How to go From Lifestyle Business to the Top Global Brand
Landyachtz Longboards Case Study - How to become a global brand
"I’ve been skating for 38 years, and I still skate every fucking day and it drives me nuts. I’ve had multiple surgeries, I’ve broken both my legs, whatever, it doesn’t matter; what I’m saying is that skating is forever — Jake Phelps, Editor-in-Chief Thrasher Magazine
Imagine creating a brand with your friend out of passion. No, I’m not talking about becoming a competitive food eater on YouTube or Instagram bikini model. Imagine doing something you love, something you grew up with and can't get enough - basically something you would do any day even if you wouldn’t get a dime from it.
That’s called a lifestyle business. And today let’s see one of my personal favorite brands - Landyachtz.
Landyachtz is a skateboard/longboard company headquartered in Vancouver B.C.
Since 1998, co-founders Thomas Edstrand and Michael Perreten built the brand Landyachtz to achieve some impressive results. In 20 years Landyachtz was able to:
- Became one of the most recognizable brands in longboarding
- Make 2000 longboards per week in their 9,000 square foot warehouse
- Employs over 60 people in Vancouver and another 15 in Los Angeles
- Lead the product design in deck technology
- Dominating the mini-cruiser market with Dinghy series (and crushing Penny out of the market)
- Sells their boards in 500+ U.S. Stores
- One of the top 3 longboard manufacturers in the world
- Present in 30 countries worldwide
All this while still skating all day every day, playing longboard-version hockey with your steezy friends and enjoying a cold one every Friday afternoon for a job well done.
This is the study how Landyachtz leveraged the community, scaled the brand, and carved their way at the forefront of longboarding market space with product innovation.
You will learn the necessary ingredients of Landyachtz which got them to the place they are now — 20 years after. For the sake of similarity, I’ll be using examples from the skateboarding market.
Chapter #1 - Culture and Community - The passion and commitment to the lifestyle
Chapter #2 - The Product Focus and Innovation - Lead the Market with Out-of-the-box Quality
Chapter #3 - The Longboard Unique Business Model - Upsell with Variety and Lockdown with the Brand
Chapter #4 - Figuring out Sales - Find the Selling Hotspots and Distributors
Chapter #5 - Marketing - Video and Instagram - The Top Performers of Landyachtz Marketing
Chapter #6 - The Future - Bikes?
Prologue - The Beginning of Landyachtz
Mike Perreten, a former ski-racer, missed the snowy slopes when he went off to college. When walking across campus at the University of Victoria just wasn't cutting it; he decided to take matters into his own hands and build himself a longboard. He could ski on the tarmac, making his commutes much more fun.
At the same time, Mike’s childhood friend, Tom Edstrand needed to write a mock business plan for an entrepreneurship class. Why not making a case about longboards? The class project turned from making planks on wheels to a viable enterprise neither of them dreamed of.
Mike Perreten's original board from 1996. | Source: https://stokedrideshop.com
Edstrand and Perreten secured six weeks of workshop time in the basement of the Blackcomb Ski Club cabin during ’97. The idea that became known as Landyachtz. Two friends worked 10 hours shifts constructing the new “weird-looking” skateboard.
"There's a certain commute distance where a longboard works better than a bike or anything else," says Perreten. "With that in mind, we really sold boards as a way of improving people's quality of life."
Once few models were done, they begged ski and bike managers to try them out in the parking lot. The pair was received with quizzical looks. The managers thought the idea was stupid. Even the first tries to put them in the shop were unsuccessful. Their family friend tried to convince them to put the boards in the shop and sell them under consignment.
But as soon as Tom started winning downhill races with their own man-made boards, the couple started getting attention from sport fans and offers from the distributors. Things started to fall into place very quickly.
Here’s where the first major lesson lies.
Chapter 1: Culture and Community
Edstrand and Perreten believed in the idea and continued to work on Landyachtz on the side for three years. This was in the early 2000’s and the internet communities were sparse and far between. However, those who were online were the same freakishly passionate fanatics who would spend their last dime on their hobby.
