Located in Rolle, Switzerland, Nidecker's factory sits on the north shore of Lake Geneva. Surrounded by vineyards and an incredible view of the lake and Alps, the setting seems more suited to a resort than a factory. Transworld Business recently had the opportunity to take a tour of the Rolle facility and spend the afternoon with two generations of Nideckers and the company's brand & marketing director.
Henri Nidecker founded the company that bears his name in 1887 to build cartwheels, ladders, and wheelbarrows. In 1912 they began making skis, and the first snowboards rolled off the line in '84. Over the last quarter century, the company has shifted its focus primarily to snowboards and wood core kite boards. This fifth generation, family-owned enterprise is arguably the oldest privately owned company in the snowboard game, and they're working to capitalize on this heritage to spread the word about their high-end, hand-crafted rides.
The Rolle factory, which employs approximately 25 people, is primarily used for design functions and limited runs (200 – 1,500) of high-end boards. New designs are built here and tested in the nearby Alps, such as Chamonix, located an hour away. This is the home for the production of "welded wood" cores, a process that bonds vertically laminated wood layers without any adhesives that won Nidecker the Euro SIMA snowboard innovation award a few months ago. The Rolle factory also specializes in small luxury collaborations with brands such as Chanel, Swarovski, Lacroix, MTV Europe, and Ford.
Larger runs for brands such as Salomon and the majority of the Nidecker branded boards are made in the company's Tunisian factory, which is a short plane ride away and employs between 70 and 130 people depending on the season. Nidecker opted for the North African locale more than 10 years ago due to its proximity to the European market, French speaking populace, high quality standards, stable economy, and low labor costs. With the ill will and substantial cost increases in the far East, it is becoming a safe and economic alternative to Chinese production.
Henry Nidecker, the fifth person of this name leading the charge there since the company's founding, but the first one not spelled Henri, is working to breathe fresh air into the company from a marketing standpoint. "My father is a carpenter and doesn't like to think about marketing," says 21-year-old Henry who quit a lucrative position as an Internet consultant for Microsoft to take up the reigns on Nidecker's new freestyle line, NDK. "It has always been product before marketing – but we need to take our technology and sell that with strong marketing."
Brand & Marketing Director Robert Etienne couldn't agree more. As the company makes a renewed push to grow its share of the US pie, Etienne says they "need to stay focused on quality and building boards that make riding even more intense and exciting, but we are working to build a buzz around the brand through better marketing and product positioning."
"Nidecker sells well and the bindings actually do well for us too," says Backcountry.com Merchandising Division Manager for Snowboards Matt Enloe, whose company began carrying the brand in 2005. Enloe describes the typical Nidecker buyer as "someone who's been snowboarding for a very long time and is in that higher disposal income range now and really understands high quality craftsmanship. He's buying a Nidecker because he knows that it's one of the best made snowboards out there and is willing to spend six to nine hundred dollars on a snowboard and know that he's going to get his money's worth. That customer knows what they're looking for and goes right to it. The Mega Light and the Ultra Light are probably our best sellers. Nidecker's tried to go into the freestyle end, but they're not really known for that."
Etienne means to change that while not losing sight of the company's roots. A Chicago native and grandson of a US congressman, Etienne opened his first boardsports store in Geneva in 1980. Armed with a vision of bringing the California skate culture to the land of neutrality, Etienne went to ASR in '85 and returned with more gear than he could afford. Fortunately, his dream caught on and product began moving like wildfire. Etienne parlayed his retail connections into a distribution role for US companies such as Special Blend, Dragon, and Morrow with DAC Sport, where he spent the last 14 years. More recently, Etienne helped ROME get established in Europe, before Nidecker approached him in the summer of '07 with a proposal to come on board and help reinvigorate the brand with a new generation of riders and management.
"Nidecker is really strong in the freeride category," says Etienne, but the company has struggled in other areas such as freestyle, where its last incarnation, "Donuts," didn't fly. However, you don't last this long in any industry without learning some tough lessons and building upon them. Nidecker is incorporating this education in its marketing strategy and focusing on spreading the word about the brand's Swiss quality and NDK through solid international and US teams as well as Ogden, Utah-based Altos Distribution.
They're also sprucing up their graphics on the NDK front. In addition to its artist collaborations with Pulp 68's legendary JMZ, Etienne brought in a group of three, young artists, known as Forever Young, to help design next year's line .The graphics are a huge departure from most of Nidecker's traditional offerings, and the company's really excited after the feedback they've received about the boards and the live art piece Forever Young did for Nidecker's booth at this winter's ispo.