A new ski apparel startup launched by a pair of Algonquin College business students has come flying out of the gate in its inaugural season – and has even landed a deal with one of the city’s best-known sports retailers as it seeks to cash in on a surge in outdoor activities during the pandemic.
Noah Cromwell and Fletcher Smith, students in Algonquin’s business management and entrepreneurship program, started their online ski goggle retailer, Snøhó, last October with Smith’s brother Spencer. The business students became fast friends after bonding over their mutual love of skiing and began researching products in the ski accessory market.
After looking at retailing various kinds of gear, including gloves and glasses, they settled on goggles. According to Smith, goggles are “ridiculously expensive,” with price tags of upwards of $300 for a product that costs roughly $50 to manufacture.
Cromwell and the Smith brothers decided they would offer a cheaper alternative than the big-name brands that dominate the market, such as Oakley and Smith. Backed by startup capital from their own savings accounts, they found a manufacturer in China and set up a website at the beginning of the ski season, selling the eyegear for $160.
When their first batch of goggles sold out within two weeks, they knew they were on to something. In January alone, Snøhó sold nearly $10,000 worth of goggles and other apparel. Since October, the business has grossed $22,000.
“We were not expecting to sell out that fast – with no marketing,” Fletcher Smith said. “We wanted to use that money to get our next order and just continue with that momentum.”
"We were not expecting to sell out that fast – with no marketing."
The company signed a deal with Kunstadt Sports in November to sell their goggles and accessories on the local chain’s online store and at its locations in Kanata and the Glebe. The products quickly sold out.
Kunstadt Sports president Eric Kunstadt said he was instantly intrigued by the brand due to its local connection.
“I said, ‘How many goggles do you have in stock?’ We wanted to buy all of their goggles so that we would be exclusive,” he said.
Snøhó’s goggles are customizable, with magnetic lenses that literally snap into place. Lenses can be changed based on the weather conditions or just if you want something flashier than your default grey lens. Straps are also customizable and easily replaced and slotted into the back of the goggles.
The designs for the first line of ski goggles came straight from the manufacturer, but the founders are working on their own custom designs, which they plan on introducing next season.
Snøhó’s comparatively low price point has been a boon for sales, the founders say. An explosion in winter sports activity during the pandemic has also helped, they add, as winter equipment suppliers across the country have reported shortages due to a flurry of demand. Meanwhile, Snøhó’s e-commerce model benefited from a surge in online shopping during the COVID-19 crisis.
Part of the company’s early success can also be attributed to the founders’ existing network and Smith’s well-known name in Canada’s ski community.
His mother, Julie Klotz, is a former member of the Canadian national alpine ski team and was a regular on the World Cup circuit. His sister Sierra is currently on the national team, and his grandfather Trevor Klotz, the founder of Mont Ste-Marie ski club, also skied for Canada.
Smith said his family has always encouraged him to follow his dreams, whether in sports or business. While he quit competitive skiing at 17, he said he does feel a certain responsibility to carry on the family’s legacy in his new endeavour.
Smith has roots in Whistler, B.C., so it was only natural to use the West Coast community as a jumping-off point for the business. Last December, he and Cromwell moved to the site of the 2010 Olympic downhill events to be closer to the world-class skiers who live and train in the area. They are continuing their studies remotely.
Since then, the founders have inked a sponsorship agreement with a team of pro-am skiers who wear the company’s goggles and clothes whenever they are out on the slopes.
Snøhó hasn’t forgotten its Ottawa roots, though.
The Smith family is skiing royalty in Ottawa and Western Quebec, a factor he says has helped propel the company’s growth, particularly in landing the Kunstadt deal.
“There’s definitely a portion that is … attributable to my family name in Ottawa and places like Camp Fortune,” he said. “But some of our biggest sales have been in B.C., just through the visibility of our team riders.”
Smith and Cromwell are slated to graduate from the two-year business management and entrepreneurship program later this year. Program co-ordinator Chris Doré said he couldn’t be prouder of the budding retailers.
“Our students are entrepreneurial, and they (Smith and Cromwell) are really good examples of what our students are capable of,” he said. “Noah and Fletcher are living the entrepreneurial lifestyle and their passion. They are exactly the kind of students we want in our program.”