Skis, sales & rock-n-roll: Q&A with Head CEO Kevin Kempin

Head USA CEO Kevin Kempin talks exclusively with SNEWS about the brand's global positioning, new technology and a renewed focus on its American roots for next year.

Just prior to the SIA Snow Show, Snow Show Daily (powered by the SNEWS® WinterSports team) general assignment editor Eugene Buchanan scored an interview with Kevin Kempin. Just one year ago, Kempin was named Head USA CEO and president for its winter sport and racquet sport divisions. He has been with Head USA for 18 years in various roles including global marketing, sales management and various executive positions. Here, in the entirety of Buchanan’s interview, he talks about Lindsey Vonn, Motorhead and the strength of early season sales.

SNEWS: What’s your approach to the company?

Kevin Kempin: First and foremost having industry experts in place with our U.S. team is essential. We have assembled a team of passionate, knowledgeable managers in key positions that can drive us forward that all ski and ride with the best of them. We eat, drink, and breathe skiing and boarding. Additionally, our retailers and consumers need to be reminded that we are an American-born brand founded by Howard Head when he turned the ski business upside down. While we enjoy market-leading positions in Europe and will certainly leverage our global strengths, we will look to capitalize on our U.S. heritage. We also have the best group of winter athletes in the business: Bode Miller, Lindsey Vonn, Ted Ligety, etc. These names go well beyond the winter enthusiast to consumers across the country. They are a major part of our promotional push as we drive the brand forward.

SNEWS: Any special plans for 2011/12?

KK: Yes, yes and yes. I mentioned above our great new team and I’ll discuss below our industry-leading new technologies. But let me touch briefly on design. For 2011/12, we have assembled the best product, industrial and graphic designers in the world. Our skis and boards are performing better than ever and are wrapped in graphics designed by the likes of Red Bull creative, BMW DesignWorks USA, Pete Thomas of Whitefish, Mont., Justin Kaufman of NYC, and a brand new innovative partnership with the iconic band Motorhead.

SNEWS: Where do you see the ski industry headed?

KK: For Head (both in the U.S. and Europe) it’s been an incredible year — I think the industry as a whole has prospered as well. We’ve had great snow across the country, inventory levels are in line, and resorts are reporting increased ski and board visits. As we move into next year, I think the industry is in good shape. My hope is that we as an industry have learned not to overproduce and go through some of the vicious closeout cycles we’ve seen in the past. As an industry we really have to move away from the early closeouts that devalue our in-line products and new technologies. Certainly, the industry is on more solid ground financially than it’s been in the last several years.

SNEWS: Any ways you can think of to help it grow?

KK: We would love to see more industry cooperation in this area. Everyone benefits when the pie is bigger. I’m used to this sort of cooperation on the racquet sports side of our business with the Tennis Industry Association. One of the programs we do see striving to grow our sports is the National Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month (LSSM). The goal is converting new skiers and riders into lifelong and avid participants. We partnered early with LSSM and have been the main hardgoods brand helping to drive this initiative.

SNEWS: What new technologies and products are you focusing on?

KK: Head has long since been known as a leading edge technology company in winter sports. While I’ve mentioned our innovative graphics approach, we continue to innovate with new, consumer-friendly technologies. The majority of our skis feature some type of early rise, such as Head’s exclusive Flow Ride technology. We are equally excited about our new AdaptEdge boots. These new boots feature our unbelievably comfortable Edge last with the ability to change the width of the boot — it can adjust from a 104 mm to 102 mm width with the turn of a screw. Unlike boots that require heat to fit, and that can only be adjusted in time, the new AdaptEdge boots can be adjusted back and forth as often as you like. On the snowboard side, our new Flamba snowboards blend the catch-free feel of rocker boards with the pop of a camber board.

SNEWS: Seems like you’re getting edgier with your relationship with Motorhead. How’d that come about and what does it say about the new Head?

KK: The best comment I’ve heard (and I’ve heard many like it) was during a preview show when a retailer said, “Wow, this isn’t your father’s Head ski company anymore.” Motorhead are big ski fans, they were blown away by the brand during last year’s Winter Olympics, and the name tie-in doesn’t hurt. We’re really enthusiastic about where this is heading and our preview shows have reinforced our excitement for this category.

–Eugene Buchanan

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