By skulking for like-minded people on forums, chat-rooms, IRC and all the other weird places (MySpace anyone?). Forum posts opened up U.S. and global markets.
The skateboard community has tons of die-hard fans. Just like you hear about surf and ski-bums who would, and sometimes are, completely content with hitting the slopes or waves every day of their lives, so are skateboarders dedicated to the artform of bombing the hills, grinding the fence or doing some other crazy trick or nonsense with a piece of wood on wheels.The company Landyachtz is built on the premise of riders first, and they make stuff they want to ride. Click To Tweet
Thrasher magazine - the bible of global skateboarding craft the same zealous crowd of “misfits”. If you look at the Thrasher staff members and their offices you would think someone is going to sell you a used car or show you which loan shark you can hire.
Even Jake Phelps, the editor-in-chief (since 1983) of Thrasher magazine and a living legend, still looks like he would much rather be out there in the halfpipe hitting the ramp than being stuck in the office.
Mike and Tom started finding more and more opportunities to tell people in the business about their brand. They started going to trade shows, attend downhill racing events and even brought in team riders on board who represent the name of the company.
Team riders and skateboard sponsorships are one of the main marketing activities skate companies do to get their name across and in front of the eyes of a young skater. The boys and girls who get into skateboarding worship these crazy riders.
And if Tony Hawk or Rodney Mullen ride on a certain type of boards it means they could do something similar one day with the same equipment.
Since Landyachtz started their career with downhill longboarding, they've recruited their own longboard influencers, Dexter Manning being the most recognizable.
No matter how old you are, once you taste the freedom, that curve and land your first ollie you will remember it for life. The other boarders are your brothers and sisters of the same tribe. It’s something unique for a small percentage of people.
Employees are Skaters First
The Landyachtz employees are skateboarders and friends first. Each and every one of them loves the lifestyle and have either skated professionally or at least spend a couple of years on the wood above the tarmac.
Every individual has their skills and responsibilities where they are good at. Most of the times they learned those chops over the years. It’s more important to understand what longboard means to the skaters than to bring a suited-up marketing or sales guru to look at the excel spreadsheets and conduct business roundtables.
The working week ends up with a beer session in the workshop and they are no stranger to a pick-up longboard hockey game.
Sometimes they just get together and spend the night cruising the city. The result is another video that ends up on YouTube and social media channels.
"We go to lunch almost daily on our boards. It's such a great way to get around. That's how we know there's still so much more potential." — Mike Perreten
KEY TAKEAWAY #1
Make stuff you love to use. It’s much easier to “sell” the lifestyle and passion than the product.
Chapter 2 - The Product Focus and Innovation
Science in the longboard industry? Get outta here!
But in every industry, there are companies that push the envelope and act as icebreakers. They are leaders who explore and create new trends. The others try to get in and serve the marketing gap that the innovators made.
At Landyachtz, constant innovation is one of the priorities.
Early on, Edstrand and Perreten made their own design, often inspired from the physics classes in college. But later, they scaled up and created full-time engineer position to create boards that look amazing while serving a specific purpose.
(Almost) anyone can put some wheels under a slab of wood and call it a skateboard. What differentiates great longboard companies from bad ones is the quality, attention to detail and purposeful performance to the type of ride.
Mike and Tom handled the product design for boards as DIY projects. They tested wild shapes and sizes of decks. If something didn’t work they went back to the drawing board.
All amazing inventions took something that was done before and put their own spin on it. Sometimes that 20% innovation disrupts the market (think of the time somebody figured out to put wheels on a suitcase).
Landyachtz started with an initial segment in downhill racing. Their famous drop-through mounts were amazing pieces of engineering that won races before anyone else started catching on what they were doing. And these boards were race-ready straight from the shop. There was no need for customizing or fetching a Ph.D. in trucks, bearings, board shapes, and gravity control.
If you got one of the downhill boards you had an equipment good enough to rival other downhill bombers.
