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Firewire CEO on growing during a recession and new fin

By Shelby Stanger
February 08, 2010 7:04 AM

Although hardgoods is a tough category these days, we heard a lot of good things about surfboard brand Firewire during the holiday.

At ASR, we caught up with CEO Mark Price who told us how the brand is growing during the recession and remaining profitable. He also told us about a new fin technology that he says will increase surfing performance, and most likely, sales as well.

ASR labelWhy did I hear so much hype about Firewire during the holidays?

There were two reasons. First, we have increased our floor space at retail in the last six to nine months. Having a stronger presence, more people noticed the brand. Also, we ran an incentive where we offered a $50 store credit with the purchase of every board so a kid could get traction, leash or a present for someone else. It worked really well and I think it was a meaningful incentive without devaluing our brand.

How are you guys doing financially right now?

We are a private company and we raised almost all of our funding in 2006 so we were pretty lucky. We don’t have any debt right now and we were profitable in 2009.

How much have you grown over the last year?

We’ve grown about 20 percent in the last year.

How big is the brand compared to the competition?

It’s difficult to gauge the exact volume of our direct competitors, but allowing for some weighting due to our selective distribution, we’re definitely in the top three across our distribution, and in some fairly high profile accounts, we were actually number one in 2009.

Which accounts are you referring to?

All three of them are on the East Coast for some reason; two in the mid-Atlantic and one in Florida – but that’s about as specific as I can get.

How are you growing so much while hardgoods overall are suffering?

We have crossed that threshold of acceptability. Whenever there is a new brand and a new technology, it takes a while for people to catch on. In 2006 through 2008, the early adopters were getting hip to Firewire and now the next wave are coming onboard and as you know, that group is infinitely larger than the first. Ironically our timing was good as well. In some respects the recession helped us because some of our competitors were on their heels and that allowed us to grab market share.

I think the biggest factor is that we have a point of difference in terms of our technology and our boards simply work. The way the market is going, you either have to be inexpensive and high quality or higher priced and really unique. The middle ground of “me too” product is where products are suffering.

Firewire finWhat’s new and what’s next for Firewire?

We have a fin coming out which is a new product category for us. Our basic philosophy is unless a product has a technological edge, we will stay away from it. We think the market has enough of everything else. So we are going to launch a stand-alone Firewire fin because the fin in question is unique.

Is it going to compete with FCS and Futures?

Not in the sense of taking away from their sales of fin “sets” per se. It’s a center rear fin to be used in a thruster configuration that is compatible with Futures and FCS. It rolls seven degrees in either direction to match the cant or angle of the front thruster fins when you turn in either direction. You’ll be able to turn faster and sharper. It’s the same reason why on a quad, the rear fins are also slanted, but obviously prior to this technology you could not achieve that on a center back fin.

Do you think people are ready for this new fin technology?

We’re at an exciting time in the development in surfboards. If you look at the Pipe Masters surf contest final this past winter, both Kelly Slater and Taj Burrow were riding alternative surfboards. That was the first time in history that has ever happened. Taj was on a Firewire and Kelly had a board with no center stringer and a carbon fiber insert on the bottom deck.

The door is wide open for significant changes in how surfboards are made which is going to contribute to increases in performance and I think Firewire is at the forefront of that movement.

Who designed this fin?

It was developed in 2003 by a Point Loma engineer named Roger Benham and his brother. I met him during a San Diego technology fair that we participated in, and about nine months ago he gave me a hand-made prototype. I felt the positive effect on my first wave.

Are you guys also working on more eco-friendly boards?

Constantly. I’d define our boards as “greener” than traditional boards. The average board we make emits 50 times less VOCs than traditional polyurethane surfboards and there is no acetone (a known carcinogen) anywhere in our factory. In addition, our EPS foam waste is recycled.

The key is to get greener without sacrificing performance. We’ve tested a variety of materials that are even greener than our current recipe, but performance has suffered, at least for our technology. One of the blessings and curses of having a technology-focused company is you constantly have to push the envelope and come up with something new that is also better.






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