The Factory: Collaboration on Handmade Skis

A NEW COOPERATIVE BUSINESS PLAN DEVELOPED BY TWO INDEPENDENT COLORADO SKI MAKERS MIGHT JUST SERVE AS A MODEL FOR HOW SMALL, BOUTIQUE OUTDOOR COMPANIES CAN COMPETE WITH THE BIG BOYS.

There’s a certain, shall we say, swagger, that accompanies the pride of owning a product that’s made in your own backyard. A product that says something about you. Not just about what you do, but about who you are. From beer and whiskey to bikes and skis, more and more outdoor enthusiasts are looking for that hometown swagger in the products they gravitate toward.

The unfortunate reality, however, is that it costs more to make products locally by hand than it does to manufacture them on an assembly line halfway around the world. That higher manufacturing cost translates into a higher price tag, and with finances as tight as they are for most people across the country, that’s all too often where local brand loyalty falls away.

Without a solid base of customers willing to pay higher prices for locally made products, it’s likely that more small manufacturers will be forced to follow in the footsteps of Silverton based Venture Snowboards, who announced in early September that they were ceasing production for the 2015–16 season. But a unique business plan recently implemented by a pair of independent Colorado ski makers might just serve as an example of a creative way that other local manufacturers can reduce their overhead and still be in a better position to compete with the big brands.

“It’s really tough to be cost-competitive when you’re a small, boutique, locally made company,” says Ted Eynon, owner of Glenwood Springs, Colo. based Meier Skis. “If you’re going to make it, you really have to be innovative and creative and let go of your ego a little.”

That was exactly what Eynon and Mike Waesche, owner of Rocky Mountain Underground, based in Breckenridge, Colo., did when they came together and hatched an idea for a joint handmade skis manufacturing facility. Instead of making their skis in separate factories and hiring separate employees to do the same job, Eynon and Waesche figured that if they combined their resources into one big facility, they could significantly reduce the operating expenses for both companies while still maintaining the quality and integrity of each of their individual brands.

It was a crazy idea. And one that became a reality in April 2015, when The Factory officially opened in Glenwood Springs and started manufacturing skis for both Meier and RMU. Instead of simply sharing space, however, Eynon and Waesche set up The Factory as its own separate business that they own and operate together. Each of their separate ski companies, in turn, contract with The Factory to make their skis using their own materials and preferred production methods.

This unconventional business model ensures that the owners of the two competing brands have a vested interest in each other’s success. It could be that concept—maybe even more so than the reduced overhead costs—that gives Meier and RMU the edge they need to compete with the big corporate ski brands.

“You’re combining two cultures with different construction methods, different business models, different ways of doing things, so there are definitely challenges you have to overcome,” Waesche says. “It’s not easy, but it’s working.”

If other small manufacturers can find a way to make it work, then maybe there’s a chance we’ll start seeing more of that homegrown swagger on the slopes and trails in our backyard. It would certainly be a welcome sight.

—Christopher Cogley

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