I could tell you a story about castles, dungeons, schnapps, chastity belts, virgin maidens, toasts, and spankings, but there’s an old rule on road trips: whatever happens Austria, stays in Austria—so that’s all I’m going to say about those things.
Day three of the Palmer Retailer Trip 2001 began in Altenmarkt after a three-hour drive ended up being more like a six-hour drive the night before getting from the Palmer headquarters in Glarus, Switzerland to the Austrian town very close to Palmer’s factory. Maybe Palmer North American Sales Manager Marty Carrigan thought the three white VW Transporter passenger vans could go faster then they did. An even later night followed the late drive as retailers stretched their legs out at the local pubs, and the morning wake-up calls came a little too quickly for much of the group.
After everyone was assembled, the three VW’s were loaded up and it was off to the manufacturing plant, where we were greeted by Peter Martin, the newly named CEO of the Palmer factory, who gave us an exclusive tour through the facility.
The factory was opened in 1995 and now produces between 30,000 and 35,000 boards per year. It has 25 employees and runs two shifts during the day. “I don’t like running a third shift because that’s where you get a lot of quality problems,” says Martin.
The tour began with the materials storage area where he pointed out that Palmer only manufacturers boards, not woodcores, bases, or topsheets. Those are all outsourced to specialists according to Palmer’s strict specifications.
He then talked about the unique woodcore constructions including the honeycomb, three-dimensional, and traditional full-length woodcores. Retailers asked why each was used and what the advantages and disadvantages were. He also pointed to a big heat-drying machine where the woodcores were stored for six hours to eliminate all the moisture.
The factory uses a lot of automation to make the building process much more efficient. There’s an ultrasonic cutting machine that slices through the company’s prepreg fiberglass to make it fit perfectly in the lay-up process. There are also two large automated presses that cycles multiple molds through various degrees of the production process.
After the boards are pressed, they’re off to the finishing area where robots and assembly lines mix to get the boards ready for the consumers. The factory was already stacked with a full production line. Martin says that the company has already produced 1,800 samples for the upcoming trade show season and has made about 8,000 boards for next season. “We want to be the first in the shops this year,” he adds.
The retailers on the trip were definitely intrigued and impressed with what they saw going through the facility. “This factory is so clean,” says Damon Richards of Val Surf. “It’s amazing how anal they are here. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Palmer board with a flaw and now I know why.”
Day four was reserved for hitting the slopes and actually riding the product that everyone had seen produced the day before. Some grabbed a board and hit the hill, not to be seen again for the rest of the day. Others, like Louis Cox of Action Sports in Connecticut, used the opportunity to ride every board in the line.
The trip ended with a traditional Bavarian dinner, dancing, and many brews at the Hoffbrau Haus in Munich, Germany. Oh, there was a lot more going on that night, but you know the saying: What happens in Germany, stays in Germany …
—Willoughby La Jolla III