Q&A with High Society Freeride entrepreneur Reggie Charles
ASPEN Editors note: Inside Business, published weekly in The Aspen Times, recently posed some questions to Reggie Charles, founder and owner of High Society Freeride, which was named this month by the Aspen Chamber Resort Association as the Emerging Business of the Year.Q: Can you give our readers some background on you and the company?A: I am 27 years old and moved to Aspen about six years ago. The company was officially incorporated in 2003 but we had been in the design stages for awhile before that.We started High Society because we saw an opportunity to design and build skis and snowboards in way that had not been done before. We use only the finest materials and production techniques, and we market to the most demanding athletes.Q: Where are your products manufactured?A: Our main ski and snowboard factory is in California. We also have an agreement with another factory in Austria. Our clothing line is produced mainly in the USA but we also have a few outlets in Asia.Q: Where are your products sold?A: High Society products are currently sold in about 30 stores in the USA and also in France, Switzerland, Norway, Sweden, New Zealand, Canada and the UK.Q: Are you the sole owner? How many employees do you have?A: High Society is a privately-held company and has a team of sales reps, athletes, engineers and others that work for us. Most of our athletes and reps are independent contractors.Q: Where are your offices located?A: Our main warehouse facility is in Basalt.Q: How did you guys start out?A: We had a friend that had a snowboard press in New Zealand and he offered to make us a few custom boards. The first run that we did was seven units and we sold them in a day, and the response was very positive. From there, we searched out partners that could build and help us expand the business and produce more units at a more manageable price.Q: Whats been the biggest challenge/hurdle thus far?A: The ski and snowboard industry has a few main players that most shops carry K2, Burton, etc. And a lot of those dealers are hesitant to pick up smaller brands. Over the years, we have proven that our products and customer service is as good, if not better than the big companies. But without a multimillion-dollar marketing budget, its hard to compete with the industry giants.Q: Having been named this years emerging business of the year, to what do attribute your success?A: We are very thankful for the support we have received from the Aspen/Snowmass community. Without that we would have never been able to get this business off the ground. All the positive word of mouth and grassroots support we received locally gave us the ability to grow the brand and take it worldwide.Q: It typically takes new companies five years to break even. Has your company achieved that yet? What kind of profit margin does your business typically yield?A: We have invested all profits back into the business since we started. This has given us the opportunity to expand the product line and our distribution. The High Society line now includes skis, snowboards, clothing and accessories, and some margins are better than others.Q: How fast has your company grown?A: Our ski and snowboard production has doubled every year, and the clothing line is on pace with that as well.Q: ACRA said one of the reasons your company was considered was because of your charitable giving. Who have you given to and in what form?A: AVSC (Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club) is one organization that we have worked with in the past. Some of our team riders have come through their program and we think they do an amazing job. The Aspen Spring Board is another organization that we have worked with. They are a group of young people that do some really positive things for the community. We have donated skis and boards in the past and offer them at discounts to various organizations across the USA.Q: Tell us about your teams.A: We sponsor a team of about 50 athletes worldwide. The majority of those athletes are skiers and snowboarders. High Society also sponsors a downhill mountain bike team in the summer, as well as some skateboarders, wakeboarders and snowmobiliers.Q: What does the future hold for the company? What are your goals?A: We want to continue to expand our product line and channels of distribution. Over the next year we are going to be putting out a lot more clothing items and developing some new ski and snowboard shapes. Our goals are to increase sales and revenues and also work with some more charitable organizations locally and across the USA.
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There is a lot of pent up energy among hikers and bikers to get into the high country, but snow fields, avalanche debris and high stream crossings are presenting challenges later than usual. Forest rangers with the Aspen-Sopris District provide trail condition reports that are updated each week so hikers and backpackers aren’t caught unaware.