Max Jenke is one step closer to taking his snowboarding products into the influential and lucrative U.S. market.
He has been named B.C. finalist for the Business Development Bank of Canada’s BDC Young Entrepreneur Award and now hopes to garner enough votes from the public to win the $100,000 prize.
Jenke’s 11-year-old Vancouver-based Endeavour Design Inc. sells three products: Endeavour snowboards, Airhole face masks and Colour Wear outerwear.
But in the snowboarding universe, the U.S. is the gateway to the world.
“Even though we’re in Canada in the mecca of snowboarding, and we should have big stakes in the game, we don’t because we’re not recognized in the U.S.,” Jenke said of the six-employee firm.
A former professional snowboarder, Jenke, 34, has already carved out a substantial niche in the boarding industry, said Michel Bergeron, the BDC’s senior vice-president of marketing and public affairs. Jenke’s face masks are in 30 countries and his snowboards are in 21. He’s also the newly signed North American licensee for Colour Wear, a Swedish outerwear brand with a fast-growing European presence.
Jenke’s BDC application presented a very clear “turning point” should he win the prize, Bergeron said. Provincial juries selected one candidate per province. Finalists now vie for the most public votes in order to win the $100,000 award. The voting format allows the BDC to engage all Canadians while challenging the entrepreneurs’ ability to convince, Bergeron said. Nine finalists were chosen from more than 350 applicants this year.
Endeavour Design revenues have climbed 250 per cent in four years and the company now has an opportunity to dominate its niche with its 250-style line of patented face masks that allow snowboarders to breathe cold mountain air without collecting moisture.
“The No. 1 seller is the shark mask that makes your face look like a shark,” said Jenke who hopes to expand beyond action sports into the ski, hike and bike markets.
Jenke would use the award money for time management and customer service software, and to engage established, on-the-ground sales agencies throughout the U.S. Having credible agencies that already represent compatible brands is crucial, he said.
“You really need to be down there to make an impact,” but selling “hard goods is hard,” Jenke said. “It’s like selling cars. There’s a lot of work for not a lot of return for the sales reps.”
Margins are OK for retailers, but launching a brand is tough on sales reps on an eight per cent commission. “He has to sit out in the cold on a snow demo (for a commission) that won’t pay for his hamburger.”
But Jenke’s betting a three-brand entrance will make it all worthwhile. His face masks sell themselves and Colour Wear is an affordable new entrant with jackets priced at just $200. “Airhole is completely underdeveloped,” he said. “Germany is doing more volume than we are in the U.S.”
What’s more, timing is prime. The U.S. industry has seen several weak years with disastrous snow seasons coupled with the ailing economy. U.S. skier/snowboarder visits dropped to 52 million in 2011-12 from 60 million the season before. The resulting market confusion presents a perfect opportunity, Jenke said. “Retailers are going to be looking at all their product lines and getting rid of brands that don’t work. … We’re a small brand and able to go in and strike when every-one’s down.”
The BDC award would allow Endeavour to move in fast and strike hard, Jenke said.
The U.S. industry has 14 to 15 power players, Jenke said. “We want to be one of those. … The reason why we need to win is we need to put Canada on the map, man,” he said.
You can vote for Endeavor Design here
Blog: vancouversun.com/small business