..As promised, we return to our conversation with Andy Liebner, founder of the United States Ski Pole Company or USSPC.
You could read the first part here
Just to remind you that Andy is anything but your typical sweet-talking start-up guy, trying to please everybody, from investors through competition to the most choosy customer. Far from it – at least when it comes to talking about competition. You’re welcome to form your opinion about his bluntness – but we, without taking sides in the argument, plain like it and find it quite refreshing.
Today Andy talks about marketing, competition and what he sees as unfair business practices of competitors & what he intends to do about them. It’s really worth reading ( and watching the accopaniying videos whereas Andy expounds his views) – whether you buy his arguments or not.
– In one of your videos on Youtube, you say it’s nice for big brands to make pro-chafing ski pole grips so they could sell more gloves”. That’s a heavy allegation. How did you come up with that?
I really didn’t have to ‘come up’ with it. It’s blatantly obvious when you see skiers gloves of all ages at events winter and summer indoor and outdoor. Everyone’s gloves have holes and everyone’s gloves are usually the same brand of the pole their using. No coincidence there. I’m a nice guy, but will not hide the facts from customers. Our competitors have the same choice as us to put an anti-chaffing grip on their product, yet they choose not to.
– In another place on the same video you say “Big brands are doing all they can to keep us out of shops and away from advertizing…they are showing fear of competition” Are you saying there some kind of cartel?
I am not at liberty to expand on that question at this time. Our reporting of illegal U.S. Business practices is combined with other industry businesses and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission has opened an investigation.
– …let’s pivot towards your company & what you produce: again, you say: “Origin, where the product is made it the most important”
If a company is proud of where they are made they will put, “Made in ….” on the product. It’s done with other ski equipment such as skis, boots, but why is the pole left without an origin? Is it because they’re ashamed? I’d like to hear why only one big brand will identify China and the rest refuse to. At a time where economies, jobs, and environmental issues are big household topics, being U.S. Made we guarantee that we pay honest wages, do not pollute the environment and support our economy. As far as we know, Asia continues to exercise laxed labor laws, has little regard to toxic pollution. Just like with any product, buying a product produced in Asia, further sets us away from reversing the international economic cash flow cycle and more damage to the environment.
We like being a small American company. The communication channel is wide open for coaches and athletes to provide us with valuable feedback on both our products and the failures of our competitors.
– How many pairs and where do you sell and who are your top sponsored athletes?
We offer a variety of sponsorship programs and they’re not all performance based. Skiers of ALL ages and abilities can earn discounted and even free poles by posting their normal use of our poles on social media. We’ve tripled our sales growth each year and our sponsorship program is booming as word spreads. We’re also the first to market custom branded poles. For example, any skier can have their own name brand poles, which they can sell or fund raise to their fans for an additional $10 USD per pair with no minimums. We have a 2-4 week turnaround time on most small orders too. Nobody has the capability to do that because they’re not leading the ski paradigm. We are.
Although we have not advertised outside of the U.S. or Canada, we’ve sent orders to Asia, Scandinavia, Europe, and Russia.
How did you arrive to the idea of launching your own xc ski gear company? and why poles of all the gear around?
I’m an opportunist and seized an opportunity to acquire a former golf club factory and re-engineer it into a ski pole factory. I’m from Soldotna, Alaska. Competed in both skiing and Biathlon in the U.S. and Europe. Author of Wild Shot (a ski book). Earned a Coaching and Nutrition degree from Northern Michigan University and passionately coach on the side. Taught a Peruvian to classic ski, who competed in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi and I as his coach.