Jeff Keenan Builds a Brand on Hump Day
Photo: Joel Fraser
Over the past few seasons, Dinosaurs Will Die has seemingly exploded. The boards are popping up in shops, edits and more importantly, under the feet of actual snowboarders everywhere. Building a snowboard brand was never an easy feat, but in a changing world with a changing climate and a dubious economy, it seems impossible. Don’t tell Jeff Keenan that though. The Vancouver-based pro snowboarder turned business man has a plan, a vision, and an army of rats ready to help DWD flourish. We sat him down to find out more.
Brooke: We were talking earlier about how we’re sort of at the age where normal people stop snowboarding, or get distracted from snowboarding I should say – have families, get a job. Does it seem to you like snowboarding is becoming less popular, or is that just the age we’re at and there’s a new generation that’s just as stoked as ever? Or do you think that it’s not refreshing like it used to?
Jeff: Two years ago, I’d agree that we’re just getting older, that people who grabbed on to snowboarding in the 90s are growing out of it. But now there’s stuff that is rejuvenating interest for riders our age. Snowboarding is still young in a sense, we are at the bottom of the first life cycle in the business model. With this I feel we have been taking the steps to look at our past, what made us want to start, who were the pros, what boards were they riding, can we use any of this to help market to the youth? With this I feel we were fighting for our legends, in skate and surf legends are a integral part of the community, in snowboarding I feel we were on a path of who’s the new kid and what is going to be the trick of the year, we lost sight of why we really got into this. It has also put snowboarding to elitist level, almost unattainable for youth.
We had all these snowboarders that should have been our legends but we kicked them out, and hung them to dry. We didn’t support them when they got older and in many cases we didn’t have them involved in our community. And then in the past 3 years I’d say finally say it’s clicked over. People care about Jamie (Lynn) and what Jamie’s doing and Iguchi and what Iguchi’s doing, even what Roach is doing. He came back strong and it’s awesome to see. So now there is this resurfacing of riders we looked up to when we were young, the thing is there are a lot of people my age that still want to see these guys ride, and that is a marketing tool. On a media standpoint it’s hard to find media that appeals to our demographic.
Brooke: As a thirty-something what kind of media do you think would appeal to that older generation?
Jeff: When I think about who I watch skating, I don’t watch Nyjah. I watch guys like Dan Drehobl, A.V.E & Reynolds and anyone who skates fast and has that 90/00 flair to them. Even look at Girl or Chocolate, even through it’s mainstream skate, there’s guys on that team that are a lot older than I am and they are at the top of their game. I look up to that. Then when I think about that in snowboarding, there’s not many older riders that have the chance to stay in it filming and shooting. I like to ride street, powder and rip around mountains, and it’s hard to find that media of people my age that ride the same stuff I do. For some reason we have this weird thing where you get old and you ride powder. I don’t know a lot of thirty-somethings that ride street.
Brooke: Well because it hurts less.
Jeff: Yeah, but you don’t need to hit the gangliest rails. You can be creative in the streets, that’s what I like about it. Don’t get me wrong I like riding powder as much as I can, that’s where my roots are, but I also like being in the street and you just don’t have to hit rails to be in the street.
Brooke: Yeah you don’t get that in the coverage. Street coverage is so gnarly, but it’s possible to just ride in the streets, to just go do it.
Brooke: And not buy a lift ticket.
Dropping. photo: Leanne Pelosi
Brooke: I think snowboarding media is great, obviously, but I think most people who snowboard don’t even know snowboard media exists.
Jeff: No, which is kind of messed up. I don’t follow everything that comes out in snowboarding … A group of my friends surf more then snowboard now and they follow surf media religiously. Then I have friends that just skateboard and they don’t even look at skate media. So I think it is all over the place. I personally look at a lot of skate and surf stuff, and you just see how they are approaching new media. You don’t see a new skate or surf video come out then release full parts online. In snowboarding, it’s messed up that you buy videos now and then a week later all the parts come out online. It’s good for the sites that host them, however it delegitimizes the video production companies’ platform.
Snowboarding is my job, but my job isn’t really on the Internet so I don’t have the need to look at it all the time. But when I’m halfway through the day and I’m having a coffee or drinking a beer I’ll go on a snowboard site and try to catch up. I find I just skip so much of the media. It is fucked up how much is just thrown at the ‘net with out a plan behind it. For instance, I just saw the Iguchi pro model thing. The launch had a video I watched like 2 seconds then fast forwarded and watch 2 seconds in the middle and there’s old clips of him that are rad, I was like whoa that’s cool but for some reason I don’t buy into the, “this guy’s older and selling to my demographic.” The release video has some new footage and a small retrospect, and an explanation of the board, however it didn’t interest me much. I want to see a more direct push behind a release like that, something like– “Hey, I haven’t filmed a full part in a while and I’m gonna film a full part and not tell anyone about it and my sponsor is gonna come out with a pro-model in conjunction with that part, these two things are gonna be just as good as any thing that has been released before.”
Brooke: That would be cool.
Jeff: It’s not there.
Brooke: I mean a lot of it is branding in that the way things are presented and it’s hard to present things in a way that it will appeal to everyone in snowboarding.
Brooke: That’s another thing we were talking about, how different snowboarding is from place to place.
Jeff: I’ve always thought about each individual local surrounding, and how you are a product of your own environment. I’m from the city and how the people ride down here is very different to how people ride in Whistler, and it’s only two hours away. People that ride Whistler ride very differently then people from Utah, and these people are different from people who ride in Quebec. There are always copy cats of style, however you can usually see the true nature of a rider if you do a lap with them. It’s crazy because kids there can be kids that are in the streets of Minnesota or Quebec City that might not have even ridden a resort, so how they ride is going to be a true product of that urban environment. That spectrum is really different.