And guess what? People loved it.
Landyachtz products and brand are:
- #1 brand on Ranker.com
- #1 brand on Longboardingguide.com
- #1 brand and model (Dinghy) on heelsidechill.com
- #2 brand on reviewlongboard.com
The biggest lesson looking at the Landyachtz product-market fit is serving two concepts which are separate from each other.
First, performance boards such as Osteon and Evo are meant to win races. The launch of the whole company started when the founders started getting attention after stacking racing awards. The race events brought them global distribution contracts.
Within a tight-knit community in action sports it will soon show if something doesn’t work, everyone will know about it.
Landyachtz manages to secure a decade-long track record of high-speed and robustness with quality components that don’t require updates to start bombing big hills.
Second, serving the community and tribe with the longboard lifestyle. The campaign Skate and Explore shows the company values and the personality of the brand carried on the team-riders. Not everyone is brave enough nor they wish to go 60 miles down the hill, but they like the freedom of hitting the streets and relax.
But even the longboard market is getting saturated, so there has to be room for innovation. Some of the big wins happened through innovation while others were a perfect answer and filling the market gap. The best example is the Dinghy.
Cruiser Boards - The Dinghy Series
A city cruiser that is sturdier and a more exciting version of Penny boards. While still being small and mobile, Dinghies look great and feel like a proper board. With this series, Landyachtz took a massive bite from the Penny marketplace of city cruisers. While Penny boards rely on the history and nostalgia factor from the plastic boards, the majority of clients rather look for performance, fun factor, and usability.
The Dinghy is a perfect example to show off the versatility of Landyachtz's product variety. It comes in different lengths (28.5″, 26″, 24″), tail variations (with or without kicktail), a bigger model (Tugboat with 30” length and a wider wheel spacing) and even a premium version (Dinghy Turbo). Of course, it comes in variety of pretty graphics made by the artists.
But Landyacthz also took the role as technology and designer leaders. The company employs full-time engineers who work closely with sponsored team-riders.
The design innovation paid off in a significant way. Landyachtz is known by unique solutions such as:
- HollowTech - Hollow construction of longboards that keeps the weight down, while preserving the build strength. Because of lightness the board can also pop higher making it suitable for freeride, not only downhill.
- ATV series - ATVs or All-Terrain-Vehicles are an attempt to marry the freeriding, cruising benefit of a longboard and the trick versatility of the skateboard. With the popsicle deck shape, it resembles an average skateboard however it comes with larger wheels which grants the rider bigger speed. Even ATVs come in three varieties, each suited for slightly different purposes.
- Misc, Hybrid - team riders at Landyachtz play an active role in the product development and engineering. The Hollowtech Sidewalker was designed by Steven Vera, Osteon by Billy Bones and RallyCat by the co-founder Thomas Erstrand.
Aside from clones of Penny boards, the Australian company didn’t have a decent rival. Landyachtz stroke gold with the Dinghy - it brought all the good benefits of being small and responsive but it was also a real board.
The communities on forums and Reddit recognized this and helped Landyachtz carry the message via the most useful and efficient marketing channel - word of mouth.
KEY TAKEAWAY #2
Take the approach to marry the innovation of the product with the performance. Create products you would want to use. There’s a chance to serve top product and build the tribe at the same time.
Chapter 3 - The Unique Longboard-Specific Business Model
While Landyachtz is one of the top 3 longboard manufacturers, they are not crazy millionaires. First thing, that’s not their goal and even if they would be making millions every month, their day would still look the same.
Skateboard business works because the flimsy boards were damaged and broken beyond repair. If you landed weirdly you could break a brand new board in a day. For that reason, you could spend somewhere around $80 - $100 clams and get a new one.
Longboards, on the other hand, are made from sturdier materials (7 to 9-ply maple wood or bamboo) which makes them sturdier. A board like that can really take the beating. From a business standpoint it's not good for revenue.
