors tell us works best. We do our own testing of materials, and we’re really cautious who we buy from.”

Building Boards

In the main warehouse, the factory flows from back to front with raw materials entering in the rear and finished-product storage and shipping located toward the front. There’s also an extensive printing department in the back that has evolved into its own separate division of the company. Glissade does all its own printing, and in fact is using its capacity to make some extra money by printing T-shirts, stickers, banners, and topsheets for other companies.

“Our printing is sort of a separate entity of its own,” says Pronko. The company uses sublimation printing for topsheets and die-cutting on the bases. “Our base graphics aren’t as exciting as some of the other boards out there, but ours hold together and that’s more important,” says O’Reilly.

In the sublimation process, the engineers at Glissade are experimenting with new sublimateable topsheets. The process is similar to tattooing-the ink is fused into the material itself, rather than being placed on top. “We’re taking sublimation to the next level by using new inks and new materials,” sayPronko. One way they are doing this is through the use of an elastoplastomer topsheet, a rubber-like material that acts as a dampener, alleviating the need to place additional dampening materials inside the board.

“The boards actually make a completely different sound on ice and ride much smoother,” Pronko says. “We developed this material five years ago, and now other companies are finally realizing the advantages of elastomeric topsheets.”

The construction process at Glissade is unlike what you’d see in most factories. Using thermoplastics instead of epoxy resin, they say they’ve figured out a way to not only make the reinforcement layers inside the board stronger, but also created a future avenue for recycling boards. “We looked at the fiberglass layers in the board, isolated them, and figured out how to make them the strongest they can be,” Pronko says. “Engineering thermoplastics are the answer, but they’re very difficult to bond with.”

The difficulty lies in the heating of the thermoplastic, which typically requires temperatures that would melt the other board components. But the techs at Glissade have created a way to do it without damaging board materials. “A lot of companies are working on it and they’ll get there some day, but we can say we did it first,” Pronko states. The process they’ve developed also allows them to remelt the thermoplastic and eventually be able to recycle all the components of the board. Pronko hopes recycling will become a standard throughout the industry in the future.

The cores of the boards are made of spruce, fir, poplar, or balsa. All are cut and kept in a climate-controlled room at 90 degrees Fahrenheit and 30-percent relative humidity to prevent them from drying out. Once all the board components are put together, they are racked until it’s time to enter the press room.

Another interesting technology Glissade spearheaded is internally wrapped edges. It is essentially a three-quarter edge, with no metal showing on the nose or tail. Other companies using this same construction technique include Mervin Manufacturing, Santa Cruz, and Rusty Snowboards. “We started it five years ago,” Pronko says. “The edges wrap into the nose and tail, helping to prevent blowouts and leaving the tip and tail more flexible.”

Right now Glissade only runs its factory three to four months out of the year, starting in early June. The company has sixteen presses, but that area is secured and only six production employees in the whole company are even allowed inside. “We could show you, but then we’d have to kill you,” O’Reilly jokes.

If the factory operated year round, one eight-hour shift a day, it could be producing fifteen- to twenty-thousand boards a year. Right now though, Glissade makes only 50 boards a day for the three to four months it’s operating. It takes approximately four days for a board to be completed.

“At one time we steered away from making boards for other people, but now we’re toying with the idea again,” Pronko says. More than just OEM business, Glissade is looking to partner up with someone, a snowboard company that’s interested in being a part of its innovative board-construction methods. “We have technology that no one in the industry has,” Pronko notes. “With thermoplastics, for example, we can build better boards that are cheaper and easier to make, better to ride, and are recyclable.” And being located so close to the mountains, if the folks at Glissade don’t like something, they can fix it or even change it mid production. “We can take a board to the mountain and change the specs that same week,” Pronko adds.

How It All Began

Pronko started building boards at his parents’ home in Los Altos, California back in 1983 when he was in eighth grade. He kept it up as a hobby through high school, and when he graduated he moved his operation to Chico. Pronko copyrighted the name Glissade in 1985.

The original manufacturing facility took up merely a fraction of what it encompasses today-approximately 1,800 square feet of the 20,000- square-foot warehouse. “Back then we didn’t have big banks investing in us, it was all grassroots,” Pronko says. Every penny made off the boards went back into the company.

“I even slept in here for four months while I was going to school,” he laughs, waving to a small office in the back corner of the building. Eventually Pronko borrowed some money from family, took out a couple of bank loans, and continued operating the factory while going to school and working a few other jobs to stay afloat. O’Reilly came on in the summer of 1992. He was studying polymer engineering at Chico State and brought his experiments and expertise to the factory.

Getting Recognized

Glissade has remained a true niche player for the past fifteen years. “We’ve always used grassroots marketing to the high-end user and we’ve kept a die-hard group of supporters,” Pronko says. Those supporters know the company for its unique materials and continued focus on brand identity. But Glissade first became known for its long boards. “Originally, when we started making boards, we kept making them longer and longer because that’s what we were into-riding powder and backcountry,” Pronko explains. “We were headed in a completely different direction than the market at that time. Eventually the industry matured and headed into that style of riding. I wouldn’t say we spearheaded it-we were just always going in that direction.

“We’ve remained sort of underground, but things are starting to come to a head and we can finally get our name out there,” Pronko adds. In the past, the boards were marketed as three separate lines: Crap, the freestyle board; Harvest, the mid-priced freeriding model; and Glissade, the big-mountain, powder board. Now, the plan is to bring all three lines under the name Glissade.

