We recently toured the incredible Never Summer factory, which was eye opening in so many ways. Not only was it fascinating to see the boards made from start to finish and to learn about what goes into the process, but it was also a closer look into a company with a great history and staunch integrity. We sat down with Marketing Manager Jenna Malmquist and Marketing Director Chris Harris to find out more about the company’s story, their philosophy and their future plans.
SIA: First off, tell us a little bit about the history of Never Summer.
JM: Tim and Tracey Canaday started the company in 1983. They grew up in the Fort Collins area, and learned woodshop at school. They decided to use that knowledge to make their own snowboards in their garage, and they did it for a couple of years. Back then the company was called Swift. They took a hiatus and moved to California for a while, but they saw that snowboarding was getting really popular and got re-inspired to make boards. They moved back to Colorado in ‘91 and started Never Summer. They were making the boards themselves. Tracey always jokes how Tim would make the designs and Tracey would drive around from shop to shop with the boards in the trunk of his Honda Civic, trying to convince people to buy them. They just grew from there, over time, and have changed factories 3 or 4 times over the years. We moved here 2 years ago, and even though it’s much bigger these days, Tim still does all engineering of the boards, all of the profiles, and Tracey does all of the business. Both are still very involved; I see them every day I come to work. They care very much about the company- they care about how we’re doing. Now we make about 25,000 boards a year, 7,000 Icelantic skis, and also Fatypus skis and a sit ski company as well, and of course our long boards.
SIA: You’ll be producing Sims snowboards this year. How will the Sims boards work into the Never Summer philosophy?
JM: Well, we are excited to be producing Sims boards, and we are very mindful of keeping the integrity of both brands. Tracey and Tim never want Never Summer to be a huge brand. We don’t want it to be confusing to consumers or make it hard for retailers to sell our products. So we add one or two SKUs each year, and Tracey’s very particular about that. He doesn’t have a problem with selling out. We want to be able to maintain high quality and durability, and to be able to do repairs and provide great customer service. That’s what Never Summer has always been about.
As far as Sims, you know we have Never Summer’s patented profile, and we believe strongly in this profile- we think it’s the most versatile. We keep it simple. We have the original rocker camber, and then last year we released the Ripsaw profile, with double the camber, less rocker, more aggressive feeling and carve. The rocker camber is more surfy feeling, but still can hold an edge. And we’re good with these. So with Sims, the boards will still be designed by Tim, but they’ll have their own profiles and distinctions. They won’t have rocker camber, but they’ll be able to explore more with camber. It’ll be a time for us to experiment. But not under Never Summer. That’s how the brands will be differentiated.
SIA: We’re excited to have you guys at the Summer Snowdown again this year. It seems like you always get some good media coverage from it. What are the big stories you’ll be sharing this year?
JM: Chris and I are both attending Snowdown this year. We were really happy with our presence with the longboards last year so this year we’ll be attending with our snowboard lineup and longboard lineup. We always get something good out of it – last year we got into Sports Illustrated for Kids with the longboard; that was a big story and we were really pleased.
CH: Yes, we always get a bunch of good press coverage and always at least one fairly significant mention – one year Outside named the Proto as Gear of the Year, and that was huge. This year Sims will be our big announcement at the Snowdown, as well Never Summer’s new profile, the new boards, and of course we’re always hoping to get the Made in America story, and the history of the brand out there because those are really important to us.
SIA: There’s a lot of talk these days about the health of snowboarding. What’s your take on it?
JM: Well, I think trends just go up and down. I don’t personally have a negative outlook on it; I don’t wake up worried about it, but we do like to branch out to bring people in. We try to spread the love of snowboarding and get the word out to people who may not have tried but would probably be into it, because they participate in other adrenaline sports. We sponsor a couple BMX guys, and we have our longboard market as well. That brings other people into it, and helps grow it. The moto events have been very successful for us so far. We sponsor 4 riders, and we make the helmets and you see them on ESPN a lot. We do ads in moto magazines as well. After events, we have shops letting us know that people come in after a moto event looking for Never Summer. It’s been good for us.
SIA: I know Never Summer is very selective about where the boards are sold. Tell us about the company’s philosophy around its specialty retailers.
JM: We only sell to specialty shops. Our biggest shops are BC Surf and Sport and Christy Sports, and other than that we focus on the core shops. Most of our dealers are in the Colorado area, and many have been with us right from the beginning.
CH: They’re called core for a reason. They’re the backbone of snowboarding. They decide what the next trend is going to be, and backing from them goes a long way for us as a brand. Backing from them has gotten us to where we are today. We do a lot of protection of our retailers. We don’t open every door – if there’s a shop that’s going to compete directly with another shop and we already have a shop in that town, we don’t open that door. We keep our distribution really restricted, and we work with them on the regular – Gags is on the phone to our 300+ shops every day, that’s basically Gags’ job, is touching base with these guys. We fly a sampling of them in every year, just to see how we’re doing, how they’re doing, and the majority of the feedback we get from those guys every year is, we say, “What can we do for you?” and they say, “Just keep doing what you’re doing. We wish other brands did what you do.”
We reach outside of snowboarding to bring people in as well, through a couple of different programs, and retailers are thankful for that. The people that matter recognize it. Of course our first goal is to bring people into snowboarding, and our second goal is to become the brand that fans of other industries buy when they come into snowboarding. Never Summer is a different story than other brands. If there’s such a thing as this, I’d say we are the righteous brand. We watch out for the core shops, we work to bring people in to snowboarding, and we support the backbone of snowboarding. We know we’re not the backbone, the core shops are the backbone. And that’s how our business has grown – from the support of those core shops.
We send our thanks to Jenna and Chris for their time and great hospitality. The factory tour was truly fascinating and we’d love to show you a bit of it. Stay tuned to our brand new blog space, Snow Source, for an upcoming video feature on our Never Summer factory tour! Also, find out more about the Summer Snowdown. There are still a few spaces left, so contact us now to participate!