Industry: Lifestyle & Consumer
Products: Skis and snowboards
CEO Ted Eynon moved his craft ski operation from the Western Slope to Denver and is going all in for growth and customer experience.
You notice it right away: These skis are lighter and have more bounce. With wooden cores, they're notably springier than their metal, composite, and synthetic counterparts.
And they're the epitome of local: Meier Skis' cores are made from all-Colorado aspen and beetlekill pine, made a mile south of downtown Denver, and the factory has a bar and a tuning operation to boot.
Matt Cudmore started Meier in his Glenwood Springs garage. Designing homes with CAD, he designed a pair of skis instead. In 2012, says Eynon, "We got him out of the garage."
After growing production in Glenwood for four years, the big move to Denver came in spring 2016; they turned production back on in September. "As far as I know, it's the first place in the world that combines production, tuning, and a bar made from our own cores," says Eynon.
Staffed by a "skitender," the muraled barroom/showroom features a view into the production area where visitors can watch skis being made as they drink a beer. The plan is to recruit a brewery and perhaps another consumer-focused manufacturer into the 32,000-square-foot building, owned by Denver developers Jason and Ellen Winkler; Meier occupies 3,200 square feet.
"The goal is to have, under one roof, skis, snowboards, and beer, all made by Colorado companies," says Eynon. "I think that'll also be a first." The goal is to catalyze growth by connecting directly with customers.
The company is also focused on high-quality, sustainable materials. The wood "has great characteristic for skis," he notes. "It's light, it's poppy. The carbon footprint is greatly reduced, because it's from right in our backyard and it's not processed." Conversely, bamboo, he adds, is often processed and comes from Asia.
Waste reduction is another goal. "What we try to do, we focus on making things the right way, based on eco-friendly materials," says Eynon, noting that scraps are recycled into kindling and coasters.
At the Denver factory, the cores are made in one room; the topsheets and base material are made in another; graphics, printed by HookFish Manufacturing, are sublimated and the skis are pressed in the front. Skis represent about 95 percent of sales, and snowboards are the remainder.
The production area is visible through a window behind the aforementioned bar, which opened in advance of the 2017 SIA Snow Show in January. (The factory has a legacy of parties: Former infamous Nugget shotblocker Chris "Birdman" Andersen once owned the cavernous space and used it as an after-hours hangout.) The tune room is open to the public. Members of the Meier High Club -- customers, that is -- get 20 percent off.
Sales have grown "significantly" since 2012, he adds, and notes that the goal was "controlled growth” in 2016. "We knew there was a lot of risk involved in the move." New year, new strategy: At this point, we're set up for growth. Calendar year 2017 over calendar year 2016, we expect to double our revenue."
"We're trying to build the business the old-fashioned way, build it the right way, slow and steady," he adds. That notwithstanding, "It's time to put a little gasoline on the fire."
The brand got a lot of publicity from an appearance during a transition from an ad during the NFL game between the Broncos and Patriots in Dec. 2016. The exposure to millions of viewers translated into a flood of web traffic, inquiries, and orders, says Eynon. "The reason we got that is because we're here in Denver one mile from the stadium," he adds. "It helps legitimize the brand."
One employee, Production Manager Chris Dean, made the move with Eynon, and he re-staffed up in the ensuing months. Cudmore now lives in Idaho and "oversees design and R&D" remotely.
The move to Denver "also allowed for much more in the way of partnerships," he adds. It's easier to work with numerous local contractors, like Hookfish and Mile High WorkShop, among others. "That's not available in Glenwood Springs."
Meier is currently focused on two geographic markets -- the Rockies and the Northeast -- and has started selling factory-direct with an undisclosed model. "We have a very innovative and unique model that benefits our retail partners," says Eynon.
The company is also "doing a lot of business-to-business stuff," he adds, including private-label deals with Big Head Todd & The Monsters, Cabot Creamery (a cheese-making cooperative in Vermont), Sunlight Mountain Resort in Glenwood Springs, and other companies and organizations. Branded skis are used as giveaways and incentives, and Meier is also offering one-off skis and snowboards with custom graphics, some of which are crowdsourced from artists.
It all comes down to bringing the relationship with the customer into clear focus. "We want to give that immersive brand experience," says Eynon. Out-of-town customers can "come down to the shop here and have a beer on us."
Challenges: "We're competing against brands that manufacture with low-cost labor in China and Eastern Europe," says Eynon. "We're also competing with local companies who don't make it here."
Opportunities: "Corporate partnerships and private label," says Eynon. Those accounts currently make up about 25 percent of sales, and he sees room for growth. "It helps drive us into the customer demographic of the companies we partner with."
Custom designs "is definitely a big opportunity for growth," he adds. Same goes for direct-to-consumer sales.
Snowboards are another growth area. "We have a unique camber profile we haven't seen anywhere else," says Eynon.
Finally, "new geographic areas” offer more opportunity. "This year, we're focused on the Northeast and Western Canada," he explains. "Next year, we plan to focus on the Pacific Northwest and California."
Needs: Labor remains a need. "It's ongoing," says Eynon. "It's finding the right people with the right background." He adds, "That's one of the reasons we moved here. It's easier to find labor. It was difficult to retain labor in Glenwood Springs and the Roaring Fork Valley."
Another: "Capital. Hard goods consume a lot of capital," says Eynon. "This spring, we're looking for potential investors."