Steamboat Springs Marty Carrigan goes to Las Vegas at least once a year, but he doesn't go to play cards and he doesn't go to ride the roller coasters. When Carrigan goes to Vegas this month, he'll mean business, and after 19 years, he knows the ropes.
Carrigan, 38, a 1986 graduate of Colorado Mountain College's ski business program, is the vice president of operations and sales for Palmer Snowboards. He oversees operations in the United States for the Swiss company, which owns a factory in Austria and has built its brand around American extreme sports icon Shaun Palmer.
Palmer ranks sixth in the rapidly expanding snowboard market, but Carrigan says his company's ranking can be deceiving.
"We're the No. 6 brand but we only play in about 10 to 15 percent of the market," Carrigan said. "That's because we start (retail prices) at $400 and most people end at $450."
Carrigan said Palmer, headed by majority owner Jurg Kunz, deliberately wrote a business plan that called for it to bypass selling to the bargain-conscious masses and focus instead on the high end.
"We felt that was the best way, in an image-driven industry, to really have equity in your brand over the long term," Carrigan said. "A lot of companies can be like boy bands," burning out like one-hit wonders. Palmer, in short, would rather be the Red Hot Chili Peppers than the Backstreet Boys -- or something close to that.
Palmer snowboards are available locally at Ride Sports and Powder Pursuits. Powder Pursuits owner Chris Smith said among the smaller snowboard suppliers he works with, Palmer ranks No. 1 in terms of service to dealers. He ordered 60 to 70 Palmer boards for his single shop this year.
"We love them," Smith said. "I've been to visit their factory several times. They do one thing and they do it well."
Carrigan rips up the groomers on Mount Werner on his sleek black Palmer snowboard during a rare day off. He's dressed in black and his silver hair belies his age. Carrigan wasn't always a snowboarder, though.
He came to Steamboat in 1984 with a background in Alpine ski racing and enrolled in Herb Faulkenberry's ski business curriculum at the Alpine Campus of Colorado Mountain College.
Coaching at the Billy Kidd Race Camp helped him to pay the bills, but from the very beginning, he was immersed in the business side of skiing, interning for Hart skis while he attended class.
As soon as he graduated from CMC, Carrigan went full time with Hart and established the company's mogul skis as the first choice of freestylers in a territory that stretched from Bozeman, Mont., to Santa Fe, N.M.
"I was the promo guy, traveling from resort to resort skiing with people," Carrigan said.
He became a sales associate, working for two factory reps, and finally got out of the van when he became product manager. His new position sent him to factories all over Europe and Japan in the late 1980s.
When Hart entered the snowboard market with the "Rad Air" line, Carrigan sensed opportunity and embraced the new way to ride the mountain. He parlayed that experience into a job as national sales manager for Morrow snowboards and moved his family to Salem, Ore., in 1994.
In his role with Morrow, Carrigan logged a lot of airtime -- and that's not a reference to throwing stunts in the halfpipe.
"I flew to Japan 14 times in three years and Europe about the same number of times," Carrigan said with a wry smile. "I was Mr. Carrigan on United. I flew more than the pilots."
Carrigan's family had to drive three hours to go skiing while they lived in Salem, and several years ago he returned to Steamboat to open an independent sales agency that counted Bogner ski clothing and Hart skis among its clients. When he was offered a position with Palmer, he seized the opportunity.
A growing role in Palmer
Carrigan has come a great distance for an intern who drove his demo van deep into the night, dodging elk from Bridger Bowl to Taos.
Today, Carrigan's role overseeing operations for Palmer requires him to spend part of each month in Minneapolis, where the company has its national distribution center. The large warehouse contains snowboards and Palmer outerwear. Palmer also distributes an Italian line of winter sports gloves known as Level Gloves.
The seasonality of the snowboard industry and the long lead times built into the industry make managing the distribution center a complex undertaking, Carrigan said.
Just as the winter resort industry is cyclical, so are the related sporting-goods industries. A big part of Carrigan's job involves managing the multilayered production and delivery schedule of Palmer's products.
Many snowboard retailers completely turn over the kind of merchandise in their stores as the seasons turn. Over the summer, they might be in the patio furniture or golf business.
Depending upon the region of the country, they'll switch to their winter ski and snowboard lines at different times during the autumn.
"It's not a 30- to 60-day turn like some other businesses," Carrigan said.
He must manage carefully to ensure he can meet the varying delivery schedules of customers all over the country.
Palmer sells to a global market and Carrigan says he's applied lessons learned from selling internationally to the United States. The nation is divided into 10 geographic sales territories.
"Those 10 territories are like 10 different countries," each with their own peculiarities, Carrigan said. "It's like Europe."
Palmer Snowboards is held by a privately owned company, "All Action." Kunz owns 80 percent of the company. Other owners include CEO Peter Martin, who runs Palmer's plant in Bischoffen, Austria, Palmer himself, and for the first time, Carrigan. He began accumulating equity ownership in the company on Jan. 1.
Palmer stands out in the snowboarding world because it manufactures its own boards exclusively in its Austrian plant. That strategy increases the company's exposure to the industry's long lead times -- products are actually made two years prior to delivery to retailers in some cases -- but it has allowed Palmer to stake its reputation on European craftsmanship, Carrigan said.
Only a handful of boutique manufacturers remain in the continental United States, Carrigan said. None of the major ski and snowboard brands are made in this country any longer.
"Our factory is the most state-of-the-art factory in Europe," Carrigan said. "It's incredibly high-tech, and it's right in the heart of the Austrian manufacturing district, giving us ready access to all of the raw materials as well as generations of European craftsman."
Palmer's reputation has grown to the point that it is tentatively beginning to manufacture some composite automobile parts for a well-know German manufacturer.
Carrigan has also been thrust into a new division of Palmer -- licensing its brand to manufacturers of unrelated products. Palmer has licensing arrangements with JVC electronics to make a limited-edition Shaun Palmer portable amplifier. Activision has licensed the Palmer brand for an electronic game called Pro Snowboard, that is compatible with the Sony Playstation II. Case Logic is coming out with a Palmer action sports CD case, and Fender guitars is contemplating releasing a Shaun Palmer model axe.
"Snowboarding brings 'cool' to these companies," Carrigan said. "It's all about the music and the fashion even before the snowboards. We're a bridge to action sports for a lot of companies. The exciting part for us is the exposure the brand gets from it."