“You may not know it, but you just heard the best marketing lecture of your life,” was BYOBiz director Robert Bloch’s comment after Jason Levinthal’s presentation last week. Indeed, Levinthal offered a unique approach to making it in the ski industry.
In the mid 90’s, snowboarding was growing in popularity because, unlike skiing, the product evolved. There were more tricks you could do on a snowboard than on skis. Around this time, Levinthal-both a skier and boarder- made himself a pair of skis that looked like two miniature snowboards strapped to his feet. The simple concept was to have equal height tips and tails so that you could ski backwards. He and his friends were laughed at, naturally, hence Line Ski’s advertisement, “Skiing the wrong way since ’95.” Levinthal was never discouraged, he just kept on doing what he loved, and eventually his skis and style of skiing took off.
In roughly eight years’ time, Line Skis was respected within the ski industry in spite of a number of financial hardships Levinthal faced. The most important marketing strategy Levinthal kept in mind was never to try and compete with other companies by doing the same thing they were doing. His strategy was to think differently, to do something other companies were not. Line Skis was never really big enough to compete with the massive budgets of competitors, and they never tried to. Instead, Levinthal chose to “exploit his competitors’ strengths as weaknesses:”
The other guys had massive budgets, but Line had flexibility- no contracts or higher-ups to hold them down.
Competitors spoke to ski dealers all over the country to get their product into stores; Line chose to market directly to the consumers.
Larger companies tried to be everything to everyone, while Line Skis stood very firmly for the future of freestyle skiing. They chose to be everything to the influencers of the ski industry.
Line Skis is still around, but now it is owned by K2, and Levinthal is left to work on his newest project- “J Skis.” Levinthal’s latest project involves partnering up with other respected ski designers, and utilizing his own credibility that he has built up over the years. J skis are custom made in limited quantities, hand signed and numbered. Levinthal’s goal is to create a hype around his product, to convince people to buy it now because it will be gone later. Also, because the skis will be made in such small quantities, he can speed up the production time. Levinthal wants to be able to design, produce and release new skis, as he puts it, “at the speed of Twitter.”
Levinthal said at the start of his speech, “I’m not a business person, I’m a skier.” Maybe he doesn’t identify as a businessman, but he certainly has a brilliantly innovative mind and a head for marketing.