Palmer’s Summer Camp Extravaganza: Key retailers tour European factories, help shape brand’s future

You were either on or off the bus if you were one of the 22 snowboard-specialty retailers invited to Europe by Palmer Snowboards to tour its factory, as well as its partners Swatch and Dainese factories.

Much like the legendary Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, the Palmer Snowboards’ tour through Europe was a sureal experience that spanned six days and many long hours through three factories, four countries, eighteen meals, and endless amounts of wine, beer, and Red Bull.

The tourists were rewarded with a chance to see inside the manufacturing facilities, in addition a chance to bond with twenty of their peers and the Palmer staff.

Honeycomb and Circles

The first stop was the Palmer Snowboard factory in Mitterberghutten, Austria. One of the biggest assets the brand has, the factory produces around 15,000 high-end boards.

The tour started with Production and Commercial Manager Fritz Stussi introducing the staff to the retailers. “Our workers are the most important thing in our production process,” he said to the group. “They define the quality of our product.”

The construction process was explained, starting with raw materials through to the final finishing area. The company outsources as much of the prep work as possible, including screening of bottoms, sublimation of tops, and woodcore milling.

Palmer uses pre-impregnated fiberglass materials and honeycomb that are cut out using a unique ultrasonic cutting machine. The materials are hand laid into a custom block mold-press where they cook together. Then the boards are finished by a series of automated finishing machines. Palmer doesn’t use liquid resins, so the factory is extremely clean.

With the clean and efficient construction process, the company builds high-end snowboards like cap-sandwich, 3-D topsheet Circle and Channel boards, and the super high-tech Honeycomb models. These feature center-wood stringers with tip-to-tail honeycomb wrapped around the wood. The board weighs in almost 25-percent lighter than other models.

At each process, the group spent time talking to the workers and asking extensive questions about the construction techniques. “Very impressive,” was how Chris Smith, owner of Powder Pursuits in Steamboat Springs, Colorado described the factory. “Everything seemed fast, easy, and efficient.”

Leather And Plastic Protection

Next stop on the tour was the Dainese (pronounced Di-nay-zee) factory. Established in 1972 in Molvena, Italy, the company is a producer of motorcycle racing protection gear. In the last ten years it has expanded its offerings to include down-hill mountain biking, inline skating, down-hill skiing, snowboarding apparel, and protective gear.

According to Palmer President Jurg Kunz, his company became a partner of Dainese when they were searching for protective gear to provide its riders in boardercross races. It turned out that much of the padded clothing was directly applicable to snowboarding, and the two companies started to work as partners sponsoring the Palmer boardercross team.

Dainese employees more than 200 people in two facilities. In its Molvena facility, R&D, production, administration, marketing, and overall management is divided through two adjacent buildings. The production floor consists of rows and rows of women tailoring the fine leather protective outfits and other apparel the company sells. Patterns are designed and stamped out of leather rolls in another room.

Across the street in the R&D lab, designers and engineers work between computers and testing machines examining different materials, pads, and helmet designs.

Thirty minutes away in Vicenza, the company’s sales department and distribution center. Dainese markets its products in 35 countries and has sales of 110 -billion lire.

“I was amazed at the high-tech machinery and technology that the company had focused on producing clothing for these sports,” said Chris Bachman, owner of The Shred Shop in SSkokie, Illinois. “Their shipping warehouse was giant. It’s obvious they’re dedicated to their industry and have made a considerable investment to be number one.”

What Time Is It?

In 1982, Swatch was launched by a conglomerate of watch manufacturers called ETA. Today the company has made and sold more than 200-million watches worldwide. What does a company this large want to do with snowboarding? That’s what the U.S. snowboard retailers were wondering when Palmer Snowboards added the Swatch factory to the tour.

In addition to its mass-market sales, Swatch has been supporting snowboarding for several years now. The company has sponsored boardercross events for three years and is committed to backing at least two more years of the five-stop European and U.S. Swatch Boardercross Tour. It also helped start and promote the Palmer-Swatch Boarder-X team. Swatch also sponsors snowboarders Steve Klassen, Karine Ruby, and Gilles Voirol, and has signature models with Shaun Palmer and a new one for Peter Bauer.

But despite all this support, the company has witnessed other watch brands, such as Casio-with its G-Shock line-come into the action-sports market and make impressive sales.

So with the help of Palmer, the company is considering selling watches to specialty snowboard shops, starting with the 22 who were on this trip.

The company employs 4,000 people in Switzerland and 10,000 worldwide. In the Biel region of Switzerland, the company has numerous buildings with assembly lines that manufacture every piece of each watch.

Ya-Ya Day

“Today is ya-ya day,” said Kunz of the final meeting of the trip. For the finale, the staff spent three hours tying all the pieces of the week together and then asked the attending retailers for feedback on Palmer’s direction.

“You don’t need us, but we can’t live without you,” Kunz said honestly to the retailers, then passed the meeting over to Sales Managers Bob Klein and Marty Carrigan who introduced what the company hopes to be a great sales tool: the Palmer Profit Center.

This display is specifically stocked with boards, boots, bindings, clothing, and accessories from Palmer and a group of partners it has lined up including companies like Dainese. The display is about four feet long and stands six feet high.

“Merchandising is the future,” said Carrigan. “As a small brand we can get lost in the crowd.” He hoped the display will help the retailers promote and move Palmer product in their stores.

The Palmer staff also announced the company is teaming up with the American Skiing Company to build Palmer-X (boardercross) parks at all of its resorts for the coming season.

With the exposure Palmer hopes to get with the ASC resorts, the Swatch tour, and by sponsoring both national and international boardercross teams, the company believes there will be a lot of energy directed its way.

“We want to give you an opportunity to capitalize on a new trend,” said Carrigan to the retailers. Of course, the company also realizes that it needs to expand out of the boardercross niche, and pointed out that it makes boards for all styles of riding. It asked the retailers for their opinions on how it should approach marketing to the bigger market.

Throughout the meeting, the retailers asked insightful questions and commented on things such as quality, price, and distribution of the products.

Eric Budden, manager/buyer of U.S. Outdoor in Portland, Oregon has never been to Europe, but has been on other snowboard trips before. “I think it’s great that Palmer invited some of the key retail accounts to Europe to see its factory, and to help us prepare for future trends.”

All in all, every retailer who attended appreciated the magnitude of the undertaking that the Palmer staff attempted. Surely this effort will be rewarded in the upcoming buying season.

-John Stouffer