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The more we talk to snowboard shops, the more we keep hearing about the Airblaster brand and its popular Ninja Suit.
So I stopped by the Airblaster booth at SIA to find out more.
Jesse Grandkoski, one of the founding partners of Airblaster, gave me all details about the company, including the big plans for the Ninja.
Airblaster, based in Portland, was founded in 2002 by Grandkoski, pro snowboarder Travis Parker and graphic designer Paul Miller. The three were avid snowboarders who saw kids increasingly seduced by images being marketed to them: snowboarders as super tough, dressed all in black, ultra competitive, and of course never falling while doing tricks.
The Airblaster founders saw snowboarding differently. For them, it was about having fun with your friends and helping each other progress.
“It’s about total freedom with friends,” Jesse said.
So the three decided to start their own brand that would just be about having fun. One of their first products was a brightly colored leash with the Airblaster logo, which stood out in the black apparel landscape of the time.
“It was kind of goofy and it you were wearing it, it symbolized you didn’t take yourself too seriously,” he said.
Travis Parker put in the initial money to get the company started, and Airblaster eventually expanded into outerwear. Two other partners, Tyler Scharpf and Jonas Lea, joined the company.
Now, Airblaster makes approximately 25 pieces of outerwear, accessories such as sunglasses, goggles, hats and leashes, and some T’s and fleece.
But its most popular product is the Ninja Suit, which it developed five years ago.
(Right: Pro snowboarder Tim Eddy models the Ninja Suit.)
The Ninja Suit is one piece, full-bodied long underwear with a scuba hood. The idea is that because it is one piece, warmth does not escape from the midsection and neck area. And, snow does not go down your pants if you fall.
With most of Airblaster’s outwear, the appeal is part function and part fun. With the Ninja, Jesse said it sells on function alone.
That’s why some brands have copied the style, which lets Airblaster know it’s on the right track, Jesse said. And it’s why Airblaster has big plans to take the Ninja beyond snowboard specialty stores.
“We feel anybody who does fall or winter sports should have one,” Jesse said. “It will make your life better.”
Airblaster is getting ready to approach larger retailers with the Ninja, but is first coming up with a merchandising system. Jesse said when the Ninja simply dangles from a hanger it doesn’t look that great.
(Right: Airblaster outerwear.)
“We think (the Ninja Suit) can make outdoor retailers a lot of money in the next five years,” he said.
Airblaster is in the process of protecting the Ninja Suit name, and now offers four different styles ranging in price from $80 to $180 depending on the fit and fabric.
Last year, Airblaster’s revenues totaled $2.3 million and it uses 15 reps to sell in the U.S. and Canada and 12 distributors world wide.
The company is financing production with revolving loans from family and the hope is with its growth, Airblaster will be able to get bank financing soon. In 2009, revenues grew 30%.
The operation is lean – five people work in-house – and the owners are constantly weighing the costs and benefits of bringing on new employees to exploit opportunities vs. keeping overhead low.
The three founding partners didn’t have any business experience when Airblaster started, and I asked Jesse how he likes managing a company.
“It’s exhausting,” he said. “We are competing against giants.”
But the team also sees a lot of opportunity.
“We’ve got a couple of gems,” he said. “Hopefully we can capitalize on them before someone else does.”