O’Neill Hosts Snowboard Focus Group

Snowboarding was once made up by a small alternative group of people, looking for a winter alternative to skateboarding or surfing. However, as the sport continued to grow, more individuals from other arenas gravitated to the slopes. At the same time, a mainstream push occurred, but the number of outerwear companies in the industry stagnated. This left opportunity for companies such as the 50-year surf-veteran company O’Neill to step up and fill the void.

The company held a dealer focus group on June 22 at O’Neill headquarters in Santa Cruz, California to receive design feedback on its 2002 winter line. O’Neill company participants included its new Outerwear Sales and Marketing Manager Johnny West, Outerwear Designer/Developer Katie Becker, Snow Division Manager Joan Wenglikowski, and Vice President of Sales Cherry Chu. Retail participants included Vice President of Business Development Paul Norquistat of ZJ Boarding House in Santa Monica, California; Manager/Buyer Larry Ruppe of Ski Pro in Mesa, Arizona; Sammy Knauer of Vail, Colorado’s Polar Revolution; Owner Jay Moore of World Boards in Bozeman, Montana; and Owner Alex Vecchiet of NC Boardshop in Los Gatos, California.

While O’Neill is most recognizable for its innovations in wetsuit design, many people would be surprised to know it has actually been making snow outerwear since the 70s. And even more recently, it has been sponsoring and outfitting some of the most powerful freeriders in snowboarding such as Jeremy Jones, Tom Burt, and Elan Bushell.

Even so, West was quick to point out both the largest hurdle and yet biggest strongpoint for O’Neill outerwear: “Coming up on its 50-year anniversary of being a surf company—the company has based itself on good quality, innovative, technically orientated product and we are starting to make a huge push in the sportswear market—but we are still perceived as a surf brand.”

However, group participants were regionally split on whether the perception was a bonus or detraction from O’Neill’s success in outerwear. Inland retailers seemed to see the high-profile name as a highpoint for sales as customers recognize O’Neill’s name as standing for quality. In Arizona, Ruppe positions the brand as a sophisticated line for a more sophisticated customer. California shops, however, wondered if surf customers, who respect O’Neill for its longstanding knowledge, would carry that feeling over to snow.

Either way, snowboarders make up a fickle market, and as Katie Becker noted, “We want to be the stable company—we don’t want to be the flavor of the month. I want our outerwear to be exactly like our wetsuits … known for quality and innovation.”

The company is on the right track, and the focus group offered tons of constructive criticism for its outerwear team. Topics ranged from marketing, booking incentives, and existing rep status, to design issues such as fabric colors, textures, and ratings, outerwear features, accessories, and even POP design.

With a renewed dedication, and even a new separate snow-department location in So Cal on the horizon, the outerwear team left the meeting stoked on the future. With past issues addressed, a new outerwear sales manager, and great feedback for 2002 the company is in good position. Now all it needs is some snow.

—Story and photos by Leah Stassen