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Behind the Scenes of a Small Business in Snowsports

Behind the Scenes of a Small Business in Snowsports

You'd think that after nine years in business, we'd have this shit figured out. That we'd have our skis and snowboards "on time." That we would fit a bit more into the snowsports industry. But we don't, and for a lot of reasons. Rather than hide in shame or feelings of inadequacy, I'm going to bare it all*.

The snowsports industry is one big circle jerk

Snowsports, as a seasonal industry, does everything it can do to extend outside of an ever-increasing shortened winter. You see this in everything from audacious development plans for resorts to exorbitant investments into snowmaking to winter product launches at the end of summer. There's an incredible amount of pressure to conform to this timeline and it's resource intensive*.

The industry kicks things off smack in the middle of summer. New lines drop and the countdown to winter begins in August. Retailers want product delivered to them in by the first week of September. Then it's a waiting game, fingers crossed that we'll see early-season sales. Before we ring in the new year, we'll already be receiving purchase orders (fingers crossed) and starting production for the following season. By spring, you're slashing prices to make room for that inventory because god forbid we carry over perfectly good product. 

We have to come to terms that winter is getting shorter and more unpredictable. Rather than trying to consume our way through it and force an antiquated timeline, why don’t we re-imagine this industry? 

Because the snowsports industry is one big circle jerk. 

We don't play well with capitalism

And let's not forget capitalism. We don't really want to be a part of this system, but we're not big (yet) enough to change it. We can speak to it, we can advocate for it, but we don't have the power to make these decisions. This is where the rub with capitalism comes in: We have to participate at some level because the model that we'd like to exist in is not financially viable if we're the only ones adhering to it. 

Coalition is trying to keep up with the large heritage brands and retailers who control this industry. And we are constantly chasing our tails. We simply are too small with too few resources*. We work really hard and take our work very seriously. But at some point, you must be honest and say this is the best we can do with what we have and that has to be good enough. 

AI is not only sexist, racist, and heteronormative, it's classist too

What we have, in terms of financial resources, is enough to cover our operating expenses. What we don't have is enough extra money to fund our production. So we take out loans to fund our production, which is a very normal thing to do in business. Debt is cheaper than equity and it's a great tool.

For the past few years, we've worked with one institutional lender who has funded half of the cost of our production. We've paid them back in full and on time every year. For this season's production run, I started working with them in March to line up our funding. I was told we were good to go and we'd have the funds in July.

July arrived and my emails were unanswered. When I pressed hard*, I finally received a response that we likely would not get funded due to changes in their vetting process. They were now using AI to assess our risk, and our risk was high because our sales had been low in May and June and again in July. Weird for a seasonal snowsports brand, right?

The main investor who required this new AI system be implemented had decided that human beings could no longer make the decisions about our funding. The multi-year, positive relationship we have had with them did not matter. Our historical sales and growth did not matter. Our purchase orders, covering more than the cost of our production, did not matter. All they wanted to see was that we could repay this loan based on our last three months of sales, which is impossible for a seasonal winter brand.

Talking about funding for small businesses is important because it's not a problem unique to Coalition Snow. Traditional banking requires you to own a home. We know that home ownership isn't available to everyone, that it's getting more difficult, and it's not necessarily good for people. Enter fintech, disruptors to traditional banking. They have increased access to funding to communities who have historically not been "fundable," but with fees upwards of 50%. Accessing affordable capital is still out of reach for many small businesses, particularly those who come from underserved communities. 

Yes I stress smoke, don't judge me

After receiving the bad news about our eligibility nearly three months after I had confirmed our financing, I did what any reasonable person would do: I bought a pack of Dunhill Lights and curled up into a ball and hoped that the "might fund us" would turn into "yes you're funded" because my naive self believed that our relationship would take priority. I waited to hear back from them. I'm not a total asshole so I researched other funding, hitting a wall of eligibility based again on 90-day sales. All the while our skis and snowboards were ready to ship from our factory, where they would remain until I made that second payment. 

This funder came back a week later and said that due to our newly discovered "high risk," they would fund us, but the fee would be one-third of the loan cost. 

For funsies, let's do the math: For a $150K loan, one-third of that would be $50K. You cannot stay in business if you take out predatory loans like that. I use the word predatory because small businesses are often faced with cash flow decisions where $150K in the bank would solve all of your immediate problems, but kicking the can down the road will destroy you.

That's why you cannot operate from fear. So I said no. And I started to speak to human beings who I've had relationships with for years*. And in 48 hours I found people who would lend us the money. And I wired the funds. And that was in the middle of August. And so now, on August  21st, our skis and snowboards are shipping and we will have them in September. 

And we're still late, missing every deadline, even though we have months before winter rears its beautiful, powdery head.

And that is why all of our skis and snowboards are on pre-sale.

The moral of the story

Capitalism isn't fair. It's not supposed to be. By design it requires there to be winners and losers, those who have and those who don't. I'd like to think that while we "lose" on the financial side, we thrive on a different form of capital: social capital. Our relationships and our community are everything to us. Perhaps the lesson that I need to learn after running Coalition for 10 years is that money will always be scarce but we are rich in innumerable ways thanks to people like you.

We're still committed to creating a new way forward, and one way you can be part of this change is to support us. With your money. Because that is how we do the things. If you believe in what we stand for, buy our skis, not his. Rock a new hoodie. Join us on a Far Out trip. Consider being a friend with benefits*. Let's tell a different story together of what it's like to be a small, women-owned business.

xxoo,

Jen 

* That's clearly the theme of 23/24 and there's no going back from that homepage photo or the OnlyFans so I'm leaning into it hard.

* We should all be reminded that the winter solstice is not until December 21st. As skiers, we should not be trying to ski in October. Snowmaking is expensive and it's resource intensive. It contributes to the higher cost of lift tickets. What happened to being okay with kicking off the season in December and enjoying it as long as we can through the spring? Oh, right... capitalism.

* Funny how when you show up in the world the way we do you make less money. Seems by design, doesn't it?

* Because that's what you have to do. No one responds when you're friendly but when you lay the hammer down all of a sudden they see you. Perhaps I'm only a difficult bitch because you didn't respond to me when I was a human.

* We will discuss another time why it’s so difficult to reach out to people for help. Is it that my rising sign is Scorpio or perhaps that we’re taught that it's imperative to solve our own problems and that asking for help is a weakness. I fell into that trap and it slowed us down.

* I will be creating a lending program for people to help fund our production that will include perks like competitive interest rates and free skis and all sorts of other very legal, very simple things. If you are in a financial position to help us keep on keeping on, please contact us!

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