Alison Lee Satake SPECIALIZING IN BUSINESS & SCIENCE REPORTING

Alison Lee Satake
Flurry of winter sales

Cape & Plymouth Business

Photos courtesy of Synergy Sports

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During the off season when many Cape Cod businesses slow, the outdoor activity equipment company, Synergy Sports, ramps up for its busiest time of year. The peak season for the parent company of Yukon Charlie’s brand snowshoes and other outdoor equipment and apparel runs from October 1 to December 24 and it grows from six full-time staff to about 40 employees. The international company’s headquarters are in Pocasset.

“We’re very much a winter-based company,” says Synergy Sports co-owner Bill LaPierre. “This business is driven by the weather.”

His father began Yukon Charlie’s in 1996 to place a snowshoe on the market that was affordable for families. At the time, most snowshoes cost from $300 to $400 and were primarily for serious enthusiasts.

“We’ve always been an outdoors family,” LaPierre says.

His father leveraged contacts he developed overseas with manufacturers from a previous career in sales. He then introduced the Yukon Charlie’s brand of snowshoes priced below $100 by being one of the first companies to manufacture them in China.

“That is what took off. The sport went on a serious increase right as we launched,” LaPierre says.

As avid skiers and outdoorsmen, they named the brand after a family friend, Charlie Andrews, who would make homemade moonshine with anise labeled “Yukon Charlie’s” that he shared with friends on ice fishing and hunting trips. The company’s namesake, “Yukon Charlie” Andrews, still lives in Bourne today, LaPierre says.

Bigger footprint

Around 1998, the company won a bid to become one of L.L. Bean’s vendors. It manufactures L.L. Bean snowshoes at factories located in Shanghai and near Hong Kong.

“We have certain approved factories we use,” LaPierre says.

He employs a full-time agent, a Canadian of Chinese descent, who investigates and prequalifies the factories the company works with. They are also required to conduct factory audits that include human rights checks.

“[L.L. Bean] will come to us with a product and we’ll design it together,” LaPierre says. Then L.L. Bean tests the product in its labs, in the field and with customers – a process that can take up to two years – before it is approved to be sold in the catalog. They currently are working on products with L.L. Bean for 2015.

Since 2006 when LaPierre bought the company from his father, Synergy Sports has expanded its product line. It now manufactures other L.L. Bean products including six types of sleds, kayaking accessories and backyard games such as bocce ball and horseshoe sets. It also has its own line of outdoor apparel in addition to about a dozen Yukon Charlie’s brand snowshoe designs and another 20 types of snowshoes sold under the private label.

Its 35,000-square-foot warehouse in Pocasset also serves as a drop-off and shipment center for L.L. Bean. Its business with the Burlington, Maine company comprises about 25 percent of its total revenue, LaPierre says.

About 60 percent of the company’s business comes from big box stores such as Costco, Costco Canada, Walmart, BJ’s, Sam’s Club and Dick’s Sporting Goods, which carry Yukon Charlie’s snowshoes and other products. The remaining business comes from outfitting smaller shops such as Kittery Trading Post and online retailers including Amazon. The company has third-party distribution warehouses on the West Coast, in the mid-West and two locations within Canada.

The next step for the company, which LaPierre bought from his father, Bill LaPierre Sr., in 2006, is adding more year-round and summer products.

“Our immediate goal is to become a more balanced company and employ the same number of people in the summer months as we are in the winter months,” LaPierre says. “We’re known as the snowshoe and sled guys. We need to become the outdoor guys.”

One way is by looking to acquire some smaller companies with successful products, such as camping gear and other family friendly outdoor equipment. He travels to tradeshows, including the mammoth Outdoor Retailer Winter Market in Salt Lake City, Utah every January.

This year, the company unveiled its initiative to drop its prices by about 15 percent to once again offer snowshoes for under $100. He is able to offset the price drop by an increase in sales volume. Since 2006, the company has grown from $5.5 million in revenue to $18 million in 2012.

The fastest growing segments for snowshoes are women’s and children’s shoes. Outdoors products designed specifically for women is growing twice as fast as products for men, he says. And he points out that products for women are “not men’s products with flowers,” but products designed specifically for women’s body mechanics. In addition, the company launched a new snowshoe for children, the Snowsqual 716, priced at $39.99.

LaPierre heads up most of the design work plus employs product designers around the country. His business partner Daniel Roy serves as the company’s chief financial officer. In 2006, LaPierre’s father put the company up for sale in order to retire.

“There were several larger companies interested in buying us. I was going to become an employee,” LaPierre says.

However he approached his former college roommate from Northeastern University, Daniel Roy, who had garnered business experience as a CEO of several start-up companies, about going into business together. Initially they sought funding from investors, but they eventually received a loan from Rockland Bank. As a result, their company is one of the last family-owned sporting goods manufacturing companies, he says.

Nowhere near the Yukon

LaPierre says many people find it curious that his company is based on Cape Cod where there are few sporting goods stores and opportunities to snowshoe. But he moved the headquarters from Brockton, Mass. when he found the new warehouse with reasonable rent in Pocasset.

“It’s not a great centralized location for shipping, but between the cost and flexibility of the landlord, it’s great,” he says. He does not intend to move the company off the Cape anytime soon. He resides in Rochester, Mass.

Throughout the fall and winter, as many as six large tractor-trailer trucks deliver and pick-up merchandise from the warehouse each day. UPS told him his company is one of the largest shippers in the area during that time.

“We’re kind of a big deal here for three months,” he says. “We’re definitely different for the Cape.”

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