Entrepreneur skates into new enterprise: building boards
“Life’s about the ride.” That’s the tagline for Asheville entrepreneur Doug Stevens’ budding business building skateboards, as well as clothing and other products for boarding. But the line could easily describe Stevens’ approach to life. From sponsored snowboarding to selling high-end real estate to bartending at Storm Rhum Bar, the 27-year-old Stevens has a broad work experience. It’s all led him to start Ashevillain, a company that Stevens sees as embodying the skating life, Asheville style. There’s a note of rebellion in his company. Just consider the name. There’s also a thread of environmental awareness. Stevens’ boards are mostly bamboo, a product he says is more sustainable than other materials. And he’s got a strong focus on giving back to the community. In looking at his business model with friends and investors, Stevens said, “what we realized is what inspired us was the city of Asheville and the culture of Asheville.”
“We want to build a brand that the people of Asheville want to represent,” he said. “We’re really building a brand around Asheville.”
Stevens is poised to get rolling later this year. He said his full line of apparel will be available this fall, as will a full line of organic surf wax. He’s planning to launch a new website in October. And a new line of boards in four designs will be released in January, Stevens said. Until now, Ashevillain has only released small runs of boards to local stores such as Flipside Skateboards on Lexington Avenue. The advice It’s taken about 18 months to get the pieces of his business into place, said Stevens, who has been in Asheville off and on about eight years. But long before then, Stevens was collecting the experience he’s drawing upon now. At a resort in Montana, he spent time serving drinks to some of the richest people in the world. He used that time to pick their brains about best practices in business.
One guy who owns a professional golf tour was a mentor. He told me to be patient and to look at what I wanted my business to be at the end, as opposed to looking at a one-year plan or a three-year plan,” Stevens said. “So I took a step back and decided I want us to be a multimillion-dollar company and a household name like Quiksilver or Billabong. That really opened up the doors to more avenues. That was probably the best piece of advice. “That, and inventory management, keeping a low overhead and keeping costs down,” he said. “I’m doing everything out-of-pocket right now. Not taking capital from a third party has been difficult, but everything I make is meaningful. It really puts your heart into the business.” Other experience helped Stevens decide what he didn’t want to do. Selling high-end real estate in Cashiers a few years ago, Stevens was making good money. He had a big house and a nice car. But it wasn’t enough. “I was miserable. So I quit my job about a year and a half ago to try to focus on this company,” he said. “Luckily I had a few big sales go through before the market crashed.” Since then, Stevens has been slinging drinks at Storm by night and working on his skateboards by day. He recently spent a weekend at a skate expo, talking up Ashevillain, showing off some of his boards and making connections. The niche Stevens sees his boards filling a space left by companies moving toward serving more riders who see themselves participating in an extreme sport. Ashevillain, going back to the company tagline, is more about the easy rider. “Our boards are designed for cruising and everyday riding,” Stevens said. “They’re designed for going anywhere from zero to 25 mph. They’re designed for the everyday person who wants that smooth-boat feeling. His new line of boards will range from 28 to 46 inches long. The longboards and skateboards are made of three layers of bamboo and two layers of maple, according to Stevens, who stressed that his company takes environmental sustainability seriously. Ink used on the boards and clothing is water-based, for example. Another example is Ashevillain’s surf wax. Stevens said he’s teamed with local beekeepers to harvest wax and combine it with a couple of other ingredients to create an organic product that’s appealing to a wide range of customers. For his clothing, Stevens said he’s working with two local companies to make the products.
Stevens wants his company to give back to the community, as well. His company hosted a race about two years ago and donated proceeds to the WNC AIDS Project, he said, and has also donated money to a foundation that promotes the use of helmets for riders. After all, life’s about the ride, and Stevens wants it to be a good one. “We’re trying to give back,” he said. “We’re trying to create good products, get people to see skating as more of a lifestyle and attract more people to it,” he said.