Brooke: Yeah it’s crazy. So how does the industry deal with that?
Jeff: People don’t think about it.
Whis love. photo: Leanne Pelosi
Brooke: You run a brand and do you guys think, okay well, we want to appeal to kids who ride resorts or we want to appeal to people who ride in the streets or we want to appeal to people in Europe or do you just want to appeal to everyone?
Jeff: No, we want to appeal to an attitude. It doesn’t matter where they ride or where they are from. You can look at it like a political standpoint too. If your Republican or Democrat you want to appeal to a certain kind of person, but you don’t really care if that guy’s a doctor or a gun salesmen. You don’t really care what they do, you care about their mindset. This is what Dinos is like, we don’t care if you ride powder or street, or if your from the city or mountain town. None of that matters, we just know people that are into our company have a like-minded attitude. This attitude is that you can be yourself, you can all be different, but you have a similar creative outlook. This outlook is one that makes you go out there, grind and dedicate to a passion.
Brooke: Yeah that makes sense. The world is always in transition, but seems very apparent right now. The weather is changing, the economy is changing, everything’s changing. How has that affected you guys?
Jeff: Since we are a two-person company, we are mobile. If you have a company with 30 employees your limited to what you can do and how versatile you are. If you have two people you can pretty much do whatever those two people want to do. You can move around, you can adapt and you can do it quickly. This quickness transcends every aspect of the company too. There’s all these companies out there that are to slow to react to the ever-changing snowboard world. They are so slow on identifying their key targets and they miss the boat, or they overshot this target and create an a product or marketing platform that is almost to broad for their initial goals. For Dinos we are trying to sell to snowboarders, we are not trying to reach out of this spectrum. However, if someone walking into a snowboard shop for their first time buys a Dino more times then not it is going to because of the graphic or the quality of our construction, not because of our backstory, and this we embrace as well.
Brooke: Do you guys aspire to grow the brand bigger?
Jeff: There’s growing the company and then there’s growing the reach of the company. If you’re talking units being sold, we obviously want to grow, in turn this allows the company to grow.
Brooke: What about company size? There’s 2 of you, do you want to hire more people?
Jeff: Well yeah, we need to. Because there’s a point in time the company becomes at full capacity, you can only do so much without sleeping. We do have an awesome rep force, these guys kill it they are truly dedicated to snowboarding, and we do have Matt Heneghan, who assists us with team and marketing. We apply innovative hardware and application in our technology to assist when we expand, however there is a point you need to have employees to take a piece of the workload.
One time this person gave us this graph that had sales units on the Y axis and core values on the X. All the major snowboard companies where laid out all over the graph. There weren’t many company in the right hand corner where sales and core values were high. They asked where do we want to be, and without thinking I pointed to the upper right hand side. The goal is to grow the company and at the same time staying true to our core values.
Brooke: Back to our changing world – it seems to me like everyone is moving to the city – nobody wants to be a farmer anymore, especially with the younger generation. That’s just what society is doing. How do you see that changing snowboarding and people’s interest in snowboarding?
Jeff: That is the way the world is going globally, urbanization, throughout the world everyone is migrating to cities and rural areas are being less populated. For the most part the rural living is dying and people are moving to a city to live. The cities are more glamorous – there are jobs, activities, events and communities that you don’t see in rural society. However, where urbanization lacks is the surroundings of nature and being outdoors. I truly feel that this contributes to the less youth moving to or out of mountain towns.
I’m lucky to live in Vancouver because if it snows on the mountains you see it from inside the city. We actually have this physical connection, it looks like you can reach out and grab the mountains. It becomes a part of your life because you see it everyday. However if you lived somewhere like Portland, Seattle or on the East Coast, you do not have this benefit. You to live in the city and go up to the hill, it becomes more of an activity then a lifestyle. The more people are moving from mountain towns and rural areas into cities, the more they start to disconnect from nature, the mountains, and in turn from snowboarding.
Scenes from Barrely and Event at Grouse. Photo: Joel Fraser
Brooke: Yeah I mean do you think that that migration is changing the status of snowboarding from a lifestyle sport to just a recreational activity?
Jeff: Yes, it is fully. One of the best parts of snowboarding is that you can be live anywhere in the world (that it snows) and you can be a part of this bigger community. When I started really getting into snowboarding in the early 90’s, when you drove to the resort you waved at anyone who had a snowboards strapped to their roof, and you probably knew them. I feel like 5 years ago, in snowboarding, you wouldn’t do that. But now I do it all the time, I wave or try and say hi to anyone that has a snowboard. If I see a snowboarder who is by themselves I’ll always talk to them, maybe that has to do with Dinos too, but I think it’s going back that way.
Brooke: Seems like it’s getting stronger because it’s getting smaller.
Jeff: Everything has a life cycle, business is a life cycle, everything has ups and downs and what once was is not gonna be. Snowboarding will constantly rejuvenate itself to be at a different standard then the past and right now it seems we have been on a downturn in the whole word, including snowboarding. In these times, Dinos has been on an upswing, we want to stay on the top of this upswing. We want to be one of the companies in the forefront when things come up. We want to be the company that snowboarders look at and believe in. A company that wears our values on our sleeves and constantly changes and adapts, a company that has a clear and definite reason for all products it makes.
Backside 7. Photo: Phil Tifo