The snow sports community is ramping up for OR + Snow Show next week in Denver, and K2 Sports has some big news to drop: the introduction of Tim Swart, a 20-year veteran in action sports storytelling and brand development, as the company’s global vice president of marketing.
Swart hails from roles leading marketing strategy for major players, including most recently under the Pretty Great family of snow and lifestyle brands Bonfire, Nikita, SLVDR and Sessions. Prior to that, he founded street and surf lifestyle brand and San Diego retail concept incubator UNIV, and earlier in his career, co-founded Clive, one of the first lifestyle bag and accessory brands to cater to board sports.
"Iconic is a word that gets used often in our world, but it’s the perfect moniker for what we have here at K2,” said Swart. “Since its inception in the ’60s, K2 has led the industry in innovation, and all of the brands in the K2 family share a heritage of raising the benchmark in their individual lanes. Leading the global marketing efforts at K2 is an opportunity that makes a mark in someone's career and one I'm excited about."
The Seattle-based company owns and operates a group of snowsports brands, including K2 Snowboarding, K2 Skis, Ride, Line, Full Tilt Boots, Backcountry Access, Atlas Snowshoes, Tubbs Snowshoes and Madshus. In 2017, the K2 Sports portfolio was acquired by Kohlberg & Company from previous owners Newell Brands for $240 million.
"I've known Tim Swart for more than 15 years, and he brings to K2 Sports a level of knowledge and experience that few have in this industry,” said John Colonna, K2 Sports president, who joined the company a year ago in January. “His involvement leading marketing efforts for startups and globally established brands, as well as his hands-on management in the retail segment, is going to be a real asset as we ramp up our global marketing, especially with K2 Skis and K2 Snowboarding."
We had a chance to dive into the new role with Swart, including understanding his immediate goals coming into his first year, how he plans to further expand on the K2 mission and what we can expect from the product innovation side, as well. He also gives us his take on where the snowsports industry is headed.
Since coming on board in September as K2’s global VP of marketing, what are a few of your major areas of focus?
K2 is in the unique position of having decades of being a leading brand in the global snowsports business. We started fifty-plus years ago and brought real innovation into the ski world right from the start. Our history in snowboarding goes back more than three decades, which is a feat in itself, and it's marked by a lot of firsts and innovations that still stand tall today.
My goal is to ensure that K2 remains a leader by truly leading. Our product innovations continue to change the way people look at having fun on the snow. We're going to turn up the volume with our marketing to remind people what K2 has to offer overall, but especially with K2 Snowboarding and Skis.
We'll highlight our dedication to innovation and progression consistently across all regions, and do it all bold and progressively, as we always have. When K2 first began more than 50 years ago, it was notorious for both its innovation and personality. Keeping both of those things at the forefront is going to propel K2 to continued growth moving forward.
K2's diehard fans are going to be excited about what's to come, and everyone else will surely notice how much more we're showing up on their radar.
As both a snowboard and ski brand, K2 is in a unique position to talk to two different segments of the market. How are these segments different, and in what ways are you seeing some synergies between the two?
K2's position has always been to be bold, innovative, fun and inject personality into the way it approaches everything. Those things are true for K2, regardless of if people prefer standing sideways or facing forwards.
A lot of brands are hesitant to acknowledge what we've always known: that skiing and snowboarding are truly not very different at all.
Families are mixed of skiers and snowboarders, as are groups of friends, and most retailers surely are, too. Many consumers are switching between the two depending on the day or terrain. Products surely benefit from technologies and innovation across both segments and will continue to do so.
Sean Pettit has been a great example of this. He's been a K2 pro skier for his entire career, but lately, he's been getting noticed by the core snowboard media for his riding. He has friends, and respect, in both worlds.
K2 Sports has a clear advantage when it comes to manufacturing, too. With so many different brands focused on different aspects of snowsports, our engineers are constantly benefiting from the creative thinking and technologies that stretch across all the segments we're a part of.
Another massive advantage we have is something we need to do a much better job sharing with the general public. A lot of people don't realize we have a rapid prototyping and in-house design facility here in Seattle called the Advanced Resource Collective, or ARC for short.
The ARC lets us test new designs so we can take them from the drafting table to the trail almost immediately, versus waiting weeks or longer if we were reliant on outsourced production overseas. K2 owns its factory abroad, which gives us a clear advantage when it comes to the production for all the brands in the K2 Sports family.
What is the brand’s biggest mission moving into 2019 and beyond?
One thing we need to do a better job of doing is making it known that we are the original American ski and snowboard brand. No other brand can claim such a long and influential heritage in both.
K2 changed the industry with fiberglass skis, and we started our commitment to innovation in snowboarding back in '87. On the snowboard side, we've been dedicated to that market, the products, the riders, and the retailers long before it was considered acceptable for a ski brand to do so.
When it comes to skis, no one can match our history here in the US, and we're quite the force internationally as well. We couldn't be more proud of our heritage and that history of innovation is in line with our direction for next year.
What new innovations are you releasing to the world this winter and what’s on deck for next year?
One of our most important initiatives isn't actually new. The K2 Women’s Alliance was started 20 years ago as a way to step up the R&D process for women's product at K2. Two decades later the Alliance is the most established women's feedback and design group in the industry, but a relatively untold story outside the walls of K2. This year we offer some big new Alliance initiatives, including the Cold Shoulder women’s freeride board and Mindbender Alliance collection of skis.
In terms of what's brand new, we have a lot of innovations and milestones coming up. One of the most exciting product launches on the snowboard side is Jake Kuzyk's new pro model, the Medium. It's a premium freestyle model with graphics done by the renowned artist Russ Pope. A true freestyle snowboard, it has a unique art application process that cuts down on weight, and it's packed with the snappy versatility that's lacking in a lot of freestyle boards.
Jake won Video Part of the Year at the last TW Riders Poll and is one of the most-watched freestyle snowboarders right now, so we're expecting this board to be a hit.
On the K2 Ski side, we just kicked off the biggest K2 product launch in 20 years and the enthusiasm is tangible. We just opened up a limited early-release of next year's Mindbender ski collection, and it has gotten an incredible amount of attention across the industry.
It involves new construction and technology created, developed and tested by us at the ARC in Seattle. Media and retailers are loving what they've seen so far and the full release – six skis for men, six for women, and ski boots for both genders as well – is going to be incredible.
There'll be other considerable jumps in progression and innovation in skis, boards, boots and snowboard bindings, too.
What is your current take on the snow sports industry? Challenges? Biggest advantages?
Snowsports are experiencing great momentum once again. A few strong winters and banner snow years across a variety of regions have definitely helped. The right retail partners providing better experiences, service and communication, have been a factor, as well.
When innovation, brand marketing and a great retail experience come together, that's the recipe for success for the entire industry. After that, it takes the resorts to do their part in marketing and creating an aspirational experience, regardless of whether it dumped overnight or hasn't snowed in weeks.
One trend we have going for us is the rise of social media and people craving attention online. While our lives have become almost overwhelmingly digital, a considerable part of people's online persona is showing off their outdoor experiences.
People still recognize that being out in the mountains is one of the best things you can do in life and they aspire to participate both online and in the real world with their friends.
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