By Eric Smith
From his office inside Boa Technology Inc.’s sparkling new headquarters in the RiNo district near downtown Denver, CEO Shawn Neville reels off a host of numbers that illustrate the size, scope and ambition of the company’s fresh digs.
The 85,000-square-foot, environmentally friendly space is more than triple the company’s previous locale. It houses 150 employees with room—and plans—to grow to 250. It features a two-story atrium that seats up to 220 people. It doubles the R&D capacity of Boa’s fit systems that are found in hundreds of athletic, outdoor and medical products. It even boasts more than a few four-legged companions and one sports bar. (Read more about the new building here.)
But while these numbers present a snapshot of Boa’s new home and a projection of the company’s growth strategy, perhaps the most notable feature is the facility’s “habitats.” These small rooms, each themed with one of the company’s specialty categories—snow, outdoor, cycling, golf, running, medical, workwear—showcase some of the products into which Boa’s instantly recognizable dial and lace systems are integrated.
Here, everything from running shoes to snowboard boots to fishing vests to prosthetic limbs pay tribute to Boa’s collaborative innovations with some of the world’s most renowned brands. They remind Neville of how far the company has come since being founded in 2001, the new frontiers Boa is constantly exploring with brand partners and the pride they all take in that journey.
“When I go through the habitats, I get goosebumps,” Neville told SGB during a recent headquarters tour. “There’s a sense of humility by virtue of celebrating what we have. This is a cool space to me. It’s as cool as any space I’ve seen in the brands we work with, but we also want the brands to feel that too, that this a place they want to come work and collaborate and be a part of. That’s a beautiful simplicity, and it’s what we try to do.”
The habitats will evolve alongside Boa’s array of fit systems, which are sure to improve thanks to another one of the building’s notable spaces, the Performance Fit Lab. This room is all about the future, Neville said. It’s where Boa rigorously tests products to ensure and measure a fit system’s quality—a “human performance lab that will help us quantify performance fit,” Neville said.
Here is the rest of what Neville shared with SGB this week, including a shift in the way the company views brand partnerships and how Boa plans to notch another important number—$100 million, the annual revenue total the company is “fast approaching,” Neville said.
Why is moving into a sustainable facility important, and how does this new headquarters speak to Boa’s culture? This new headquarters’ overall vibe reflects our company and future, which is about being inspired to create disruptive, meaningful products and solutions that make the best gear better and working in a collaborative cool environment. My theme has always been, “Have a big impact on the market and have as little impact as possible on the environment.” Moving into a sustainable building wasn’t a debate. It was more about, “How do we do it effectively?” This building was part of that. Our goals included, “Can we dramatically reduce our energy output in a larger space? Can we look at composting (which we’re doing), our light usage and how we operate overall as a business?”
What does this new larger headquarters—which tripled your previous home—say about demand for Boa products, and what is driving that? First of all, we are lucky enough to work with the best brands in the world. Secondly, what’s been proven is that the Boa system within those products delivers better performance and brands are able to get a higher retail price. The consumer is clearly paying for it. I would say that what Gore-Tex is getting for waterproofing, we’re getting a similar yield in terms of an improvement in fit performance. There is a clear benefit that the consumer is willing to pay for. So in those industries—snowboarding, cycling, golf, outdoor, running, other sports, medical braces—we’ve been really fortunate to work with the brand partners that create really unique solutions. We’re not just replacing a lace. Fortunately, at the end of the day, the end consumer has been seeing that benefit because of the great work that our brand partners are doing with our support.
You work with more than 300 brand partners; is the plan to grow the number of partners or deepen your relationship with existing partners? Our plan is not to grow more brand partners. We’re going to be paring back some of the number of partners we’re working with. Some of the criticism we’ve received is that we have, in some industries, built too many partners. We appreciate all of them. We also have to make sure that we are working with the best, most premium brands that are continually innovating. We respect all of them, but clearly our objective is to go deeper with existing partners rather than launching another 200 partners. We think that would be a mistake.
How is Boa ensuring that the company can continue to differentiate in the performance fit you are providing for products? Our goal is precision fit for improved performance, period. We used to define ourselves as a closure system. The evolution of the company, part of its growth in the last few years and what we see as the future, is that we’re now being seen as a performance company. We’re not trying to replace laces; we’re trying to transform them. And when that occurs, it’s kind of magical. And I think the example of Gore-Tex is the simplicity of it—Gore-Tex keeps you dry. We provide a similar simplicity in that we deliver a performance fit that helps you perform better. When you lock it in, you hear it, you feel it. The consumer viscerally connects with that product.
Where is Boa’s name recognition relative to your brand partners? Are you a “brand behind the brand,” or does the Boa name stand on its own? Do people know “Boa” as much as they know “Burton,” for example? Our objective is never to usurp our brand partners; it’s to enhance them. We work in concert with them, not in conflict. I would argue that it’s the same way Gore-Tex enhances a product while the style, design and attitude of the brand remains the brand’s. What we do is augment a product. We provide some alchemy with our fit solution as Gore-Tex keep them dry. Boa is a brand with very large recognition. There are industries where we have high penetration, where the consumer says, “What do you have in Boa?” We also recognize that while we think that’s nice, we want to make sure that with our brand partners, their brand is first. But we have a more than 90 percent retention on the consumer. Over 90 percent of time, the next time they purchase a product in that category, they want Boa. That’s how the growth is occurring, because they’ve experienced it and if it is tied to a brand, then we’ve got a nice harmony.
Was the grand opening timed to coincide with Outdoor Retailer Summer Market? And did OR’s commitment to Denver play any role in expanding here? The ORSM timing seemed like a perfect time to formally introduce the building to the industry and to thank everyone for their role in allowing us to expand and grow. We were born in the Rockies and we’re committed to our headquarters here, although we’re continuing to invest around the world in addition to investing in Colorado. We have respect for the industry because it is our roots are in the outdoor industry. And we wanted to celebrate our opening to coincide with the OR show.
What’s the goal for Boa for the remainder of 2018 and into next year? We are approaching $100 million in revenue, but we talk about sales numbers less than any place else I’ve ever been, and it’s one of the reasons I came here. When we look at our market share, there are some markets where we have over 30 percent penetration of our addressable market and in some cases it’s less than 1 percent. Wherever we are, we need to make sure we’re creating a meaningful position of our entire addressable market in the world today. The company could grow five to 10 times greater than it is today. Our goal and mission is fairly simple—to create innovative and disruptive fit solutions with our brand partners that deliver meaningful performance benefits to their consumers. If we do this with operational excellence and integrity around the world, everything else falls into place.
Photos courtesy Boa Technology Inc.