Remember how those older Toyotas and Hondas never broke. You could literally do anything with them and they would still go anywhere at any time. While that’s an amazing engineering achievement the manufacturers are losing money.
If you’d compare the business model with Silicon Valley industry, you could think of regular skateboard business as SaaS while longboards are more like Apple’s e-commerce with less frequent repeat buys.
“Skateboarders will buy six or seven boards a year because they break. “But our boards didn’t break. How do you sell them six or seven boards?” — Tom Edstrand
If Landyachtz sells you a good quality complete deck for let’s say $220 and you ride it for 4 - 6 years. That's abysmal LTV (lifetime value).
There must be a good solution to overcome this challenge. And Landyachtz had one.
If Landyachtz makes innovative designs and all-around fun boards with a different variation of the core model their buyer will buy more boards from them. With a combination of amazing paint jobs (from local artists) and a social incentive (Landyachtz plants a tree for each deck sold - the One Board One Tree project), Landyachtz expands the catalog offer without adding new models while adding an NGO aspect on it.
Even from the early days, you could see a variety in niche longboards. For instance:
- Downhill - for bombing down hills and go down the hill really really fast -> Switchblade, Hatchet, …
- Cruisers - Commuting the streets and having some fun with a trick or two -> the Dinghy line
- Long-Distance Pumping (LDP) - for riders who hate to put the for down
- Freeride - a more relaxed downhill with slides
- Dance - looooooong as Monday boards for dancing -> Saturn
- Something completely unique
- Upgraded skateboard - ATV series (skateboard-like construction with larger wheels for doing regular tricks while also going faster)
- Snow-Skates - just put a giant ski sled under and you can longboard on snow
- Old-school/Retro - fun, unique boards with some old school nostalgia - Wrecktangle, Dodger, Cobra
- Misc. - something completely different - Rally Cat
With this strategy, Landyachtz is appealing to their loyal customer to buy more types of longboards.
KEY TAKEAWAY #3
In lifestyle business, brand and relationships are much more important than anywhere else. If your product isn’t suited for repeat purchases then offer a variety and nurture upsells through innovation.
Chapter 4: Figuring out Sales
Landyachtz makes the majority of sales in North America. The other major countries of distribution are Australia, Brazil, Nordic countries and Germany.
According to Growler, Landyachtz is making about $3.7M of revenue annually however, I strongly doubt that’s a legitimate number.
The board completes cost between $130 and $300 (and more for Hollowtech models) which puts them into the range of higher-priced products. However, since the brand is established the sales are growing year-over-year. In 2015, Landyachtz recorded a 30% bump over the year before.
It has contracts with more than 500 U.S. distributors which have their own methods of marketing, local events, and presentation of new products.
Some of the sales are done through the Landyachtz online shop (Canadian and US variation).
There’s no option for opting in for an email newsletter. It could be a conscious decision that the company will not waste time sending emails.
While keeping the brand face congruent, it could be an opportunity to present new products through the email form across the globe. Relying on distributors and their effectiveness is one thing, however, even a lifestyle business like this can quickly find the big spenders and have a VIP sequence sending them a sticker, a hat or something to keep the relationship hot.
KEY TAKEAWAY #4
Some industries have unique selling channels. Find out which those are and create those relationships with distributors in hot geographic areas.
Chapter 5: Marketing with Social and Video Rules
Skateboarding, Longboarding and Action Sports in general (Motocross, BMX, skate, etc) targets a very unique target audience. In that case, they have to rely on specific marketing channels which have been proven to work.
Back in the day of skateboarding the only thing that worked consistently was traveling across the country with a team of riders, setting up pop-up shops and sell products and merch. The goal was to record a highlights video along the adventure hoping it will get attention. The passionate community would grab it if it reached their eyes.
Nowadays, marketing is a lot easier - with the emergence of social media anyone can broadcast their content and engage with the online community, especially on devices that are soldered in the pockets/hands of the target market - mobile phones.
