Behind the scenes at Never Summer!

Posted on Wednesday 8th June, 2011 Times Viewed: 7675
After sending a link to Never Summer HQ for the recent reviews by GB Moderator fatbob, we received a big thankyou from Never Summer Product Development Manager Vince Sanders. Following a number of e-mails, Vince kindly agreed to do a Q+A with the forum members and give us a behind the scenes look at Never Summer.
GB: Hi Vince, thanks for agreeing to do a Q & A with the members of the UK Snowboarding Community GONEboarding.

GB: Firstly, please tell us a little about yourself and how you got involved in the snowboarding industry and subsequently became Product Development Manager at Never Summer.

Vince: I started snowboarding in 1981, rode on the original Sims team and started selling their boards in Colorado. Owned and operated retail snowboard shop from 1987-2009 and was one of Never Summer’s first dealers. I was always indirectly involved with Never Summer brand and model direction and graphics from their beginning so when it was time for me to move on from retail it was a natural progression to work for NS. I recognized that the Rocker/Camber and Vario combination was going to change snowboarding as much as P-Tex bases, metal edges and plastic based bindings were when I was at Sims and wanted to be a part of this revolutionary change. Fortunately, Tim and Tracey were able to bring me in.

GB: What does your role as Product Development Manager entail?

Vince: My role as Product Developer is more of a conceptual designer. I’m involved in brand and model direction. To use my industry and retail experience to come up with products I believe the end consumer is looking for, to improve existing products. Selling Never Summer’s for so long I have a good idea what our customer is looking for from us and also being a dealer I can relate to their needs. The first model I was most involved with the conception of was the Raptor. I wanted a precision freecarve RC board that had a really stealth look and to utilize the Carbonium top-sheet. That season I also did the Never Summer font/base on SL/Legacy, F1 and collaborated with our Art Director on the Evo/Revolver top-sheet graphic. I’m partially responsible for expanding and improving our softgoods, especially the hats. For 2011/12 I contributed on doing a new blunt, true twin shape and development of the Proto. I’m responsible for our Splitboard program and the development of the SL split. The other major contribution I made for 2011/12 was the concept for the 20th Anniversary Heritage, soft goods to merchandise with boards and the Raptor and Evo bases. I’m responsible for some of the product, materials and construction descriptions in the brochure. Being surrounded by talented people helps to implement my ideas. From our Art Director Jeremy Salyer, Jason White Designer/Printing Facility Manager, Production Manager Memo, Sales Manager’s Mike Gagliardi and Tony Sasgen, everyone in the factory and office. Having our own factory, owners like Tracey and Tim enables me to do this. It’s so cool. Currently, I’m working on bringing our softgoods beyond that of tees, hats, hoodies and the 2012/13 snowboard line.

GB: How many people are employed at the Never Summer factory?

Vince: We have 49 people working in the Factory and there are around 40 steps to build our boards. The boards are completely handmade and each craftsmen and women has a specific job description, many with 10+ years of experience. This ensures a high level of attention to detail and everyone takes a lot of pride in what they do. There are also 7 of us in the office, which is attached to the factory and 3 at our printing facility in the original Never Summer factory.

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Craftsman: Justin Lindel Cut and Finish

GB: Do they all snowboard?

Vince: I would say half of us ride. Never Summer is a rider owned company.

GB: Apart from Tim and Tracey Canaday, who is the longest serving employee?

Vince: Our VP of Sales and Longboard Director Sean MacAllister has been with the company for 17 years. Mike “Gags” Gagliardi was our Rocky Mtn. Rep for 16 years and has been our National Sales Manager for 2 years. Justin and Bentley Blaho have been employed at Never Summer for 16 years. Justin has overseen the presses and Bentley the finishing. Chances are your Never Summer board has passed through one of the Blaho’s hands and they’re our grading stages making sure every board is of first quality and catching those that are not. Cuauhtemoc “Memo” Tiscaren our production manager has been with us for 13 years

GB: Employees at the Jack Daniel’s Distillery are apparently handed a bottle of Bourbon every first Friday of the month. Do Never Summer employee’s get a similar perk?

