Snowboarding Industry On SARS Alert, Much Travel Cancelled

As the World Heath Organization beefs up its SARS-related global travel warnings, snowboard-industry manufacturers are on alert and many are halting travel to both Asia and Canada. With a large proportion of softgoods, boots, bindings, and even snowboards currently being produced in Asiatic countries there’s no telling what the affect will be on next year’s product. However, it’s obvious that brands have to rethink company strategies and meeting techniques in light of the spreading virus and worldwide heath concern.

Spring is typically a huge travel time for most snowboarding manufacturers, as preseason orders are in and production is getting underway for 03/04. Typically, designers and/or product managers are finalizing samples before heading into full-scale production for ship dates that can come as early as July. Almost every single company within the action-sports industry has people traveling to Asia this time of year. In a standard year Burton Snowboards alone sends its binding designers on four or five trips to the Far East, and its boot designers average about four. Multiply that by the number of companies in action sports manufacturing goods in China, and that’s a lot of brands shifting the way they do business.

While advances in Internet and cell phone technology can help alleviate headaches, until now most companies used them as back-up and interim methods of communication between physical visits to the factories. “The most important thing for Sole Technology is our employees’ health, so to protect them our current communication with Asia is done through technology and not physically meeting,” explains VP of Marketing Don Brown. “The affects of this are extending a few projects, but nothing that will prevent us from delivering our products to our retailers.”

Burton Snowboards manufacturers its softgoods, boots, and bindings in a number of places including China. The company speculates that while the current health alert will not affect the current production timelines, it could have long-term effects. “There is only so much you can do virtually,” says Public Relations Coordinator Leigh Ault.

“Although Burton does not have a mandatory ban on travel to Asia, most staff members have elected to hold off on travel at this time,” she continues. “Right now, we are doing the best we can with alternative methods of conducting business, i.e. phone, e-mail, digital photos, video conferencing, etc.”

Vans Snowboard Boots and Bindings Product Line Manager Jared Bevens has also voiced some concern over the timing of the spreading SARS outbreak. “This is a pretty critical time of the year for us as we are in the production phase of the 03/04 product, as well as deep into the development stage of the 04/05 line. But, in light of the SARS virus Vans has put a hold on all employee travel to the Far East until further notice.”

“That being said, we have an amazing Vans development team based in Hong Kong and Southern China. Coincidently, about a month or so before the SARS situation became public knowledge we had established a new video-conference system with our team in the Far East. So far we have been able to use this affectively in substitute of going over there. The direct video conferencing combined with a lot of express shipping of samples back and forth is getting the job done for the short term.”

The new methods are what Bevens terms “band-aids” for the current situation. But the timing of such communication has lasting impact on the production schedules, as what previously could be accomplished in a single day in China at a factory now can take days while sample product ships back and forth overseas.

However, while many wonder what the long-term consequences of the SARS virus may have on future production, others are moving forward as usual. “The business at Flow is not affected at all-in general you can say only that travel habits have changed,” remarks Flow Snowboard Division Manager Reinhard J. Hofbaauer. “Only absolutely necessary travel to Hong Kong and China remain unchanged and all other travels to China or Hong Kong have been cancelled. Because of our well-established set-up at the Chinese Flow factories, the production has started as planned. Both the boot and binding factories are running within the pre-set timelines.”

In general it seems that the virus that has infected an estimated 4,000 people worldwide and overall killed 228 people has touched our industry. While the current discourse among snowboard manufacturers and SARS impinges on travel, one case in a factory could instantly change the extent of its affect. Only time will tell influence the pandemic could incur on our industry and other businesses that are dependant upon goods that are produced in Asia.