Shimano Folds SST Division

Shimano has decided to discontinue its Shimano Snow Technologies (SST) division, which designed and manufactuered Shimano-branded Clicker-compatible snowboard boots.

The decision, made in September, affects the three full-time employees in the United States; Wooyun’s snowboard-boot factories in Korea and China; and several employees at Shimano’s world headquarters in Sakai, Osaka, Japan.

Shimano and K2 together designed the Clicker step-in binding in the early 90s. The system has enjoyed incredible success through its chief licensee, K2 snowboards, and that company’s reps sold the Shimano boot alongside K2’s own boot offerings.

However, K2’s success with the Clicker ultimately made it difficult for Shimano to establish a market presence for its own brand-name boot line, say industry analysts.

So why was the move made, what does it mean for the Clicker system, and what does the folding of the in-house brand portent for the entire step-in category? We e-mailed outgoing SST Sales and Marketing Manager John Telfer about these and other issues.

What is the status of Shimano Snow Technologies (SST)? SST, the brand in charge of the design, development, and marketing of Shimano snowboard boots and accessories, has been discontinued, effective immediately. The Clicker system will move forward, with Shimano Japan continuing R&D and production of the K2-branded Clicker bindings, and the K2 family of brands taking care of the boot side.

Why was the decision made? The "why" is pretty complicated. I guess the simple explanation is that the perceived future of the boot program wasn’t going to satisfy the expectations required to justify the current rate of investment.

What type of support will SST be offering retailers through the end of this season? Retailers have always been supported by K2 in terms of customer and rep service for warranties and reorders. The only thing they’ll be missing is the marketing of the brand after December.

Who at SST will be affected by the decision?

Nobody on the in-house distribution (K2) side is affected, although the K2 reps are obviously losing a solid brand. The factory will continue to produce Shimano and OEM bicycle shoes, but it’s obviously affected by the loss in production volume. SST employees in Japan have been reassigned within the other action-sports categories. Here in the United States, Carrie Kizuka in charge of women’s and kids’ boots, Brian Dennis chief boot designer, and I manages sales, team, and just about everything else are pursuing other opportunities.

What about the SST team? Most had their contracts ending in November, and they were the first to know about the decision. In fact, all the contract guys knew within a week or two of the decision. No cliché, this was the hardest thing I think I’ve ever had to do. It took me three years to put together a team that really gelled, and one that was really focused on the mission and committed to the product.

Everyone has been really cool about what’s gone down–although most seemed to be really bummed about the thought of having to go back to conventional bindings. I know a lot of them have already said they’re still going to continue to ride the Shimano product this season. I’ve tried to make sure everyone at least has enough product to get them through the season. A huge mahalo to those guys, they all rule.

The SST ad that ran in the fifth issue of TransWorld SNOWboarding had a caption, "The beginning or the end?" Was that down-low reference to what’s going on? Guilty. It wasn’t supposed to run until December though.

Before the decision was made, I really felt we were starting to turn a corner. The team was really stoked on the new product. They were feeling the momentum and claiming this was going to be the breakthrough season for the program. And yet it ended so unexpectedly. That ad was pretty personal, I guess, as to how a lot of us were feeling.

Since the SST in-house staff has so much experience with step-ins, boot design, and snowboarding, what will they be doing now? Brian’s going to build fancy remote-control airplanes that fly into hurricanes. Carrie’s going to teach math, and I’m going to play on the Internet.

What is the status of the step-in category? We were as much of a casualty of market conditions as internal factors. But anyway, don’t believe the hype. Considering how the entire category performed so badly the previous season, it was no surprise that retailers were at the end of their ropes and were quickly losing faith in step-ins.

They came to Vegas last year with all this product from the majors left over, and no idea if anybody really had their shit together yet. We’re lucky that our sales were only flat, and not significantly down.

But I do think if it ever really starts snowing this year we’ll see all that leftover product selling through nicely, and it will be a different story by the next Vegas show. The inventory levels for Clicker product seem a lot more appropriate this season, and Shimano product is already selling through very well.

Heaps of credit have to go to the strap binders for really stepping up the design and marketing of those products to take advantage of the failings of the step-in category. It definitely has created a cool retro hype that the step-ins are going to have to deal with. But I have no question that step-ins could and should dominate the overall binding category within the next few years if a couple manufacturers could just give the market some consistency of product and delivery.

–Sean O’Brien