As Signal Snowboards’ Every Third Thursday: Season 6 continues today with Episode 2, we’re taking a look at the brand’s inventive new subscription program, Signal 6. In the vein of companies ranging from Adobe to Dollar Shave Club, Signal has developed a monthly payment approach to selling snowboards, in which customers pay for either custom or in-line boards over six installments. Each payment is acknowledged with a curated box of accessories and add-ons delivered to subscribers’ homes, with boards arriving in month six. The program is billed as a way for customers to maximize the value of their snowboard purchases, increase their engagement with snowboard culture, and experience the stoke that comes with boxes of product arriving at their doorsteps. We talked to Signal founder Dave Lee at last month’s Holy Bowly and got the low-down on Signal 6’s details, motivation, and future. Check out the conversation below:
SBC: Hey Dave, good to see you. Thanks for taking the time.
Dave: No problem! I’m happy to chat. I’m excited about the new stuff we’ve got going on.
SBC: Yeah, the snowboard subscription sounds really cool– what’s up with that?
Dave: We’ve basically taken the process of buying a snowboard and worked out a way to make it as fun and rewarding as possible. We’re calling it Signal 6; essentially customers become subscribers/members here at Signal. It allows you to pay for your snowboards over six month installments, but I really look at it like a membership you pay monthly and it gets you a ton of access that includes a snowboard. You also get be part of a demo program and a lot of other community ride days as well. When you subscribe each month you get a gear boxes delivered to your door. Each box is unique and we work with brands, artists and athletes to come up with the gear and themes for them each month. Putting them together has been one of the best parts of the process for us, as it’s such a direct connection to the rider and we want them to feel special, like they’re hooked up. Essentially, feel like they’re sponsored. So everything you pull out, whether it’s an accessory like a Leatherman tool or a print from an artist you’ve never checked out, is something you can appreciate on multiple levels. Stuff you can touch and enjoy the feel of, look at and pick out details, or use and be stoked. It’s all quality stuff and it’s all intended to keep you connected the shred life you love.
SBC: Sounds great– so it’s not necessarily snowboard specific stuff, but more lifestyle driven?
Dave: Yeah, a lot of times, but it depends on the box and depends on the time of year. Sometimes we’re running with a theme that takes a box further off the hill, and some boxes are geared more towards snowboard accessories. It ends up being pretty well balanced, and at the end of the day everything is tied to the lifestyle. We want to plug our customers into the bigger picture experience of being snowboarders, all of the art and music and culture that grow around boarding.
SBC: Right, like a window into the scene.
Dave: Exactly, and it’s rad because these boxes go all over the place, and have contributions from everywhere. It’s a way that we can connect people from different regions.
SBC: And get exposure to artists and brands that are just starting out or trying to find new avenues.
Dave: For sure. We’re looking at the boxes as community drivers.
Dave is energized, authentic and engaged as we talk. The same personality that comes across in Every Third Thursday is present in our conversation, and it’s clear that Dave’s enthusiasm isn’t pretense. Like ETT, Signal 6 is a passion project, a way for Signal Snowboards to exist simultaneously as a business and creative outlet.
SBC: And it sounds like you’re putting quite a lot of value in the boxes.
Dave: Definitely. I’d been thinking about this concept for a couple of years before we launched Signal 6, but the initial idea wasn’t in the subscription platform. I wanted to find a way to make customers feel like they’re getting a free snowboard. In my eyes Signal 6 gets pretty close to that; we’re able to get a huge value into the boxes at a manageable cost by reaching out to friends in our network, and we try to get the dollar value in each box as close to 90 as we can [in-line boards through Signal 6 run $89 USD/ month, with custom at $99 USD/ month]. So when your board shows up you already feel like you’ve got your money’s worth, and the board is like a bonus.
SBC: Customers must be stoked.
Dave: Definitely, and that stoke is important for keeping people engaged. Remember the first time you got some love from a company, like a board or a package?
SBC: Such a good feeling, and a huge reinforcer.
Dave: Exactly. All throughout my pro career getting packages or boards was awesome, it was like this affirming thing– especially when I first got hooked up. I want everybody to experience that feeling, at least to some degree– realistically not everyone can be sponsored. But I don’t think talent should be a precursor to the different avenues of excitement snowboarding has to offer, and I think we’re better off if we make those avenues available to people. So in a lot of ways Signal 6 is about trying to bring that feeling to customers, and getting people stoked to go boarding again.
