After being acquired by Kohlberg & Co in 2017, K2 Sports—whose brands include K2 Skis, K2 Snowboarding, K2 Skates, Ride Snowboards, Line Skis, Full Tilt Boots, Backcountry Access, Madshus, Atlas and Tubbs Snowshoes—quickly tapped John Colonna as its new president. Most recently global VP for apparel and accessories at Converse, Colonna has also held leadership roles at Burton, Nike and Levi’s.
SGB Executive reached out to the avid snowboarder and former manager of Ohio’s Ski Chalet to find out how K2’s brands have adjusted to the pandemic and what’s coming down the pipeline.
What is the percentage breakdown between skis, snowboards, snowshoes, Nordic, and safety (BCA) offerings? Without pulling out a pie chart, I’ll break it down. The majority of our business, more than 50 percent, is ski and snowboard, with K2 being the largest brand. Safety( BCA) and Outdoor (Madshus, Atlas and Tubbs) make up the other half, with BCA being the largest brand in those categories.
Do you foresee growth in any one category and a push in a specific direction? We see tremendous opportunity in the outdoor and backcountry categories and feel it will continue to grow in Touring, Nordic, Snowshoes, and safety-related products for the next few seasons. We will push these areas to the full potential as we continue to launch new products in categories we expect to grow with the market rebound like freeriding or carving. We have a winter-focused portfolio but diverse enough to provide strategic levers to use in challenging times like we are in now.
What are the strengths and opportunities for K2 moving forward? Our strength is our brands, our team and our diversified portfolio. There has been and continues to be a lot of work going into resetting the K2 brand and making sure it’s on a path to continue to grab lost market share. As the market and consumer shifts, we’re confident here at K2, and with other brands, including BCA and RIDE, we have the right plan. The opportunity we have is the same as everyone else in this industry: accept change, manage it and focus on the consumer to create growth. There’s a long list of improvements we’re focused on, from our product creation process to elevating our retailers’ service level to unlock long-term growth.
Any challenges ahead? This year should have taught us that there are no real problems or things we can’t overcome in this industry. If anything, I’m more positive on the outlook, pushing business potential more and trusting in our customers to guide the path on where to focus. Our industry, our community, needs to prepare for growth and capture opportunity within the outdoor macro movement so we can all benefit long-term.
How has K2’s business practice had to shift due to the pandemic? Strategically we shifted, or maybe better put, gained confidence in where we were already going. Fortunately, some key areas we’ve been focusing on — such as the digital consumer experience and our internal system/tools — allowed us to quickly accelerate and manage the market shift. Like others, we had to manage through some furlough and cost savings programs to sustain the operation. We’ve been through a couple of tough rounds between snow, tariffs, and now the pandemic, but remain stable with an aggressive outlook.
We’ve had to leverage outdoor and be strategic with ski and snowboard to maintain our momentum. As retailers, especially in Europe, deal with some significant market challenges, we need to remain confident in the consumer and the fact that the product is king. I learned a long time ago at Nike that in times like this, you innovate. Like others, our brands aren’t a bank, so we need to work closely with the larger partners to invest in the right area and help ensure marketing is on point with the consumer to drive sell-through at all levels.
Were you able to meet inventory demands from dealers? Yes, we are aligned with the demand. I knew we would get close, but between the sales and product teams, we could take the best consumer insights and make healthy decisions. Retail was conservative for the right reasons, and we had to take some chances for ourselves and our retailers. If anything, we should have bought more snowshoes and split-boards.
Was there a spike in sales this year across the brands? Yes, non-resort dependent product is strong globally. Snowshoes are the SUPs of winter, backcountry products like splits and touring are very strong, and BCA, especially beacons and floats, is beating budget goals. We’re also lucky to have the resorts doing such a great job managing through the challenges to keep operations. Without them, we’d be in a completely different situation.
How have you addressed the margin hit from tariffs? We’ve been managing the tariff impact combined with increases in materials, labor and shipping as much as possible without passing it on to the customer.
Any new efforts regarding sustainability in your product line? We’ve been focused on this area for a while now. We haven’t done a great job of communicating our efforts to our key partners or consumers. Over the next couple of months, we’ll begin to roll out more of a narrative on the steps we’ve put into energy-saving and waste reduction. In partnership with our factory, the team is working on a few product tweaks and important process adjustments to lower our footprint.
K2 graphics are changing a lot. Why and what has influenced you here? I’ve been elevating the process and bringing in some outside influence to take the team to the next level. The brand needed a reset, which is much easier to put into board deck than execute. The brand was pushed into some bad strategic decisions, ended up with excess inventory and no real focus on the brand. We are working on this from both directions now – culture and commercial. We have a strong marketing team working closely with solid designers and product managers to help execute the vision. We are the American ski and snowboard brand, not a mall brand.
You’re a fan of the Grateful Dead. Has that shaped the way you do business? It has always helped me manage the pressure and chaos between making money and doing the right thing. I care about the people I work with and try to make sure our impact on the environment and culture is positive. The Grateful Dead created a community that continues to evolve and keep the culture alive. I know more than a few people behind the scenes of some great brands. Understanding the core consumer of any market is the key to unlocking commercial growth to the largest audience for that brand. My experiences with the Dead have let me connect the dots on multiple levels within that space to learn more about how culture creates opportunity.
You rolled out a Grateful Dead snowshoe. How is the product doing? Any other plans to integrate the band into the K2 brand? The team crushed the last Tubbs drop, and we have another coming soon. The connection is good and works for everyone with the snowshoe approach. There are more than a few deadheads in the office, so we would expect to continue to work with them in some capacity.
You’re more of a snowboarder than a skier. How does that mesh with K2’s skiing roots, and how often are you getting out? I am a snowboarder. But my roots are in ski, and I started my career as a shop manager in Youngstown, OH putting myself through college. I spent a few years skiing until I made the transition in the early ’90s to snowboarding. In ’93, I was brought out by our regional K2 rep as a shop rider to visit the Vashon factory and hike/shred Mount Rainier with the K2 Snowboard crew for a week. The experience opened my eyes and led to me working at Burton and, after a few big brands, back full circle to this position here at K2 Sports. My connection to the brand is authentic, but I don’t claim ski. I try to get out every opportunity and recently moved my family from the city to Hyak Mountain at Snoqualmie Pass to be on snow as much as possible. It doesn’t matter if it’s a split mission or resort laps. I’m stoked to be able to shred.
Photo courtesy K2/John Colonna