Industry: Consumer & Lifestyle
Products: Snowboards and splitboards
The husband-and-wife team of Klem and Lisa Branner keep carving out awards with classic snowboards manufactured at the foot of the slope.
The company's founders attributes its success to its passionate employees, location, and rabid fan base.
While most snowboard manufacturing has moved to places like China and Dubai, where it's less expensive, they're still in the mountains in Silverton. "We plan to stay here," says Klem.
"People in Dubai aren't likely to be riding the boards they make," says Lisa. "We can literally walk out the front door and tap into some of the gnarliest terrain in the lower 48 [on our boards], and they were built by snowboarders. Everyone who works for us is passionate about sliding on snow."
Everything at Venture Snowboards is done in-house. "It starts with a pile of lumber the in parking lot," says Lisa. "We build all of our boards, 40 percent of the time is in core production. We print our top-sheets. Bend edges, do all the assembly. We even built a lot of our tooling and our machinery."
She continues, "The people building the boards have an intimate understanding of what the problems are, what they're supposed to be used for. They're going to build the board that they're going to be proud to ride on. I think that translates to better attention to details, real pride and craftsmanship and I think that shows through in the quality of the product."
Another key reason Venture's boards are so consistently highly ranked is constant refinement. "We can take the board from concept to reality, go out ride it, and because we own our facility, make those tweaks pretty much instantaneously and continue to evolve the product and the design in a really organic and responsive way," says Lisa. "It's not like we have to wait until next production season to make changes if something needs fixing."
The company remains small, and that's just how the Branners like it. "Our goal has never been to be a mega-manufacturer," says Lisa, likening the company to a microbrewery. "We're definitely a small craft manufacturer." Klem adds that they wouldn't want to grow big enough that they would have to leave Silverton.
Venture Snowboards stick with classic designs. "We're not about bells and whistles but proven technology that works," says Lisa.
"If it is super-different, it doesn't usually stick around," says Klem. "These days, it seems like everyone is trying to show how wacky you can have your shape, like on the nose. I think people will look back and say, 'That was so 2017.'"
While the company doesn't follow the latest trends, it did add a new category at just the right time: splitboards. "There were maybe three companies making splitboards when we started doing it," Klem says. "We said we could do it better, and we did better right out of the gate. Some say it's the best fitting two halves of a snowboard in the biz and, people that've been around, they all know us as a premium splitboard brand."
"The challenge is we've gotten pigeonholed into a being splitboard company when we offer a full line of solid boards as well," Lisa says. "That's something we're trying to move forward on, appealing to a broader audience, more resort riders, not necessarily the hard-core backcountry contingent which we've already established that loyal following with. How do we take it to the next level and get some of the weekend warriors riding our boards and building on that reputation."
Venture sells through retailers in a number of key markets, mainly in Colorado and the Rocky Mountains, but it has accounts as far away as Italy and Japan. "The challenge with retail is we're seeing a lot of smaller independent stores going out of business," Lisa says.
As such, the company now sells through Backcountry.com and direct to consumer. "Since we have a limited retail network, we do sell direct through our website. Our customers are all over the world. . . . We've got people in Canada, on the East Coast, in Australia, Japan, and all over Europe that are in search of Venture products and we have to be able to offer direct sales for that reason."
"I don't think all the snowboard shops are going to go away. It's going to be a culling of a the herd a little bit," Klem says. "The strong ones are the ones that figure out you're not just selling snowboards anymore. You have to create a community around your shop. You have to help people with tuning, boot-fitting and offer all those things people can't get online. . . . If they want something different than the mega-brands, that's where they're going to go."
Challenges: "We really do want to support the retailers," says Lisa. "A challenge is trying figure out what that distribution looks like going forward."
Opportunities: "The women's market," says Lisa. "In the last couple of years, we started offering women's boards." While the board "doesn't know if you're male or female," she says female consumers may pass up on a board if it's not designated as a women's board.
Needs: "Capital is always an ongoing challenge," Lisa explains. "Money is going out for six to eight months at a time with very little coming in and all of the sales happen in a very short window. You're just hemorrhaging money for a very long time then have big influx of cash just over a three- or four-month period. Managing that cash flow and having that line of credit or capital reserves to purchase those raw materials. That is probably the biggest challenge."