Skiboards Make a Splash in Bayfield, CO
By Tom Sluis, Herald Staff Writer
Richard “Doc” Roberts knew it was time to expand his business after a customer in Sweden called him at 3 a.m. to order a skiboard from his company, Skiboards Superstore, then located just outside Boulder in his garage. Since that call in the late 1990s, Roberts has expanded to a 1,500-square-foot warehouse in Bayfield, now home to one of the world’s largest skiboard retailers on the Internet, through skiboards.com.
Skiboard.com’s sales manager Taylor Clark, left, CEO Doc Roberts, middle, and marketing director Carol Komie sit in their Bayfield office on Wednesday. With no marketing or advertising budget, Roberts expects to generate about $500,000 in revenue from sales of skiboards, boots, helmets, gloves and backpacks in 2003. Business is growing by 15 percent to 20 percent a year.
“We’ve just been flying under the radar,” said Roberts, who created the company with his wife, Christie, in 1997 from their home in Superior, near Boulder.
The company has three full-time employees, including Roberts, and three part-time seasonal employees. Carol Komie is director of marketing and operations. Taylor Clark is the sales manager. “We are the only two people who actually commute from Durango to Bayfield,” Komie joked.
Neither a ski nor a snowboard, a skiboard has nearly the same surface area as a ski, but with prices in the $250 range (including bindings) – about half the cost. Roberts said skiboards can go anywhere skis go, but without the steep learning curve.
His company sells about 2,000 skiboards worldwide over the Internet. A retail store is in the works for Bayfield, and the Ski Barn in Durango will sell a skiboard this fall made specifically for Roberts, called the Summit.
A few of the items sold by skiboards.com in Bayfield are on display.
Jurgen Umbhau, owner of the Ski Barn, said the Summit is a good product and he likes to buy products from local companies, but he was also surprised at how many skiboards Roberts is selling. “Last year I sold about 850 alpine skis, and here is this company that I have barely heard of that is selling 2,000 to 2,500 skiboards on the Internet,” he said. Umbhau has owned the business for eight years but has not had much luck selling skiboards. “We’ve never done really well retailing these products, but there has been a lot of demand for rentals,” he said.
Roberts said the problem selling skiboards historically is that major ski brands such as K2 put their name on skiboards, but for the most part the industry doesn’t know what to do with the item. It’s the same phenomenon that happened when snowboards came on the scene, he said.
“There has been very little promotion in the ski industry for skiboards,” Roberts said.
“Doc” has a doctorate in sports psychology and is an avid skier. He learned how to run a business in the field. To handle sales which were doubling every year, Mrs. Roberts, a computer graphic designer whose customers include Disneyworld and Six Flags Great America, created the Web site. “The Internet was the only way to offer the selection of skiboards,” he said. It was also necessary for a startup company with no advertising or marketing budget. “It was the only way to reach the markets nationally and internationally,” Taylor said. Many customers are on the East Coast, but orders are regularly shipped to Canada, United Kingdom, Korea, Japan, Australia, Chili and New Zealand.
During peak summer months, the Web site, www.skiboards.com, receives an average of 5.5 million hits a month, Komie said. Like all small companies, everyone wears multiple hats. When UPS arrives for a shipment, everyone grabs a box and fills it with skis.
With no brick and mortar store to tie the company down other than a warehouse, it moved to Bayfield in 2001. Shipping costs are slightly higher because of Bayfield’s remote location, but rent is cheaper.
“After all these years of talking about bringing telecommunication to the Four Corners, it is finally happening,” said Bobby Lieb, director of the Durango Area Chamber of Commerce.