Vince: Our libation of choice is snowboarding and each employee is entitled to one board each season. Many of our employees take advantage of this by building their own board, designing the top-sheet and using all the different P-Tex colours to cut their custom base. Changing Carbon configurations and laying up, pressing, cutting and finishing their custom board. Unlike the Jack Daniels employees who living in a dry county can’t enjoy their fringe benefit, we’re right next to the Rockies enabling us to take advantage of this perk. We also get a sample package of all our soft goods.

GB: How many snowboards does the factory produce a week?

Vince: For the first time in the History of NS we have implemented a second shift and are producing 120 snowboards a day, 60 longboards and 25 pairs of skis. We are the outside manufacture to 5 different ski brands. We’re making around 600 boards a week.

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Craftsman Nick Morrocco laying up one of the 120 boards that day.

GB: Is it true that Tim and Tracey inspect every board that’s produced?

Vince: No, but we do have three separate grading areas. First the boards are graded after they’re pressed, then in finishing and one more time in shipping. Tim will spot check and grades many boards after the final grading. Both Tim and Tracey are very hands on owners and in the factory every day. Tim is our engineer and designer, he’s constantly in the core room. Tracey is involved in just about every aspect of the business.

GB: I’ve heard that ideas are quickly turned into reality in the form of prototype boards to test out the theory? Is this true?

Vince: Yes, we make our own top molds, camber (or Rocker Camber) plates out of MDF wood, construct side cut templates so having this knowledge and Tim and Tracey’s experience concepts can become reality fairly quick. The Raptor for example, we had the concept for the board in September and by October we had prototypes. Tracey and I had the board on snow soon after testing various RC profiles, sidecuts, carbon matrix, flex patterns and damping systems. It took about the same time to develop the Proto and amazingly enough RC/Vario. Tim is amazing; he has snowboarding design so engrained in his head and everything that the boards already had just peaked with the RC. Sometimes I feel like I’m working for Henry Ford. Both Tim and Tracey are remarkable men.

GB: With several brands going down the eco friendly snowboard route, how eco friendly is a Never Summer snowboard?

Vince: We use up as much of the materials as possible and not wasting it. For example we do flips with the P-Tex die cuts in the base. Where we’re cutting out one colour it’s being used in another. . On our last rebuild for this past season to fulfil some pro-forms and the last of our pre-books we used up a bunch of leftover base material to give our dealers and instructors something totally unique. What other company can do this. It also gave me some ideas for bases on future boards. Also, the first step in making the snowboard cores is to cut the sidecut in the core blocks, we re-use this cut wood by planning it flat and vertically laminating it for longboard cores. Our boards last longer and are very hard to break which means less broken boards in landfills. Defective boards are made into benches, tables and racks by a local snowboarder/craftsman.

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Flips with the P-Tex die cuts in the base

GB: I’ve read that the Evo base shown in the 2012 brochure has been changed back to a luminous one due to customer feedback. How important is it for a brand to listen and react to customer demands?

Vince: It’s very important to listen to what the end consumer wants and what our customers are looking for from us. Tracey is on the Forums everyday, asking shop employees, owners, industry and our customers who come by the factory what they would like to see from us. He uses their feedback on current and future product designs. Having our own factory without the constraints of foreign production we can react to these demands and make changes to what customers want. Like when I posted the question on the Evo base change. Even though we already had dealer brochure made we’re able to make this change. From this feedback I was able to find out some other base colours people would like to see from us. You will see some of these colour requests in our 2012/13 line. We already pressed some boards with some of the colour requests to see what they look like. This feedback takes out some of the guess work and enables us to really know what riders are looking for in snowboards.

GB: With the Never Summer boards all using the RC Tech, do you think traditional all cambered boards are going the way of the dinosaur?

