We’re huge fans of Colorado-based Sport Bumper and use the Ski Bumper every time we go skiing.
Denver local Bo Pitto founded Sport Bumper back in the fall of 2011 and has been constantly working on new product technology and designs, sourcing new materials, and getting into more stores.
Not only is Sport Bumper designed and sold locally here in Colorado, Bo has been working hard to sell direct-to-consumers and also get into stores on both the east and west coasts. I took a few minutes to catch up with Bo this season and learn a bit more about the company, the products, and how things are going.
Ski Bumper Version 2
The Ski Bumper has been updated this season with stronger rare-earth metal magnets. The magnets are now layered into the bumper and strong enough so they never have to touch your car. Additionally, a new design includes more defined and pronounced shapes to hold poles, skis and snowboards based on feedback from friends and customers.
We’ve used the new Ski Bumper a half-dozen times already this season and we’re so pleased by it. The new design holds our skis much more securely. The shorter length means we don’t have to worry about getting into the right contours of our rear quarter-panel. And the stronger magnets hold the bumper extremely firmly.
Interview with Bo Pitto
After catching up with Bo we asked a few questions to help tell the company story a bit more and lend some background on the challenges of creating a product and bringing it to market.
What inspired you to make the original Sport Bumper? Is it directly tied to being in Colorado?
I went to DU and studied International Real Estate and Spanish and also taught skiing throughout college. Since I grew up skiing at Vail, skiing was definitely my passion.
Here’s the story: I was living in the mountains of Colorado and had some friends in town for a ski trip. As we were gearing up for the hill, my buddy unloaded all of our skis and leaned them against my car. Inevitably, someone ran into the skis, sending them all crashing to the ground like dominos, scratching my car and damaging the edges of all of the skis.
I know this has happened at least once to everyone that skis or boards, and I thought to myself, there must be a solution. I went online to see if there were any products out there to keep this disastrous scenario from happening again, but to my surprise, I found nothing. Being the tinkerer that I am, I started making a prototype by widdling some grooves into a bungee cord with an exacto-knife and glueing some magnetic tape on the back.
I also enjoy working for myself and the freedom it gives me. As long as I’m making enough money for ramen and rent, and in the industries I’m passionate about (skiing and fishing), I’m a happy camper.
How did you start building the original Ski Bumper?
A trip to Home Depot where I bought a black bungee cord, an exacto (utility knife) and some magnetic tape.
I cut ridges into one side of the bungee cord and stuck the magnetic tape to the other side. I put it on my car, leaned the skis on them and they didn’t slide. Bingo! I still have the original prototype sitting at my desk.
It worked great so I showed it to some friends and ski shops around town and people liked the concept, but wanted to see a more refined version. With some general interest, I drew up a very rudimentary model on my computer and contacted a metal-working shop in Denver to see if they could make a mold.
Making the first Ski Bumpers by hand was not an easy process. Once I picked up the polyurethane strips from the polyurethane shop, I had to grind the back of each one so the adhesive would stick. Then I had to put a special flexible glue on the back. Then I stuck the magnetic strip on the glue and put bricks on the ends so the magnets wouldn’t curl up. Once I had a constructed bumper I had to package it, attaching two zip-ties, then clipping the tag-end and finally stapling the packaging closed. You can image how excited I was when I finished my last Ski Bumper…PHEW!
Where are you trying to sell the Sport Bumpers?
I’d like half my sales to be direct to consumers and half to come from retail stores. It’s a balancing act.
It’s easier for me to sell 12 to a ski shop compared to sending out 12 individual orders from the website. But, the margins are better selling directly to the end user.
It’s tough, people think, “oh it’s an inexpensive piece of rubber with a couple magnets”, but there’s so much that goes into it: the magnets are super expensive, my quantities right now aren’t high enough to bring the rubber costs down, the time to manufacture them can be unpredictable, too.
How many did you make last season? How many do you plan to sell this season?
Last season I made the first 1,000 in my basement and sold all of them by March.
This year I’ve taken production overseas and ordered 3,000.
Why were you not able to build these locally anymore?
Well, I’m still boot-strapped and the least-expensive mold I could have made in the United States was $15,000.
After shopping my CAD files around to local manufacturers for months to keep my products “Made In America”, I had to give into the the inevitability of globalization and outsourced production to China.
In China, the mold cost is $1,500. I can get a mold and all my inventory overseas for the same price as just the mold in the States. It just didn’t make sense this year. However, I’m looking into different manufacturing methods for next year and trying to move production back to the States.
It’s been two seasons now, what’s been the hardest and the most rewarding aspects of building the product and the business?
Sales is the hardest. I’m not a sales person, I’m an “inventor” or “idea guy”. As passionate as I am about my products, it’s still so hard to get them into the major retailers.
However, the most rewarding part is making that sale and hearing three weeks later on the chairlift: “Ooh ya, I’ve seen a Ski Bumper before, they are sold at Christy Sports, right?”
Would you like to share any future plans we should be looking forward to?
Not quite yet… I have some ideas on the drawing board but nothing I can make public quite yet.
However, I’m been getting lots of “Bumper” suggestions and I’m taking them all into consideration.
Thanks very much to Bo for taking the time to chat and sharing Version 2 of the Ski Bumper with us. If you act fast, you can buy the Ski Bumper on Groupon at a discount or visit SportBumper.com to learn more.