Currently, the company’s boards can be found in approximately 60 retail outlets, mostly located in the West. “We have no distribution on the East Coast or in Colorado, but we’re looking to expand into those regions,” Pronko says. The brand is also strong in Europe and Japan; those two markets combined represent for just over half of Glissade’s total sales. Keeping distribution tight was a strategy that has helped the company run smoothly, without rushing into certain areas and overextending the name. Rusty Dobbs and Jana Faith are both in charge of sales and marketing, with Dobbs spending most of his time on the road, visiting accounts and checking out potential dealers. “It’s all about respect for our brand,” Pronko says. “We’ll pick one shop in a community to sell to rather than selling to everyone who’ll sell anything. Some companies are happy just to get the sales.

“I grew up skiing, and I saw companies like Volkl and Salomon putting their energy into making good product,” Pronko continues. “It’s the same with us. We want to stay in it for 30 years. We’re not greedy, our goal has always been long term.”

That in mind, Glissade Manufacturing has been creative with its spending as well as its earning. “We have other things we can make money off of, like our printing, for example,” Pronko says. “We could have cashed in and sold out a long time ago, but we believed that long-term, slower growth would eventually prevail.

“We, as a company, are older than TransWorld SNOWboarding,” Proko states emphatically. “We’re older than many other companies out there and somehow we’ve maintained. We’ve stayed true to a certain growth pattern.”

Stepping Up

Glissade is planning on improving its marketing in the coming year, while keeping its values and continuing to grow in the same way it always has. “We’re capitalizing the company to expand our market a little more,” Pronko says. “It’s taken us fifteen years to get where we are today. We’re not going to take a huge, drastic step and start expanding dramatically, but now that the industry has cleaned up a little bit, there’s mot it encompasses today-approximately 1,800 square feet of the 20,000- square-foot warehouse. “Back then we didn’t have big banks investing in us, it was all grassroots,” Pronko says. Every penny made off the boards went back into the company.

“I even slept in here for four months while I was going to school,” he laughs, waving to a small office in the back corner of the building. Eventually Pronko borrowed some money from family, took out a couple of bank loans, and continued operating the factory while going to school and working a few other jobs to stay afloat. O’Reilly came on in the summer of 1992. He was studying polymer engineering at Chico State and brought his experiments and expertise to the factory.

Getting Recognized

Glissade has remained a true niche player for the past fifteen years. “We’ve always used grassroots marketing to the high-end user and we’ve kept a die-hard group of supporters,” Pronko says. Those supporters know the company for its unique materials and continued focus on brand identity. But Glissade first became known for its long boards. “Originally, when we started making boards, we kept making them longer and longer because that’s what we were into-riding powder and backcountry,” Pronko explains. “We were headed in a completely different direction than the market at that time. Eventually the industry matured and headed into that style of riding. I wouldn’t say we spearheaded it-we were just always going in that direction.

“We’ve remained sort of underground, but things are starting to come to a head and we can finally get our name out there,” Pronko adds. In the past, the boards were marketed as three separate lines: Crap, the freestyle board; Harvest, the mid-priced freeriding model; and Glissade, the big-mountain, powder board. Now, the plan is to bring all three lines under the name Glissade.

Currently, the company’s boards can be found in approximately 60 retail outlets, mostly located in the West. “We have no distribution on the East Coast or in Colorado, but we’re looking to expand into those regions,” Pronko says. The brand is also strong in Europe and Japan; those two markets combined represent for just over half of Glissade’s total sales. Keeping distribution tight was a strategy that has helped the company run smoothly, without rushing into certain areas and overextending the name. Rusty Dobbs and Jana Faith are both in charge of sales and marketing, with Dobbs spending most of his time on the road, visiting accounts and checking out potential dealers. “It’s all about respect for our brand,” Pronko says. “We’ll pick one shop in a community to sell to rather than selling to everyone who’ll sell anything. Some companies are happy just to get the sales.

“I grew up skiing, and I saw companies like Volkl and Salomon putting their energy into making good product,” Pronko continues. “It’s the same with us. We want to stay in it for 30 years. We’re not greedy, our goal has always been long term.”

That in mind, Glissade Manufacturing has been creative with its spending as well as its earning. “We have other things we can make money off of, like our printing, for example,” Pronko says. “We could have cashed in and sold out a long time ago, but we believed that long-term, slower growth would eventually prevail.

“We, as a company, are older than TransWorld SNOWboarding,” Proko states emphatically. “We’re older than many other companies out there and somehow we’ve maintained. We’ve stayed true to a certain growth pattern.”

Stepping Up

Glissade is planning on improving its marketing in the coming year, while keeping its values and continuing to grow in the same way it always has. “We’re capitalizing the company to expand our market a little more,” Pronko says. “It’s taken us fifteen years to get where we are today. We’re not going to take a huge, drastic step and start expanding dramatically, but now that the industry has cleaned up a little bit, there’s more room for us to move in. There’s less competition and we are organized now to be able to grow to the next level.

“You’ll keep seeing new things from us,” Pronko promises. “We’re more than just a snowboard fabricator, we’re truly a research and development company for the snowboard industry.”s more room for us to move in. There’s less competition and we are organized now to be able to grow to the next level.

“You’ll keep seeing new things from us,” Pronko promises. “We’re more than just a snowboard fabricator, we’re truly a research and development company for the snowboard industry.”