When Tony Hawk was asked, on how he looks on his sons’ career compared to his own, he stated:
“For him, he doesn’t even have to compete because we’re in the age of social media, videos, and photos. People just want to see what you’re producing if they’re interested in your skill.
If we would break down the target profile of an average longboard consumer it would be a 13 - 30-year old, predominately male living in urban areas where there are spaces and infrastructure suited for grinding, bombing, and doing all kinds of fun tricks. Keep in consideration that the buyers are sometimes young parents (mid-30’s) who are looking for a better substitution for their kids (at least the ones who believe an outdoor exercise) than a 5-hour Fortnite session).
YouTube - Landyachtz's Winning Channel
Landyachtz Youtube Stats:
- 150,118 subscribers
- 24+ million video views
- 226 video uploads
With the decline of TV, YouTube has been gaining popularity as a personal and customizable viewing channel (check how Jordan Peterson made his success thanks to YouTube). There’s a channel or a creator for anything you’re into. Hell, skateboarding has such an upturn in the last few years, it’s going to have its first debut in the Olympic Games in Tokyo, 2020.
Instead of watching skateboarding heroes and uplifting (insane) longboarding stunts on MTV, fans of the sport just type in a few keywords and watch the shenanigans for days. If you’re a smart skate company you can’t afford not to have your video content on YouTube.
Landyachtz are aware of it and they doubled down on producing high-quality, yet story-driven videos. Landyachtz videos have a consistent style, feel and communicates the company culture perfectly - they are all bunch of friends who live for longboarding.
Even their campaigns are tagged with hashtag #SkateAndExplore — which comes with a repertoire of road videos from all corners of the World. Team riders visit these places (China, Japan, East Europe) connect with the local people and record some amazing footage which is later displayed on YouTube and redistributed to other (social) media channels.
LY has a dedicated videographer Dave “Guff” Leslie who comes shoots, edits the footage and turns it into a finished video worthy of attention. With a film background and his own passion and dedication to the sport, he has one of the most important roles in Landyachtz's marketing strategy.
These road trips are crucial for the Landyachtz brand. Besides the amazing videos, they also re-use stills and short clips for other social media channels.
According to their rivals, Landyachtz are having more than solid numbers. Loaded and Sector9 are behave more like corporations which keeps Landy at the top of lifestyle companies.
VS Competition (followers):
Instagram - The Ideal Social Media Channel
Landyachtz Instagram numbers:
- 109,548 followers
- 2406 Media Posts uploaded
- 2.03% Engagement rate
- 2,007 Avg likes per upload post
- 216,20 Avg Comments
Instagram is HUUUGE for Landyachtz. Since 2015, they managed to build a base of 110k followers, of which 2,200 are actively looking at every post they upload.
Billy “Bones” Meiners, who is the media strategist puts a lot of time and thought about engaging material on Instagram. The strategy is paying off, since as Tony Hawk stated, most of the target audience is already on these channels.
If someone is interested in starting to longboard, they would inevitably stumble upon the Landyachtz brand.If we take into the account how specific the business model for longboards is (buying variety), constant relationship building and communication is key. Click To Tweet
Landyachtz Instagram breakdown:
- Instagram Stories (Events, Products, Promotion of YouTube videos, misc shenanigans)
- IGTV (repurposed longer videos from YouTube)
- Links to the email, shop, call
- Latest #SkateAndExplore video in Bio
VS Competition (followers):
Potential Upgrade - Lululemon athletica is dominating the Instagram thanks to an army of social media uploaders. Landyachtz can learn a few tricks to start running some experiments as well:
- Sell through Instagram with Shoppable Posts - Lululemon has been selling garments with a third-party software Curalate, but Instagram recently introduced its own solution.
Landyachtz is identifying products on YouTube videos with a link back to the product info, but not on Instagram.
- Music and Skateboarding go hand-in-hand. Lululemon has its own playlist, and so could Landyachtz. Their videographer Guff is playing in 3 bands. It’s not going to contribute to the revenue however it could help to build a brand.