Dave’s pro career saw his unique and committed riding take him through the milestones of video parts and pro models. The Pacific Northwest shred was part of the 90’s push to bring a jib focus to all mountain riding, and his spins and tweaks over natural gaps incorporated presses, bonks, and butters. His career in the snowboard industry, though, started in manufacturing with Mervin Mfg, and sponsorship came after dedicating himself to the sport and the industry.
SBC: That all sounds great, man. I’ve gotta ask though– what about the shops?
Dave: I get that one a lot. The subscription model definitely takes the direct-from-manufacturer thing a step further, and we’ve recognized that we need to find a way to bring shops in. We’ve got some expansions on Signal 6 coming down the line that will incorporate shops and make the program even stronger. Getting back to the experience side of it, we definitely see the process of going into a shop and talking to the staff as a key part of being a snowboarder, especially when you’re getting started. Without giving too much away our program on the shop level will turn the current model around and bring value to shops through customer retention. Subscribing through a shop will essentially mean the customer is connected to that store through the lifetime of their subscription with out the headaches of off-price inventory. It’s a huge incentive for shops to have that connection.
SBC: It would be great to incentivize those shop-based subscriptions. Shops have it rough.
Dave: They do, right now, but they can evolve too. I have had people say that we could be putting the nail in the coffin for brick and mortar. But the reality is that we’re a small company, our market share isn’t big enough to do very much damage. And I do think that other companies might follow our lead on the subscription model, but shops will still have a role to play. They’re the best places for snowboarders to access their local scenes, and that will always be valuable. At the end of the day the conversation about embracing subscription models is a lot like the one 10 years ago about online shops, it’s the industry looking at a changing landscape and deciding whether we see problems or opportunities.
SBC: And the opportunities with subscriptions are hard to ignore.
Dave: Totally. Not only for the brands, but for riders as well if we look at it right. The problem of disposable pros is huge today– it’s hard times for pros right now and many can fall off the radar after an injury or a bad season. Part of this problem is snowboard brands are not making money because of the over saturation and off-price business models. With out snowboard companies making a profit, how are they supposed to pay the pros? It’s rabbit hole and at the end the whole industry from top to bottom gets fucked because of it. It happens before people see it coming, and it puts stress and uncertainty on talented working pros, people we should be taking care of in our industry. I see riders as artists and you need to protect the artist. Manufacturers are like record labels, and it’s our goal to give the artist the best possible outlet to become the best they can be. But it’s time for riders to think like entrepreneurs, and think long term. We need to help them work for more than just quick or temporary sponsorships, for something they can create that’s long term. Then the work they do during their snowboard careers is building a foundation for their futures, in a way it’s building their own brand. With Signal 6, we can incentivize our riders by having them curate boxes that are tooled towards their specific followings, and they can market themselves and capitalize based on the social outlets they’re working to develop anyway.
SBC: They can play to their strengths, bring in their own customers and focus less on Signal folks who don’t relate to their riding?
Dave: You got it. The problem with our industry isn’t that there’s no money. We just have to find ways to access the money that’s out there, find new ways to create revenue streams and open them to the people who deserve them. I’m not saying we abandon the models that we’ve used traditionally, or that subscriptions are the answer to all of our problems, but that we need to be open and creative when new opportunities present themselves.
Dave harbors an active openness; he doesn’t wait for opportunity but seeks it. He seems progressive in an industry that has struggled with accepting change, perhaps as a result of forays into communities that frequently reinvent and tweak. Through Every Third Thursday episodes such as season three’s “3D Printed Snowboard,” Dave has met entrepreneurs with entire businesses built on asking how they can do things differently, and stepping outside the mold is comfortable for him. He’s confident as he tries new approaches, as exemplified in his presence on websites like Reddit, at ease with uncertainty as he explores his options. As our conversation wraps up, we cover a few more features of Signal 6, things like the option to send back your previous season’s board for Signal’s demo/ flow fleet in exchange for 1 waived monthly payment, and future opportunities for customizing boards. It’s clear that Signal 6 is an evolving platform, and that the team at Signal is adding as the project gains traction. Signal 6 is currently available to Canadian subscribers with free shipping, and interested readers are encouraged to contact Signal through their website.