Above: Sean, left. Jeff, right. | Photo: Alex Mertz
DWD believes those who don’t evolve will become extinct.
Each season, another brand in the snow industry shutters, as two more spring up in its place and buy booth space at the perimeter of a trade show, near the jester hats and sunscreen. And the cycle repeats. The chance of success for a small snowboard brand today is marginally better than that of a palm seed planted in Siberia, but there's one that's pushed through the tundra of order minimums and prebooks, each season growing a little taller and a bit stronger. Dinosaurs Will Die, founded over a decade ago by Jeff Keenan and Sean Genovese, has kept chugging along at a sustainable pace without being swept up and spit out by the ever-changing sea of trends steering snowboard marketing on a new course every second season.
Like anything, Dinosaurs Will Die was an idea before it was something. In 2005, Jeff was riding for Option and Sean for Lib Tech when they talked about starting their own project. By January 2006, DWD had a single model in a few sizes, and Sean and Jeff walked the floor at the SIA trade show with their one-board fleet. They produced fewer than a hundred boards that year, and the graphics were Sean's doodles. The following season is when the iconic "Fuck Fun" board debuted--a graphic initially produced for Lib Tech that didn't make the cut. Jeff jokes, "Pete [Saari]'s probably got the sketch sitting under his desk somewhere." Aside from its founders--both rippers--the team consisted of two people: Gus Engle and Andrew Geeves.
Since, the roster has grown. And after a stint with DC, Geeves landed back on a DWD board. "We've always been supportive of what other people are doing. If someone gets an opportunity, we don't want to hold them back," Jeff explains. "We want them to do what works for them and always be able to expand. If they've got a chance to achieve a goal, we're like, 'Well, we're always here with open arms if you ever want to come back.'" Seems reasonable enough, but that's not the norm in this industry. Jeff continues, "Sean and I have also always said without question that if a rider hits us up for a board when they're between sponsors, we will give them one. It's cool who's asked for boards in the past." That list includes Scotty Wittlake and Halldor Helgason, as well as Ben Bilocq, who is now riding Dinos boards officially.
Hardgoods have notoriously poor margins, which is why many brands diversify or avoid the category altogether, but Dinos' approach has remained focused. Ever been to the Cheesecake Factory? They have too many items on their menu, and none are exceptional save perhaps their namesake dessert. DWD makes snowboards--that's it--and the boards they make are the ones they like to ride.
What creates the disparity between DWD and many small brands that haven't made it is knowledge of their market. You either have to be deluded to start a brand in this climate or passionate to the point that Sean and Jeff are. But that passion needs to be subsidized with understanding of the landscape in which you exist. Understanding, however, does not necessitate contentment.
When asked about the challenges Dinos faces, Jeff explains, "Our buying and selling cycle--needing everything by Christmas, and then we need it off the shelf--is broken. That isn't working. Sean and I have talked about it with others--why can't we be more like skateboarding where we don't put stuff off-price right away? These boards are as good as they were last year. Why do we put them on sale, only to print a new graphic and mark them up again?" Jeff continues, "But it's hard in a seasonal industry. It's not one man or one brand that can change that. Everybody has to change that."
Dinos is--by all definitions created by the action sports industry--core. But that doesn't translate to a bitter "us against them" mentality. "Somehow we got slotted with this idea that we hate corporate companies, but we've never ever said that," Jeff clarifies. "I don't think we've ever thought it either. The idea behind the name Dinosaurs Will Die is that those who don't evolve will die. We just believe that those who don't do something to improve what they are doing--company or person, it doesn't matter--will become extinct." Jeff goes on, "If you look at the C3 brands-- CAPiTA, Union, Coal--everyone who works there snowboards, but sometimes people don't consider them core because of their size. It's not about size; it's about how you operate."
A brand is indeed a direct reflection of the people behind it. Perhaps the secret to Dinos' success--a subjective term, yes--is that they've taken the path they want with almost zero consideration as to whether it's what they're supposed to be doing. It's the only way Sean and Jeff know how to operate. When asked about Dinos' staying power, Jeff puts it like this: "It's fighting through the thick and thin, making sure things happen no matter what. I think we've grown organically in the true sense of it. We don't try to be one with the trends of the industry. We slowly build off of what we believe in instead of jumping around. We've always stuck to our guts. That's allowed us to stay true and grow slowly. It's like we're on a straight line while the industry zigzags back and forth across it."