Twitter & Facebook - Support and Redistribution Channel
It’s obvious Twitter and Facebook are marketing channels that their target audience isn’t using as much. Even though they’ve been holding on to their Twitter account since March 2009, they have about 23k followers.
Their Facebook has good numbers but the engagement isn’t running that hot. Young adults switched from Facebook to Instagram (another argument that Facebook made a brilliant move buying Instagram back in 2012).
Landyachtz doesn’t run paid promotions on either of those two channels.
Events & Conferences
For outdoor action sports, events are sorely needed. It’s the perfect chance for the company to show who they are and display their products in action on the spot. On racing events, the visitors can see with their own eyes the quality of the boards.
Landyachtz sponsored events and races since the start. Only good things happened during these events and important documents were signed.
The most known event in Canada is held every year in Kimberly. The small quiet town in British Columbia doubles in population when Landyachtz roles into town. The Kimberley July Festival is a giant picnic with soccer events, bocce tournament and the famous Sullivan challenge - a free-to-enter, free-for-all longboard race.
Since Landyachtz sponsors team-riders that are coming from different areas, they can cover events in multiple places around the globe. In the meantime, the distributors cover the smaller gaps.
Conferences also come into play. Besides the ones where you have to present as an outdoor sports provider, Landyachtz also experiments by going to places where they can increase awareness of the crowds that haven’t been exposed to the longboarding/skateboarding lifestyles.
For example, Billy Bones set up the pop-shop on Twitch-con which is a huge community of gamers. The demographics fit, so why not try out something like that?
Website - Keeping the Presence
The website pulls approximately 115,000 visits, from which there are 41k unique every month. The visitors stay on the website for 4 minutes on average and checks 4 to 5 pages.
More than half of the visitors are checking the store on mobile devices which shows the habits of the Landyachtz target audience. Looking deeper into the referral channels, most of the people who land on the site find it through search (61,15%) while 22.9% come directly and 11,27% come from social media channels (mostly YouTube).
The high direct visit percentage shows the quality of the brand. For instance, Slack who focused entirely on brand marketing has more than 95% of web visitors typing the webpage directly into the browser’s address bar.
Because of the unique keywords of the product models and the company name itself, the brand can be found easily. Most of the referrals are coming from the distributor's sites.
The company also owns companies that make parts for their longboards:
- Beartrucks - truck
- Hawghs - wheels
- The Manufacturing facility - Berley Manufacturing Inc. in Kimberly, BC
KEY TAKEAWAY #5
Lifestyle businesses have to be in constant contact with their fans. In action sports, those are videos on YouTube and Instagram. Keep it stocked with high-quality content to keep your brand on their minds.
Chapter 6 - The Future - More Products and Bikes
In 2017, Mike Perreten began working on Landyachtz's bicycle project. One the of company employees, Yuan Diaz commuted 20 kilometers (approx. 12 miles) to work every day. When he expressed he wanted to come in on a bicycle the two stuck their heads together and started working on a new type of bike.
Since they already know what they wanted, they just started working on the bike they would want to use. It’s as simple as that.
“We like to go fast and we want to have fun.”
Is there something that’s out there that we want to use? Or is there something we could create?
Damn right. Last year (2017) Landyachtz introduced two models of their premium bicycle line. Today, they offer 4 models and customization.
If Landyachtz scratches their own itch, you bet their fans are going to salivate from the desire to try the new asphalt wheel toy.
With a focus on engineering and R&D, there’s no doubt these bicycles will find homes in some of the previous Landyachtz product buyers and fans. They have been consistent so far and there’s no sign they are going to rest or take the road to a business-oriented skateboard business.
Landyachtz made a good decision about building a new entity that focuses on bicycles. There would be too much interference between longboarding brand and target profiles. Landyachtz bicycles business carries its own logo and website.
KEY TAKEAWAY #6
Be loyal to your mission and brand. The community and fans you have built around you trust you/your company for a reason. Stay in their service.
As long as they keep making products they love themselves, their fan base is going to follow.
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