Skiing is full of brands that seem to just exist. They pump out their products and marketing but never really do anything to set themselves apart. They might sponsor some big names and put on some contests but to the everyday skier they are just a brand, a faceless corporation begging for your money.
On the other end of the spectrum sits BlackStrap Industries. When I first ran in to BlackStrap late last season I was intrigued, they were down to earth, very approachable and generally stoked on shredding. Now after having worked both with the brand and several of their athletes I wanted to dig a little deeper into what makes BlackStrap tick. I was ready for the usual boring marketing copy but what I got instead gives a valuable insight into what it takes to start and run a brand in this industry as well as offering an honest look at BlackStrap.
If you want to:
-Learn about entering the ski market
-Find out what "Made in the USA" really means
-Know how to get sponsored
-Discuss the science of performance facemasks
-Learn how a ski brand adapts for summer
...and much much more, keep scrolling!
Why does BlackStrap exist? Why did you enter the market and what are your goals here?
BlackStrap was founded in 2008 on the simple premise of manufacturing products in the USA that boast superior technological & performance aspects than any other company in the industry. Since 2010 we have been working in the ski/snowboard retail market to provide new/unique/functional products to consumers worldwide, while ensuring that our level of service to our retail partners is held to the highest standards including: shop employee education & feedback regarding products, merchandising and packaging, shipping/ordering punctuality & accuracy as well as day to day customer service. Our focus on relationships with our retailers is one of the keys that we as a company attribute to the success our product line(s) in the retail market.
Who is BlackStrap? Who are the people behind the brand, the shredders making it happen?
(Jim Sanco, Troy Ball, Jason Smith, Abe Shehadeh, Justin Sampson, Cru Kohler, Jake Biles)
In house at BlackStrap we are 7 employees strong. We all have a heavy dose of "shredder" in us for sure and being 20 minutes from the chairlifts at Mt Bachelor doesn't hurt anything, but what really keeps us going/innovating is our common understanding of our company, our mission and our standards of operation. We all bring our own experiences, skill sets, ideas & industry specific knowledge to the table. At the end of the day, we all work really well together and have a common love for the mountains, snow and our industry as a whole.
Abe Shehadeh – Owner and CEO
Jim Sanco – Brand & Media Manager
Jason Smith – Warehouse Manager
Troy Ball – Media/Marketing & Graphics
Justin Sampson – Media/Marketing & Team manager
Cru Kohler – Warehouse Operations
Jake Biles – The Young'n in Warehouse Operations
Mister (The Dog) – guard duty & all around goon
It's never an easy time to enter the snow market, care to share anything about that process?
The process to becoming a viable brand in the snow market has a ton of different elements. You will get shot down and told no at the onset. but at the end of the day, the end user of the product has the final say. We entered the snow market with a simple "go try it for yourself" approach, if there was any reason that a shop employee/consumer would pick another product over ours (based on performance) then we wanted to know what that reason was. Getting in a shop is one thing, but the in store elements of products can be just as detrimental to the success/longevity of a product/brand as anything. If a product is not visually pleasing at the retail level it will probably be glanced over, if a product does not perform to the standards the consumer expects chances are they will not buy that product again, and lastly, as a brand, if the brand (and their products) as a whole do not appeal to a specific sector of consumers (i.e. skier /snowboarder), more than likely, that brand & its products are completely off the radar of the consumers.
Any high or low points for the brand/cool stories from along the way?
In all honesty, this all started from scratch, there's crazy stories from the road, tradeshows etc. But for us, everything we do, every day, is a crazy experience, just seeing all of our hard work, sacrifices & ideas really pay off, in the way we want them to, is the best story we have. We don't have angel investors or an influx of capitol to throw around at every big name & event out there. But we have been able to stay true to our goals as a company since day 1 by producing products in the USA that people enjoy using based on the performance and quality of our gear.
You mostly make accessories and apparel at this point, do you have any big expansion plans?
Not really, we are focused on our bread and butter which is: Using our patented fabric, that we mill here domestically, to manufacture products in our US based facilities that raise the performance standards in our industry.
