Located in cramped and crowded offices in San Clemente, California, a growing staff of 50 runs Four Star Distribution, the company that handles Forum Snowboards, Foursquare and Special Blend snowboard apparel, and now Circa footwear. It all started with Special Blend, which was founded by Raul Ries in the early 90s and has slowly grown to include the other brands and the distribution company that oversees the trend setting, provocative, and most talked-about group in snowboarding today.
Led by the most high-profile team in the sport and supported by the best-selling annual Mac Dawg snowboard video, the company continues to generate sales and hype around its products. With the addition of new boots, a unique board-binding interface, and a team-only video, the company plans to continue to reinvent itself and proceed with its growth.
But you should be surprised that this story is even being written. You see, the company has been reluctant to talk to the media about its growth and success. It doesn't want to give away secrets or help the competition in any way. After all, despite its fun side, snowboarding is still a tough, competitive, seasonal business with incredible pressures and the Forum/Four Star program is on a roll. Why share their knowledge and ideas for continued success?
Growing Pains The company is spread out through several different office suites in a warehouse complex tucked in the San Clemente hills. Knowing the need to expand the staff with the growth of the brands, the company has added quickly, placing the pressure on existing resources.
This season, the customer service department was increased by nine people, making it twelve strong now. There's talk of consolidating the staff and warehouse into one building, but that could be as much as six months away. But that isn't slowing their progress forward.
New Program Last year the company's marketing image and theme revolved around the eight Forum team riders and promoting the team's star status. The campaign was so successful Mervin Manufacturing made a mocking T-shirt that said Fornicate in a similar type style at the SIA Show in Las Vegas.
Next year Forum will not be continuing with the Forum 8 program. For one thing, the team has grown. Plus, that was this year's campaign and the company tries to reinvent itself every year, says Marketing Director Travis Wood.
The new campaign is based around the new FU2 System. Standing for Forum Universal 2000, the new program brings back the revolutionary Slider insert system that was originally developed by Revelation Snowboards and offers total convenience while allowing for a wide range of stance options on a snowboard. The system meets the individual needs of each and every rider the company believe. Wood says that Forum owns the patents for the Slider and has been in the testing stages for more than two years with the insert program.
Along with the Slider comes a new boot program, which has raised some eyebrows even before it's come out. The Forum team had contracts with other boot companies, including Peter Line's signature boot with 32. But as of January 1, all the riders will be signed on for the complete Forum package. Not wanting to go after other companies or desperate for new business, Wood says the motivation for the boot program was simple: “The team wanted boots.”
Not being completely satisfied with the current footwear they were wearing, the team and R&D staff felt the need to create a total system that would include boots, the Forum Slider, and newly designed bindings. With this in mind, Forum had three goals: to work with the team and give them the equipment they wanted; bring new and better technology to snowboarding; and offer each Forum product at a competitive price. The result includes three signature-model snowboard boots and two team-designed and -inspired boots for the upccoming season.
In addition, the board line has expanded quite a bit as well. “We'll have boards for everybody. Wide ones, kids', affordable boards. We'll definitely be a more complete brand.”
Movie Deals When Forum Snowboards was launched several years ago, one of its partners was Mike MacIntyre, a.k.a. Mac Dawg, one of the most successful and time-proven snowboard video filmers in the United States. It hasn't hurt that the Forum team ended up as the stars of the last several videos Mac Dawg has produced, including Decade and Technical Difficulties. The latter has taken the whole jib movement to heights never seen in the jib heyday of 1993-94 winter.
However the program will change next year. Mac Dawg will be doing his own movie with his own sponsors, but he'll also be filming a Forum movie. “We'll have complete creative control over it,” says Wood. “For the Forum riders, our movie is the first priority. I think that no one's ever done a quality team video before and we plan to. We have a totally different concept, with 90 percent of the music already locked down through the proper legal ways. How the video's made will open up a whole new market.”
Overexposure Although the company products seem to be everywhere right now, Wood and the rest of the staff don't worry about the company getting too big. “Every day when I go snowboarding, I see a more and more kids who have at least some Four Star product. But the kids don't know the brands are from the same company. Special Blend, Foursquare, and Forum are all related in the office, but they are marketed differently. You have to look for them in different places.”
“People recognize good marketing and quality products. That's why more kids wear the stuff. We're just giving the public what they want,” says Woods. “You've got to keep reinventing yourself. Look at Burton. No one says their too big.
“But people are taking notice of us. Forum is having an impact. We're one of last snowboard-only companies left. But everything is done for snowboarders. We promise to take care of them.”
That promise was kept a lot sooner than anyone had hoped. After team rider Chris Dufficy was told not to snowboard professionally any more after numerous concussions, the company found him a job in their Canadian warehouse and helped him to continue his education.
Shooting Star Buoyed by the highest profiled team in the sport, Forum snowboards has been the rising star and singular point of excitement in an era of consolidation and mostly boring pros. The Forum and Four Star programs have invigorated the snowboard market and forced the big guys to re-evaluate their strategy, but can they really keep the momentum going? With a team and staff famous for their betting, it'd be unwise to bet against them.