Vince: No, I think you’ll continue to see traditional camber in specialized boards like carving/race boards for hard boots and plate bindings. You’ll still have a few companies who will cater to these riders, the traditionalist who is reluctant to change or the kid who wants to rebel and be different. You see this in motocross with 2 strokes vs. 4 strokes. You have one or two companies still making two strokes but all the R&D and industry going with the 4 strokes. We believe RC is the best and most versatile, design for snowboarding overall and we can shape boards, alter profiles, flex, damping and side cuts toward different models. This is where camber should be on a snowboard over the tip for edge hold, stability and over the tail for loading and pop. Actually, having the camber condensed into two separate areas increases the amount of camber by three times compared to having it spread across the board. The rocker gives our boards that surfy, fun and forgiving feel while not losing the benefits of camber. When we were considering dropping our last cambered model we extensively tested cambered boards against RC with stiff soft binding/boots and even plate bindings to make sure we wouldn’t sacrifice any performance for carving. I felt that we’re able to capture the edge hold and stability for a soft boot carver with the RC while having a much more versatile and forgiving board for riding the whole mountain. If I was just carving turns on a groomed run the cambered board were fine but so much more effort to ride bumps, pow and variable conditions. Going from RC to traditional camber was like going from manual to power steering in a car. With Never Summer everything came to a head with the Rocker and Camber. All the good qualities the boards are known for the edge hold, damping, solid feel and durability are still there. The RC/Vario just enhanced everything the boards already had. Now in addition to these qualities the boards are more forgiving, livelier in feel and better in soft snow. The Premier for example has the same shape, carbon matrix, damping system and flex that people expect from this board. The RC added better floatation in powder, but the core of the design was still there.

GB: Where do you see the future of snowboard design heading?

Vince: I think the rocker coming back in snowboarding has allowed more freedom and creativity in design. For the next few years you’ll see this rocker revolution continue with a variety of rocker profiles and combinations. Depending upon patents you’ll see companies continue to think outside the box. But, I believe the industry will eventually gravitate toward the designs that work the best and altering profiles within their design. Similar to what you’ve seen with so many companies using our Rocker/Camber. I think the prevailing designs will be our RC and the reverse of it or Camrock. Then you’ll see a variety of designs specific for conditions, terrain and riding styles, similar to what K2 is doing. However, a rocker board is only as good as the sidecut it is paired with. Dealers and the core end consumer will be drawn to the brands with the best combinations.

We’ve seen the addition of the carbonium top sheet to both the Heritage and Proto. Is it likely to be expanded to the whole range in the future? No, there is still a need for a gloss top-sheet in our line. Some graphics look better on the gloss and it gives a nice shiny shelf appeal.

GB: Any new tech planned for the 2013 line up?

Vince: Any new boards being added to the line up? We’ll be expanding the Rocker/Camber profiles like we did with the DRC (Directional Rocker Camber) for the Raptor, variations to enhance the benefits of the design for different riding styles and snow conditions. I would like to move an existing model or add a new model into the Carbonium series.

GB: There’s been a growth in the purchase of split boards recently. You have the Summit and SL splits for 2012. Will Never Summer be expanding this range in the future?

Vince: There was a tremendous growth in splitboarding this past season and this category will continue to grow. It was the year of the Split with a new interface, the release of Deeper, new tech in splitboards themselves and other split specific products. The gap between the performance of a split and that of a solid board is getting closer with lighter weight cores designed for a splitboard, new sidecuts, Rocker/Camber profile and more secure, solid connection of a split specific binding. It’s still a niche market and getting all the tooling and dye for a new model is very expensive, so I don’t see us expanding the number of split models in the next year or two. But, I do see us expanding the size offering in the existing split models especially the SL Split.

GB: Most of the boards are priced at the higher end of the market. Have you thought about releasing a lower specification price point board or do you think this would devalue the brand?

Vince: We just discontinued our price point board the Circuit for 2011/12. The reason we decided to do this goes back to the 2009/10 season. That year the Circuit was outselling our last cambered board and highest end model the Titan. Being a premium brand this was a concern when your lowest end board is outselling your highest end board. Titan’s were rarely being used at the demos and no one at the factory was riding the board. We knew we had a long time strong following with freecarvers for this board but it didn’t make sense that our top of line board didn’t have our new tech. That is when we decided to develop the Raptor. After extensive testing proved to us that we could make an RC board that had the edge hold of a Titan but was much more forgiving and more versatile in variable conditions it was decided to build this model around the Carbonium top sheet. The next season the Raptor outsold the Circuit and proved to us that another high end Carbonium series board was viable. So, the Circuit was discontinued and the Proto CT added.