What makes BlackStrap unique in the industry?
We are very proud to say that we manufacture "True Products of the USA" not just that our gear is "Made in the USA". We mill our fabric, cut and sew our garments, source packaging & run all of our warehousing operations (quality controlling, packaging etc.) within the USA.
What are you looking for in the athletes/evens that you back? (any insight into the process of getting sponsored would be rad)
Our team program has developed each year, we have built our team program around individuals that present themselves, their abilities & their aspirations in a professional manner. We have individuals that are contest driven, some that are driven to film video parts and some members that have been ambassadors of BlackStrap & our products since before it was anything.
The best example I can give is the first time we were approached by someone that wanted us to "sponsor me". Hunter Hess emailed us in 2012, at the time Hunter was 13 years old and coming up in the contest circuit. The first time we met with Hunter, we were presented with: (1) personal resume (1) ski/contest resume (3) letters of recommendation from hunters principal, shop sponsor & ski coach. I'm not saying that every person on our team presented this level of information, but Hunter (at 13 years old) set the bar very high.
And on that we have to give an enormous shout out to Hunter on his season this year. Hunter pushed it further than we have ever seen him go with his laundry list of tricks both in pipe and slope, Hunter also found himself on a number of podiums including a 3rd place finish at Rev Tour Halfpipe at Seven Springs, 1st place podiums in Slope & Pipe at the USSA Jr Nationals at Park City and invitations to USASA Nationals at Copper Mountain and the WSI/FIS Finals in Whistler BC.
Any goals for the brand/product/athletes next season?
Internally our goals are to meet/exceed the expectations of the people that make us what we are, our consumers & retail partners. As far as products go we have a couple things up our sleeve, we are releasing our Expedition Hood that will cater to the warmer end of the spectrum of our product mix, The Daily-Hood which is a single layer sock hole design & our full Kids Line of Facemaks
-The Expedition Hood - is designed the same as our classic Hood Balaclava with the front mouth hinge, but for the Expedition Hood we made the entire piece a dual layer of our fabric. I'll be completely honest, I have no idea what the "warmth rating" is exactly, but all the testing of this product went down east of the Rockies this season and the feedback was: Damn that thing is warm. There is no wool or fleece in this piece, it is 100% synthetic, this maximizes the breathability & heat dissipation of the piece along with its insulating capabilities.
- The Daily-Hood - Has probably been the most tested and refined product over the last year or so with the milder temps out west, it is super versatile in application and we got out good friend Jonezy (@jonezyartwork) on board for the artist colab colorways. Along with offering consumers a full head coverage option at the lighter weight end of the spectrum we are offering this product in our custom product range as well.
Going into the summer does Blackstrap evolve at all as a brand?
We definitely diversify our products a bit when the temperatures rise. Last summer was the introduction of our Blackstrap REEL Line (http://bsbrand.com/collections/2015-fish ). The line of protective softgoods includes a single layer Tube, Hood and Sleeve Set in about 50 different color options and also includes a custom option for shops/outfitters/events. The Flyfishing industry has a customer base that is VERY into performance based technology and innovation when it comes to the gear they use, this has helped us in that we are presenting this new line of products in the same fashion that we originally introduced our Snow gear "Go try it for yourself"
Anything I missed that you want to tell the internet?
Thanks to Cy, NS and our entire crew of ski athletes & contributors at BlackStrap this season: Hunter Hess, Lucas Wachs, Derek Roy, Joey Vandermeer, Alex Keimel, Alexandre Loren, Elana Pressprich, Eric Hilb, Henry Hawks, Jake Fagrelius, Justin Mcpartland, Nick Rosenburger, Noah Wetzel, Quinn Wolferman, Sawyer Sellingham, Skylar Glick & Will Burks. These are our Factory & Regional athletes, along with our Flow Athletes, they are the ones that make BlackStrap what it is as a brand. Their hard work, stand out abilities on snow and personas as awesome all around people help BlackStrap as a brand to move forward each and every day!