When you think of likely locations for a snowboard factory, you probably don’t think of the beaches of Orange County. But Southern California’s only such facility actually exists just a few miles from the ocean in Huntington Beach.
Run by professional snowboarding veterans including CEO Dave Lee and chief operating officer Billy Anderson, Signal Snowboards can physically create boards at the same location where it comes up with business plans and concepts. That means the growing brand can turn around orders faster than any other snowboard company out there, and it gives Signal the flexibility to freestyle with ideas whenever it's looking to try something new.
“What’s cool about it is that it makes us nimble,” Anderson says. “We can have an idea, sell it, build it and have it shipped out by the end of the week. It helps us manage our inventory, and it’s not something that everyone can do.”
And perplexing as it might seem, Surf City, USA, is as logical a home as nearly anywhere else. It’s no weirder than watching the Kings or Ducks play when it’s 90 degrees outside.
“We’re the only [snowboard factory in Southern California], which is great because we can shoot up and do some product testing in Mammoth for a weekend,” Anderson says. “Sometimes snowboarding catches flak for being in Southern California, but the proximity to mountains is a lot closer than you think. Mountain High is only 90 minutes away, and other companies that pride themselves are equally far from a mountain.”
After all, snowboarding aside, SoCal has always been known for its board culture. Action sports essentially grew out of L.A., and the coastline all the way down to San Diego remains a destination for surfers and skateboarders alike. It wasn’t that long ago that all board sports were lumped into the same X Games subculture, and you can still see plenty of surfers and skateboarders spending the winter months on local mountaintops just the same as an avid snowboarder heading down to Venice or Huntington once the snow melts.
“There’s such a hub of surfing and skating that snowboarding ties right into that,” Anderson says. “That culture has always been there with skiing. If you look back at the early days, ski bums were punks. That kind of transitioned to snowboarders, and it’s something that all culminates together. There are a ton of surfers who head up to the mountain for powder. An average snowboarder who’s a good surfer rips in powder, and with the storms we’ve gotten recently, everyone’s excited to get up there.”
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Unfortunately, for a sport that’s always prided itself on originality and being somewhat anti-establishment, snowboarding has fallen into a rut in recent years when it comes to the business side of things. Most local snowboarding shops have closed down in favor of online sales and big-box retailers, and brands are beginning to find themselves in the same battle for online supremacy that exists in any major industry.
That’s exactly where Signal is going in a different direction with its model. Thanks to the local factory, the guys can put out new boards with ease over the course of the winter. Signal has decided to share this flexibility with its customers by offering a subscription package, rather than having to shell out hundreds of dollars for a board that’ll be worn down and dated within a year. For $35 to $55 a month, riders get a new board straight from the Signal factory every year and two weeklong trial sessions with any other Signal board. That way, if you get your new board in January and decide you want to try something new in March (or December), you’re not out an entire paycheck and stuck with a board you hate.
“As an industry, we’re getting ready for the big industry trade show at the end of the month,” Anderson says. “It’s the first time most brands will be selling to retailers, but we’ll be selling directly to the customer. We can put out new boards and promote new products into January and February, when people are actually snowboarding. Snowboarding is so frontloaded to get in that presale Christmas window, but no one really books a snowboarding trip until January or February or even March. It’s exciting for us that we can take advantage of those new windows, because we have our own factory and don’t have those massive lead times. We’re almost like farmers in how dependent we are on the weather.
“With the spread-out payments, you’re not so nervous to buy midseason when there’s only a couple of months left,” Anderson adds. “If we’re deferring those payments, it helps to spread it out. It gets you on the hill and gets you on a new board, and then when your board is tailing out, you’re riding it through November and December when it’s a little rockier and your board is getting beat up. Then you’re ready for a new one when the snow falls.”