Coming To America With Régis Rolland And APO Snow
Growing up in the French Alps, Régis Rolland, like all his peers learned to ski almost as soon as he could walk, spending nearly all his time in the winter on two planks. But that all changed in January 1982, as did the course of European snowboarding, when several Winterstick riders took a trip to Les Arcs.
Rolland saw snowboarding for the first time and the riders' effortless turns inspired him to buy a board from them. In an era of neon one pieces, snowboards were rare in the States, but in Europe they were virtually nonexistent. Before the age of videos and magazines and without influences and reference points, Rolland created his own style and put snowboarding on the map in Europe with the launch of Apocalypse Snowboards and the offbeat, incredibly entertaining film trilogy Apocalypse Snow, the first installment dropping in 1984.
Packed with chase scenes, monoskiing hijinks, hang gliding, paragliding, snow rafting, and endless powder turns, Apocalypse Snow helped European snowboarding take off with a fun, playful vibe and inspired generations of riders, leading many to dub Rolland the Jake Burton of Europe.
Check out this clip from Apocalypse Snow:
Thirty years later, Rolland, 52, is on his third snowboard brand, APO Snow, following Apocalypse (founded in 1985) and A-Snowboards (founded in 1993). APO, which launched in 2003 and is currently celebrating its 10th anniversary, bobbed along in the European market looking for funding for several years before declaring bankruptcy in 2009. But its story was far from over. APO emerged from bankruptcy in 2010 after being acquired by a company called Snowide, which not only infused APO with cash, but some bold new ideas and the brand is on the verge of some even bolder moves.
Over the last several years, APO launched into the ski market and beefed up its team on both sides of the shred divide adding Eero Niemela, Sage Kotsenburg, Anne-Flore Marxer, and Spencer O'Brien to its snow squad and Sammy Carlson to its ski. APO is also jumping into the outerwear game next season with a strong line, and Snowide is distributing multiple brands including Colour Wear in France.
But perhaps the biggest move is APO’s upcoming push into the States. Snowboarding and action sports' history is strewn with the skeletons of European brands whose pushes into America have floundered, tapped their funds, and blown their entire businesses. The biggest mistake brands make is relying on their success in Europe and coming to the States with the same strategy, failing to listen to the market.
APO's management team has vowed not to make that blunder and is taking an insightful approach to its US strategy. First, they partnered with Denver-based Global Sales Guys, a sales agency/distributor led by industry vet Marty Carrigan, whose line focuses on hard to get items with premium margins, many of whom hail from Europe, to support American specialty retailers.
Take a tour of APO’s Annecy, France offices:
"APO is our newest example of a brand, products, and most importantly people that want to help the retailer put the special back in specialty," explains Carrigan who is helping spearhead APO's launch in the States and organized a trip with fifteen top retailers, including Darkside, Eastern Boarder, Emage, Milosport, Powder Tools, The Boardroom, and US Outdoor Store to name a few, to APO's Annecy, France headquarters. The purpose of the trip was not just to check out the line, but to provide honest feedback on APO’s products, marketing, and brand direction.
The six-day trip featured plenty of time on snow at La Clusaz, Val Thorens, and Chamonix, and a couple days in APO HQ going over the lines, meeting the staff, and discussing the best ways to segment product, market the various categories, and distribute it in the States to create a win-win here for APO and its retail partners.
APO's executive team, led by Snowide CEO Mike Vaughton, an engaging and intelligent Brit and veteran of Eurosport, adidas, and Salomon; is rallying the company around the mantra "Be Bold," and the brand's initiatives are just that as it strives to become a four-season player and grow revenue ten-fold by 2017.
While this goal is lofty in a stagnant snow market, the company isn't intending to base that growth on snowboard sales alone. In fact, the goal on the snowboard side is to grow strictly in the specialty channel. The increase will rely on what Vaughton describes as "thinking differently" about current channels, targeting acquisitions to round out APO’s seasonal portfolio, as well as out-of-the-box initiatives.
For example, APO recently released a smart phone video game app that has been downloaded over 450,000 times since its launch a few short months ago, creating a nice revenue stream at $0.99 per customer. It has also partnered with Pringles, and the game will be featured with a free download and rev share for the company on over 15 million cans of chips in Europe.
This thinking and willingness to listen elicited a strong response from the retailers on the trip, who shared their candid thoughts on how the brand can strategically grow in the States, and APO's executives all echoed the goal of doing just that, and doing it slowly, in the American market.
"It's refreshing to have a company that's coming to retailers and asking them what they think and trying to grow with them rather than using them as a springboard," says Emage Co-owner Sean Robinson. "This communication and commitment is huge."
Jay Moore, owner of World Boards, also appreciated the approach and provided the advice that a brand such as APO, with its deep heritage needs to capitalize on the story that makes it unique: "Legends are a big focus right now, snowboarding is really going back to its heritage. There's no substitute for real and Régis Rolland is just that. APO needs to capitalize on that and enter the market strategically and they will succeed."