Ultimately, this story is about making a better mousetrap. After seeing people struggle with lacing systems, BOA founder Gary Hammerslag used his experience in medical device wires to fashion a mechanical wire-and-real closure system that allowed for uniform, consistent fit. Two things are important here: First, consumers weren’t thinking they needed something better. Second, Gary didn’t try to devise a better way of lacing up winter boots, he came up with something entirely new, different and better. He saw a problem for which a solution wasn’t even being considered, which means opportunity. The challenge, then, wasn’t just to create a solution, but figure out how he could bring it to market. And therein lie some of the key lessons in this episode – Gary talks about working with OEM partners, preserving capital, and marketing to two different audiences.
- 01:45 – What’s BOA and which industries are they in?
- 04:30 – Brand partners and how they pick their customers
- 06:25 – How he started and what makes the product special
- 12:00 – Making the first prototypes and how he tested them
- 17:15 – What business model makes sense?
- 21:15 – The pivot, from boot to closure
- 24:55 – Getting his foot in the door for snow sports
- 31:20 – Going from prototype to a production ready design
- 36:00 – Designing for manufacturing & producing where your customers are
- 41:40 – Integrating his product into a finished good
- 45:35 – Choosing your customers wisely
- 47:30 – Working with OEM customers to make sure his products are used correctly
- 51:40 – Components of their pricing
- 56:20 – Using brand partners as marketing partners, sort of
- 57:55 – How they do their marketing
- 1:03:15 – Patents and dealing with competition
- 1:08:25 – Consumer research
- 1:10:20 – Managing from a remote office
- 1:12:10 – Parting advice
POST GAME ANALYSIS
BOA is in a different position than most consumer product goods. They’re a small piece of a bigger finished good. It takes specialized construction methods to implement their part. They’re dependent on other consumer brands to spec their product, and they need the end customer for that finished good to want it enough to pay a premium for it. This means they need to promote the product to two sets of customers – gear brands and the end consumer.
For the brands, it’s about convincing them that BOA offers a functional if not also competitive advantage, allowing them to position their product as a premium item. But there are technical challenges in using BOA, so they offer design support to the brands to eliminate any barrier to usage. Whether you’re selling a component of a bigger item or direct to consumer, how can you reduce barriers to use?
What’s interesting is that the market for products with the BOA closure system is different around the world. Some countries do a lot with work boots, others with hiking and running. And some are global, like snow and cycling. It’s good to pay attention to where the different types of customers are and how you can tailor your product to them.
Gary’s pivot from developing the complete boot to just the closure was key. Check in around 19 minutes to hear all the reasons why launching a complete snowboard boot line just didn’t make sense. Too expensive, long lead times with short sales cycles, and a need for expertise he didn’t have.
Notice how Gary ignored the naysayers? He believed in his product and went for it.
I mentioned in the intro about how no one was looking for a better lacing system. Gary knew this, and he knew his product had to be so good that people would take notice even though they weren’t looking for something better. He put a lot of focus on the user interface, ensuring it was easy to use and reliable. And then he had to take those features and functions and make it affordable and able to be manufactured at scale.
Affordability is key, too. If other options are cheap (like shoe laces), you can only charge so much of a premium before you’ve priced it out of mainstream acceptance. From a sales pitch perspective, though, Gary makes a good point in that their product also removes some costs, so it’s key to know what the actual additive costs are to an OEM partner and the end consumer.
Gary lucked into moving his manufacturing near his customers, which ends up saving him on shipping costs and time since most shoes and boots are made in Asia, too. Where is your true customer located? Can you reduce costs by making your goods closer to their end point?
I love that Gary prototyped samples for the buyers before he met with them, giving them the opportunity to benefit from the product before he ever made a sales pitch.
One of the most important lessons is this: Put yourself in your customers’ shoes. Think about how it will be used in the real world. How will different types of people use it? How might it fail? What can you do in advance to prevent problems so that you end up with a customer that’s happy for the long term.
Along those lines, how can you show your customer the benefit? For his first customers, he gave them something that let them compete with much larger players by offering them a unique technology. Is there a way you can sell your good or service by showing how it’ll make your customer better than their competition?
Their lifetime warranty serves many purposes. Externally, it gives consumer confidence in their product. Internally, it drives them to make the best product they can, or they’d be out of business.
Gary has a very proactive approach to competition, similar to what Eric at Outside Van had to say, in that he focuses more on providing the best product they can rather than what the competition is doing. Not to say he’s unaware of what they’re doing, but the time and energy is better spent on constantly improving their own products than reacting to what someone else is doing.
His parting advice is key: Be sure your product (or service) really is better and really does bring value to the customer. I’ve seen too many products come through Bikerumor’s office that were unique, but seemed more like someone made it just because they could, not because it offered any true value. Those companies don’t last long.