Get on board for a thrilling ride

A Victorian couple’s innovative approach to creating snowboards is giving their customers truly customised equipment and even more fun in the snow

Most sports have embraced customisation to give their participants an experience that is tailored to their level of skill and the opportunity to improve. From weekend weekend hackers to the likes of Jason Day and Jordan Spieth, golfers to day invariably use made-to-measure clubs; MAMILs on their pre-work ride have access to bikes developed from the technology used by Olympic track-cycling teams; and those who have the occasional hit on their local court use the same racquets as Roger Federer and Serena Williams. Until very recently, however, snowboarders – members of one of the fastest-growing sports in Australia, have had to make do with “off-the-shelf”, generic equipment.

Thanks to Melbourne couple Simon Thorne and Kate Engler, co-founders of Savage Panda, for the 2017 season snowboarders were able to commission a custom-designed and built snowboards, tailored to suit their weight, height, level of proficiency and the runs they like to go out on.

The idea of Savage Panda actually came to Thorne and Engler one evening over dinner in the Victorian ski fields two years ago. Engler tells Inside Small Business that having surfed for decades and always had a custom-designed surfboard, Thorne was in the market for a new snowboard and couldn’t find anything truly custom on the market. He searched worldwide and although there were some production houses that did a bit of so-called “custom” on the side, there was nothing that offered a truly bespoke custom experience like that he’d been accustomed to with his surfboards.

“Once we realised that there was this gaping hole in the market, we thought, this is for us!” Engler says.

A serial innovator in almost three decades of shaking up the Public Relations industry – Inside Small Business has seen at first hand the value of her Meet The Press Masterclasses that bring budding entrepreneurs and representatives of print publications and radio and TV stations together, teaching the new small-business owners how to pitch their ideas to the media so they get optimum value from their PR campaigns and the journalists receive the right information at the right time – Engler has taken advantage of technology to make the involved process of creating  custom-made snowboards as simple as possible for Savage Panda’s customers.

The process begins with a comprehensive online questionnaire that establishes what the customer is looking for. Beginners often put a premium on stability, whereas some of the more advanced, “devil-may-care” snowboarders favour a high-performance board that gives them the feeling throughout a ride that they are “on the edge”. This initial stage involves 38 questions, enabling Savage Panda to design a board that is truly unique for each customer.

Next is the design stage, and again customers can do this from the comfort of their own homes if a visit to Savage Panda’s HQ down on Victoria’s Bellarine Peninsula is not convenient. This design consultation is often conducted over Skype, and as well as honing the design of the board in terms of the way it will be crafted, also involves a discussion about how it will look. The more creative clients can involve themselves in creating the designs of the artwork, for those less confident Savage Panda have a wide range of graphics to choose from.

The consultations continue until the customer is satisfied every facet of the design of their board has been addressed. Engler says this is what makes Savage Panda different, and that persuading the snowboarding community of the difference between real customisation and the so-called “custom” boards built by some of the established snowboard manufacturers.

“When you go through the process of some of these companies,” Engler says, all you get is a short selection of predetermined criteria and you ‘tick’ which option is most like you.”

They invariably offer three options on the shape of the board, three options on its size and a similarly limited list of options on a couple of other criteria – such as what size shoe you take – and from there they pick whichever of their range of standard snowboards is most suitable. Research also reveals that elements of the design and build that are part of the process with Savage Panda are treated as extras – and charged for accordingly – by their competitors. So, for example, designing your own artwork comes at significant extra expense.

“The word custom has been bastardised in the industry so helping people understand the extent to which our ‘get to know you’ and design processes go has been tricky, Engler says. However, the message now seems to be coming out loud and clear. Savage Panda shipped their first board out in late May and have had what Engler calls “an excellent first season for a snowboard company.”

While Savage Panda are not making thousands of snowboards like the big names with Asian factories pumping them out as quickly and and as cheaply as possible, this is not their aim. And while they are a single premises, Australian-based operation, their boards are not only cutting it on the slopes of the high country in norther Victoria and southern NSW.

“We’ve got quite a number of boards we need to make for people heading to Japan, Canada and the US,” Engler says, “so they can have a purpose built powder board for their trip. For some of them, it’s the first true powder board and they’re loving it!”

This story first appeared in issue 19 of the Inside Small Business quarterly magazine

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