GB: Have Never Summer ever thought about branching into the bindings market?

Vince: No, we want to focus all of our attention on one product, boards. Making bindings now would also require Chinese production and we’re committed to US manufacturing.

GB: Which of the other snowboard brands do you perceive as being particularly innovative right now?

Vince: I think Jones is pretty innovative right now with some of their shapes, tech and splits. In bindings who have to look at Ride with their damping and canting system, Salomon and Flux for their innovations. Boots that I see as being innovative would be Nike right now. 32 and Salomon are always progressing to make a better fitting and performing snowboard boot. The brands I see as being most innovative in snowboarding right now are in Splitboarding, Spark R&D, Deeluxe, Voile and Karakoram are really pushing the envelope.

GB: Having been given a patent for the RC tech, will Never Summer be actively pursuing other companies who use the same/similar tech/design to 'pay for the use' or to stop using it? Otherwise, what is the point in having the patent?

Vince: At this point we’re evaluating our options in regards to potential infringement. The fact that we were awarded the patent legitimizes our technology and is a valuable tool in marketing our technology.

GB: Surely the release of the Proto is going to mean the demise of either the Evo or the SL, as they are far too similar to exist in the same small niche of the Never Summer 'all mountain freestyle' line? Which board is most likely to be discontinued as a result?

Vince: Neither, we know the Proto is going to cannibalize some sales from both the Evo/Revolver and SL/legacy. This is a good thing for us considering the Proto is at a higher point. However, there are enough differences between the models to validate keeping all three in the line. Some riders are still going to want the softer mid-flex of the Evo for pressing, buttering, jibbing and playing around in the park. Also, there will always be the need for a slightly set back all mountain freestyle board such as the SL. The SL is our most versatile and popular model and will continue to be a staple in our line. With these models we’ll have a new age powerful all mountain true twin in the Proto, a more flexible true twin park board in the Evo/Revolver and a classic slightly set back all mountain freestyle board in the SL.

GB: The Never Summer 3 year guarantee makes quite an expensive board look more reasonable to the snowboarding market. What is the proportion of people that have successfully claimed using the guarantee?

Vince: We have less than 1% warranty replacement rate on legitimate claims. Most of what we get are non-warranty repairs.

GB: Never Summer don’t have a heavy hitting ‘Pro’ line up what’s the reasoning behind this?

Vince: We’re primarily a product driven company not a team/marketing brand. However we do have some great team riders showcased in our film Made in America, like Pro Ryan Cruz We put our money into higher materials, handcraftsmanship and American production instead of higher dollar advertising, “heavy hitting team riders” and pass those benefits down to the end consumer. Those fans of our boards are telling their friends, random people on the mountain to buy a Never Summer snowboard are our Travis Rice and Shaun White. This industry is littered with examples of team/marketing driven companies who went out of business, i.e., Joyride, M3, and Division 23 etc. This has always been our business model and it’s worked out pretty well. Look for our team in our upcoming film Shred em All.

GB: Do you know much about the UK snowboard scene and market?

Vince: Not too much other than there is a huge snowboard scene in the UK and that we have a class act distributor with MaxTrack. When I was in Les Arcs France, I was able to see the large number of riders from the UK there. I have met riders in both France and Alaska who’re amazing big mountain riders from the UK. It seems like the long time mountaineering heritage in your country has transferred into snowboarding.

Look out for the next installment where we show the men behind Never Summer and some of their custom made boards. We even get a glimpse of a 2012/13 base graphic with Never Summer owner Tim Canaday.

You can follow Never Summer through their website, facebook and twitter

Never Summer: Rocker/Camber from Quinn Maxwell/4From8 Productions on Vimeo.

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