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2018-01-26 / News

Changing the sport of snowboarding, one happy customer at a time

BY CHRIS MORELLI
Correscpondent


Gilson is now known nationwide for producing top-notch, high quality boards. 
Photo courtesy of Gilson Gilson is now known nationwide for producing top-notch, high quality boards. Photo courtesy of Gilson WINFIELD, Pa. — If you can dream it, you can do it. Just ask anyone at Gilson Snowboard and Ski Co.

What started out as a simple idea grew into a few snowboards — and then things got crazy. The idea took off. Now, Gilson Snow and Ski Company is a wildly popular, hugely successful business. Nick Gilson co-founded the company with Austin Royer.

When they started making snowboards, they had no idea where things would end. Now, it looks like there is no end in sight.

Pennsylvania Business Central recently caught up with Gilson’s operations manager, Steve Blackman, to find out all there is to know about Gilson.

The Beginning

When Nick Gilson was 15 years old, he decided to try to build a snowboard inspired by boats. He had often sailed in Rhode Island and once helped his father build a catamaran. A catamaran’s parallel twin hulls make it faster than traditional yachts.

Gilson wondered if a similar design could be applied to snowboards, which are typically flat on the bottom. With that in mind, he began working on a prototype.

He tried to get a patent for the idea, but hit some roadblocks.

“He was trying to patent something that was totally revolutionary for the industry,” Blackman explained. “No one had ever seen it before. No one took him seriously.”

His prototype sat for several years, until 2012. Gilson and Royer were teaching in Nashville, Tenn. The two dusted the snowboard idea off as a project for their students. Gilson and Royer built a few more boards and took them out to Colorado to test them out.

“It was,” Blackman said, “a total failure.”

However, Gilson and Royer didn’t give up. They wanted to set an example for their students. The duo continued to labor on their snowboards and came up with another attempt. Back to Colorado they went.

“This time, they actually worked. They realized they were onto something with the design. Nick left school after that year, formed the company and we’ve been at it ever since,” Blackman said.

An Idea Takes Flight

In 2013, Nick founded Gilson Boards. According to the company’s website, the boards feature two runners straddling the bottom, creating a channel and providing more versatility and control in various conditions.

Another difference in the boards is a softer, curved edge. It has more of a surfboard-style design. That makes it easier to turn and drift in the snow.

“When we first tried out the board, 19 of 20 people who tested it said they liked it better than the standard, flat snowboard,” Blackman said.

After that, the snowboard business really took flight, so to speak.

One unique thing about Gilson is the fact that everything is manufactured in-house.

“Most ski and snowboard companies that start up have someone else manufacture their product and there’s a marketing company or they’re building boards in their garage for years while keeping their day jobs. The difference with us is that we went ‘all in’ right from the beginning,” Blackman said.

When Blackman said, “all in,” he wasn’t kidding. Gilson, Royer and Blackman didn’t get paid for the first year that the company was in business.

It sounds tricky — and it was. But in the end, Blackman said it paid great dividends.

“That’s one of the things that has really helped us to grow incredibly fast,” Blackman said.

At Home in Winfield

Gilson Snow and Ski has set up shop in rural Winfield, Pa., just outside of Lewisburg, which is best known as the home of Bucknell University.

In Winfield, Gilson operates a 5,000-square-foot manufacturing facility.

“We actually started out in Austin’s family’s barn. We had the front half of the barn and the donkeys and horses had the back,” Blackman said with a laugh.

After that, Gilson left the barn and moved to its current facility, which is just a half-mile down the road.

The facility has been perfect in every way, shape and form, according to Blackman.

“We’ve got a storefront and a lot of people just stop by. They’ve heard about it, they want to take a tour and get some apparel. We have a lot of people stop by and say ‘I don’t ski or snowboard, but I wanted to get a T-shirt because I really like what you guys do,’” Blackman said.

But don’t stop by hoping to purchase a snowboard off the rack. That doesn’t happen. Instead, boards are sold online, directly to the consumer. A single snowboard, customized to its buyer, takes about three days to produce.

Selling directly to the consumer has worked wonderfully, Blackman said. When the company first started, they tried cold calling more than 3,000 snowboard and ski shops nationwide. That didn’t turn out so well, Blackman said.

“We didn’t sell a single board,” he said. “No one was willing to gamble on a new, unknown brand.”

But that turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Instead of mass producing boards, Gilson is now known nationwide for producing top-notch, high quality boards.

“With the internet, UPS and FedEx, we’re able to build a board to order, ship it out and have it on your doorstep in a few weeks,” Blackman said.

As one can imagine, the snowboard and ski business is extremely seasonal. Most of the work comes in the fall and winter months. The other months are used to gather materials and build inventory.

Gilson also sells through Amazon, but usually it is dealing directly with its customers.

It has streamlined the delivery method. Boards and skis are shipped in snuggly- fitted cardboard rather than a bulky box.

All products used to build the boards and skis come from the United States. Gilson maintains strong quality control.

“We control our product — all the way from the saw mill to the board arriving on the customer’s doorstep,” Blackman said.

Gilson employs 20 full-time and part- time employees. In manufacturing, there are seven full-time employees.

In 2016, Gilson sold more than 1,000 boards, bringing in almost $1 million in revenue. Sales have grown 200 percent every year the company’s inception.

Looking Ahead

Through word of mouth, online reviews and social media, Blackman knows that Gilson will continue to grow.

He wouldn’t have it any other way.

“We are a game-changer in snow sports,” Blackman said. “It’s been great doing something totally new and the response we’ve gotten in central Pennsylvania is totally awesome.”

Every summer, Gilson hosts a “summer snow day.” In July, Gilson has snow trucked in, partners with Rusty Rail Brewing and invites the community out to, essentially, play in the snow. It’s a unique event on what is typically a hot summer day.

The response has been overwhelming.

“Everyone loves it,” Blackman said. “But it’s just our way of giving back to the community.”

For more information about Gilson, visit www.gilsonsnow.com or call 570 798-9102.

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