Salt Lake City
Industry: Lifestyle & Consumer
Early-mover Ken Driscoll thrives with a focus on durability and ballast from Utah foam.
Decades before starting Glide Paddleboards, Ken Driscoll preferred to do all his paddling sitting down.
"I started off, actually, as a whitewater kayaker," Driscoll explains. After he hurt his back, he knew he had to stop kayaking. But he wasn't done with the water, or with paddling.
"I saw paddleboards on a trip to the beach," Driscoll says. Paddleboards were just in their infancy as a product, but Driscoll was immediately intrigued. "I just wanted to get back on the water," he says. "Starting this business, it was actually really selfish. Making whitewater paddleboards was something I started off doing for myself to get back on the water."
Like many other entrepreneurs, Driscoll started off in his garage in California. "Making boards in California made sense," Driscoll says, "It's the heart of the surf industry in the United States." But more than being surrounded by others in the board industry, Driscoll needed one thing: foam.
"Foam is the core of the board," Driscoll explains. As he grew his business, he began to request semi-truckload after semi-truckload of foam from Utah.
"I started thinking it was silly," Driscoll says. "It was my greatest expense. I could get rid of it by being closer. Why not move to Utah? And that's what I did nearly a year into the process of making boards." Driscoll went from his garage to a 6,000 square foot facility, to a 10,000 to now a 20,000 square foot facility in Utah. "Looking back, it has been amazing to see how fast we've grown in such a short amount of time."
Hand-shaped and hand-laminated, Glide Paddleboards are known to be ultra-durable, which has helped the business survive because Glide particularly serves the outfitter and rental market.
"We are the leader of durable boards," says Driscoll, "which matches our sales channel. On the retail side, all our lifestyle boards are user and kid friendly. Kids can drop them. People can bump them into cars. The board is going to be okay. And we made a decision early on to stay with specialty retailers. We're not trying to get into the big box stores and our online sales are small. We want to support our dealers and our small specialty shops."
Since the first time Driscoll spotted a paddleboard, the market has greatly expanded. "The barriers to entry were very low," he explains. "Anyone could come up with a design, manufacture it offshore, and dump it into the market." And they did.
"For us, I believe we were lucky," Driscoll says. "We carved out a niche early on in, and we developed a reputation for being durable from the beginning. We were the leader of that segment. If we hadn't, there's a good chance we could not be in business anymore like many others. But we controlled our own manufacturing, we controlled our inventory, we controlled our sales channel. It helped us survive."
Having a strong reputation in the industry helped, too. "As an athlete, I had 20 years of relationships to rely on. It was a natural progression and many in the industry already knew who I was. They were comfortable doing business and going with the guy they already knew," Driscoll says.
Challenge: Cash flow. Glide Paddleboards is a seasonal business. "The bulk of what we do occurs in just a few months and so managing growth is a balance. We have gotten a handle on it, but it's still a challenge because the industry is too new to have trends. We're taking our best guess every year and are careful not to have extra inventory."
Opportunities: Glide Fit. A new product, Glide Fit is essentially an inflatable square which can be utilized during an aquatic workout. "Glide Fit is where our focus is," Driscoll says. "Shape Magazine saw it and took our Facebook page from 4000 likes to around 78,000 now. That all happened in six months. The Fit side has been insane, and we are working on developing classes, membership, and other aspects that are open to us as a business. We're experiencing exponential growth. It's exciting."
Need: Talent. "Finding and developing quality individuals is a need," Driscoll says. "We need to find the right people and put them into the right role."