The 2020/21 season seems to be the Season of the Splitboard. And for Spark R&D, 20/21 was exactly that. Sold out in both North America and Europe in 2020; and in 2021, demand is still through the roof, with bindings selling out pre-season. So just how has Spark managed to keep up with splitboarding’s rise in popularity?
Let’s start with a brief description of how epic the 20/21 season was for you, especially in the North American market.
There’s no denying that the 20/21 season was huge for Spark R&D and for splitboarding in general. We’re extremely fortunate that as uncertainty shrouded much of the globe, many snowboarders turned to splitboarding to get their snowboard fix, and let’s be honest, to burn off some of that built up stress that only a pandemic can provide.
Sales were big in North America, but maybe not in the way everyone immediately thinks. Keep in mind that when things began to take a turn for the worse in the spring of 2020, we had already confirmed all our pre-orders. So, we already knew what we had to build, we just didn’t know at the time how challenging that would be. Even with the manufacturing obstacles, we got everything built; the surprise really came in the autumn when we began to realise how fast everything was selling out, which created a bit of a frenzy.
Epic season for sure; epic and busy.
And how did Europe do in comparison?
Even with many resorts closed for the season, our European dealers sold out quite quickly, just like they did in North America. From what we could tell, by mid-December of last year, it was almost impossible to find a set of our bindings for sale anywhere in the world.
What’s your view on how the 21/22 market is shaping up for you?
We increased our total build numbers significantly – up from those we had for the 20/21 season – thanks to some new machines and new processes. Demand for our gear remained high; we were sold out of bindings before the season even began! We received requests for much higher quantities of products than what we could realistically produce even with our advances, so we were forced to trim back dealer pre-orders. This was a difficult challenge, but our team was methodical and fair throughout the process. We also kept bindings off of our own webstore to emphasise our commitment to our retail partners.
Things are of course a bit more challenging than usual in shipping and the availability of raw materials, so we are later in delivering product than we’d like to be. But despite this, our crew maintains in a positive spirit and our dealers are showing us patience. Everything is looking up; it’s been a good year.
You recently purchased a new building? How will that help you scale with the growing splitboard market?
This purchase was a necessity for us. We’ve been growing continuously for many years, as has the splitboard market, but the pandemic really escalated things. In our current building, we are out of ways to add more machines (even with cramming stuff in with a bit of industrial Tetris) and we’ve also exhausted the path of simply finding more efficient ways to do things. We just needed more space. So, this autumn we finalised the purchase of a 7,500 sq. foot (700 sq. metre) building directly across the street from our current location. We are not abandoning our current building, we’re just moving some of our operations so that we can expand our general production area – that means more room for machining, plastics, anodising, printing, and assembly. Our new facility will house our finished products warehouse along with our executive, sales, marketing, and admin teams.
This year marks 15-years in the industry for Spark R&D! Any big plans?
Anniversaries are fun! It’s been quite the ride and it’s pretty wild to think about where we started and where we are today. We’re proud of the gear we design and build right here in our own facility. That said, we’re in the middle of our busiest time of year in our busiest season to date, so we’re reflecting and celebrating, but also staying focused and grounded.
We dedicated our full print ad campaign this year to our customers by using photos that we’ve been tagged in on social media, to show our appreciation for their support over the years. We’ve also been dolling out tons of fun 15-year anniversary goodies – we had flags sent to some of our dealers, we also had a collection of hats, T’s, and neck gaiters made with our fifteen-year logo. For content, we dropped a shorty fifteen year edit to kick off the autumn season, and released a three-part splitboard web series called Treasure State, which we filmed last winter.
Can we have some stats on size, capacity etc?
Here are some numbers for you:
- We just added 7,500 sq. ft (700 sq. metre) of physical space. That’s an increase of 62%.
- We’ve added 3 new machines in the last year alone with plans to add even more once the shop expansion plans get underway.
- We increased our production run this year by 22% over the previous season.
- We have over 70 employees now!
How do you maintain your quality during this time of immense demand pressure?
You are what you emphasise. We emphasise being meticulous with quality control work. It is trickier with more volume, but you stick to the processes that work. Our parts go through quality control steps at multiple stops on their journey from raw material to finished product.
Are your supply chains still being impacted by Covid? Do you see things settling down anytime soon?
We’re definitely not exempt from all the issues that everyone else is facing. Aluminium continues to be the most challenging piece of the supply chain for us. It’s 40% more expensive and takes three times as long to get – if we can get it. Our plastic sourcing faces a similar challenge. We’ve had to be really creative and strategic, but luckily, we’re good at that. We are purchasing much more material in advance than we ever have before.
We really don’t have a good gauge on how long this is going to continue. We’ll just stay as far ahead as we can and plan as if things are not going to change in the near future. Maybe we’ll be pleasantly surprised.
What new technology have you recently introduced into your bindings?
As we’ve progressed with our in-house thermo-plastics, we’ve become increasingly interested in how to combine the best properties of all the materials we utilise. One way to improve the longevity of some of our parts, and create an all-around better experience for splitboarders, is through over-moulding. Over-moulding is using our injection-moulding machine to strategically shoot plastic over an existing part. Our new models will feature over-moulded touring brackets and climbing wires. The concept and functionality behind both of these parts will remain the same as on previous models, they’re just enhanced offering splitboarders a smoother touring experience. We’re getting the best aspects of aluminium, steel, and plastics this way, and saving some grams in the process.
We’ve also redesigned our Rip ‘N’ Flip highbacks. The materials and blend we are using remains largely the same, but we’ve reshaped them to be asymmetric, with a left and right specific highback for improved ergonomics. The upper section of the highback is also now flatter, allowing the rider more freedom to shift their weight forward and backward on the descent for increased manoeuvrability.
How are you differentiating your brand as a number of new players enter the market?
We are dedicated splitboarders and we ride what we build. We stick to what we’re good at, which is designing and manufacturing splitboard bindings and accessories. It’s all we do, and all we focus on. This alone differentiates us from all other brands, new or old.