By Eric Peterson | Mar 06, 2017
Industry: Lifestyle & Consumer
Working for his family's eponymous, Chicago-based real-estate developer, Klutznick moved from Colorado to California and back working on such marquee projects as the Little Nell in Aspen.
He got into the skateboard industry after his sons got interested in the sport, but were disillusioned by the retailers. "Their experience didn't push them towards the sport, it pushed them away from it," he says. He teamed with co-owner Michael Pisarcik with the idea, "Let's come up with something that's better," and opened a shop in Denver's Lower Highland (LoHi) area in 2011.
After more than five years running a retail-only operation, the company moved into manufacturing in 2017 for a reason. "We were having issues with quality and the shapes of the boards we were getting," explains Klutznick.
So BOARDLife moved to a former appliance repair shop on South Broadway in Denver with zoning that accommodates both manufacturing and retail. "If you want to put full manufacturing with retail, it's very difficult," says Klutznick. "Broadway is very unique with its zoning."
Opening in Jan. 2017, the factory is fronted by 1,500 square feet of retail. BOARDLife's big retail innovation is the Deck it Out program, offering customers to customize their board for $99 ($149 for a longboard) for standard models.
Deck it Out "is geared towards a mom. It's boutique-y and family-friendly," says Klutznick. "It's a prix-fixe menu of sorts. There's a lot of comfort to that."
After selecting a deck, customers move to a wall dotted with rainbow-hued wheels. "The wheel wall's unique to us," he says. Upgraded options are available for a premium.
The store also sells skateboards from a number of top brands, plus clothing, accessories, and a few cruiser bikes. The inventory includes such exotic products as "super longboards" from Colorado-based Street Swell measuring six feet in length and electric skateboards that hit 20 mile an hour.
Made in the 2,300-square-foot factory that's visible from the sales floor, BOARDLife's own boards are available as of mid-March. "We put the windows in to really engage you in the process," explains Klutznick. "We call ourselves How It's Made live."
To launch the shop, BOARDLife acquired a wide range of equipment from a shuttered skateboard manufacturer in North Carolina, including a 1960s glue spreader and a 1950s radio-frequency press that speeds the process considerably. A deck "is in the press for nine or 10 minutes and you can cut that board the next morning," says Klutznick. A manual press can require hours or days.
BOARDLife also brought a graphics printer, laser etcher, and heat-transfer press from its previous location and bolstered the shop with a dual-head CNC machine. With the ability to brand boards in-house, the company does a healthy business making boards for corporate clients like Which Wich and Chili's.
Molds with a pin-based system are used throughout the production process. "Every station, it goes to, it's locked in the exact same form," says Klutznick. "The board never moves."
He estimates the current production capacity at about 300 decks a week, but sees potential for as many as 45,000 a year if he schedules three shifts.
Notes Klutznick: "Quality's going to drive our volume. We're not going to sacrifice our quality for volume."
Jeff Vyain relocated to Denver from Pennsylvania to run the shop, and uses it to manufacture his own line, Pantheon Longboards. Klutznick calls him "the king mad scientist” and commends his ability to create new designs and improve on old ones.
Vyain says he moved primarily for the business opportunity, but quality of life was another factor, as was Denver's skateboarding scene. "It's a great opportunity to grow my brand," he explains. "Denver and the outlying area is the best place for skateboarding in the U.S. right now."
To wit, Vyain's cohort on the factory floor, Aaron Frary, also has his own line in Liqwood Boards.
And BOARDLife has developed a half-dozen prototype decks and will start selling its own line by mid-March. Klutznick says the new boards utilize different materials, largely composites, but is tight-lipped on specifics. "We're innovating, which hasn't happened in a little while in the skate industry," he says.
One growing market is skateboards for commuting. "How do you get the right board to accommodate for that?" says Klutznick.
Beyond making and selling boards, the shop is heavily involved in the sport of skateboarding. It offers free tunes, tips, and Sunday lessons, and also works with a number of local schools and nonprofits. "We love to teach," says Klutznick. "We'll try to revive the bearings so they don't have to buy new ones, and teach them how to do it themselves."
Challenges: "Like a lot of the outdoor industry, we're at a low point of a cycle right now," says Klutznick. "You see the same thing in skiing and the same thing in snowboarding."
Consolidation and the emergence of e-commerce has led to a sharp drop in the number of skate shops. But that opens doors for nimble manufacturers, says Klutznick. "The places where we shine are customer service and quality. Now with the factory, we can teach you from making the product to the skating. We like that personal touch."
He says replicating the brick-and-mortar retail experience online is difficult. "We haven't been able to design [a website] to give you that some touch and feel we pride ourselves on."
Opportunities: While BOARDLife shuttered a retail location in Austin to open the Denver factory, Klutznick plans to open new locations for both retailing and manufacturing.
Another potential opportunity: "With skating coming into the 2020 Olympics, we would love to innovate for the U.S. skate team."
BOARDLife is also working with officials in Denver and Golden to develop new skateboard facilities. "It's really about rising the tide for the sport itself," says Klutznick. "The hope is being able to partner and bring a cohesiveness to our industry."
Needs: Growth. "We've kind of leveled off," says Klutznick. "Having the factory will hopefully give us some traction."