Saturday, June 22, 2024
From The MagTill Eberle - Trade Secrets Duotone

Till Eberle – Trade Secrets Duotone

Till Eberle, the head of Boards & More, took a significant gamble when he bid goodbye to North and introduced Duotone in 2018. Despite skeptics, the German-Austrian firm saw record sales of kites and boards the following year. Right from the start, Duotone solidified its place as the market leader. We caught up with Till Eberle in Tarifa, a year after the launch. In our interview, he sheds light on the reasons behind their success, whether it was a high-risk venture, and his thoughts on the new North Kiteboarding.

After the launch of Duotone in spring 2018, there was a wave of skepticism and mockery, especially negative comments on social media. What message do you have for those critics now?
Till Eberle: (laughs and thinks) Maybe: “Time is winning.” No, to be honest, I have nothing to say to them.

Are you satisfied with the development of the past year? What went well? And is there anything that could have gone better?
Till Eberle: I am absolutely stoked. It went better than expected. The whole situation was so that no one could say exactly what comes out in the end. It could have really gone into the pants. But at the same time I had the small hope that it could run really well. All in all, I am really satisfied. The only pity is that we are in a lawsuit with the guys (Oakley Capital, license holder of the North Kiteboarding brand), which is probably even annoying for both sides.

Till Action Maui Toby Bromwich

Can you briefly explain what this litigation is about?
Till Eberle: Put simply, they do not agree with us that we have launched a new brand with Duotone. They are of the opinion that we could not have done that. Our legal advisory board, in turn, sees things differently and says we can do that very well. There is no infinite contract and every relationship is terminable. That’s what it’s all about.

What are the reasons that the Duotone Start exceeded the expectations of many industry experts, maybe even your own?
Till Eberle: There are, I think, several reasons. We already had a good run before. We have retained the product names and the products themselves. One has to say: kiting is a crazy little sport, there are maybe 300,000 active kiters worldwide. And apparently many people in the end, the product and the experience of our company were more important than the brand name that stands on it. We have always said, “if you marry and accept a new name, you are still the same person.” And many customers have joined us. The second topic, which plays in there, is that maybe one or the other competitor has weakened a bit. Be it financial difficulties that I believe are now resolved, or other reasons. That played a bit in the cards and was not to be expected. I suppose, and that was our secret hope that a new brand could be very attractive and attract customers. We have a big overlap among our customers, many customers have joined Duotone and a few new ones have been added. The whole brand has also become a bit younger and more emotional. That was also our goal: we did not want to do the same thing again, but we knew that we wanted to position ourselves differently for the future. And that seems to have worked relatively well. But, and I’m sure I’ll ask you a question beforehand, if we look into the future now: We have taken the so-called early adopter quite clearly – which are just on new brands, that was clear before. Then follow the fast followers who jump on a trend after a few months. That worked well too. It gets really exciting with the slow movers. They are a bit more difficult. It’s amazing that there are a certain number of people who are not kiting so little, but are surprisingly poorly informed, who do not read a magazine that is not active on Instagram, Facebook or in any forums. And of course we have a problem reaching that. And then there are some people who are very brand loyal, who may be waiting to see what North comes back with and then make their decision.

Till Action Maui. Toby Bromwich photo

Will Duotone gain acceptance globally, or are there specific countries where it might face challenges? Additionally, how have your sales figures evolved?
Till Eberle: The first half of the year went equally well globally, around December or January. At first these were the addressed early adopters, which we picked up a lot. They found the new brand sexy, that’s why we worked hard with marketing. By March it was a bit quieter. As far as I know, however, that was not only the case with us, but similar in the overall market. For example, in Europe we had a lot of snow. Then it has tightened again clearly. In Germany, we are almost 15 percent above the previous year. France is also very strong. Overall in Europe, where we have our roots, things went really well. At the moment we are slightly behind in America and have lost some points. That is normal. Precisely because we are a European company, we can play better here than in other regions. Besides, the American customer is more conservative. These are often “made in USA” and new innovations are not so much in focus there.

If you had to make such a decision again, would you do it again? Was that in your view a safe number or rather a ride on the razor blade?
Till Eberle: (Smiles) Well, I would do it again. A ride on the razor blade – yes, of course it was somehow. Especially during the first two months when I made this decision, although I have discussed it with many people, in the end I am the boss of our company and must answer for it, both to the shareholder and to my employees. There are many people involved and of course I did not want to risk the company. But that was exactly how nobody could predict what would happen. “Do or die” may sound too dramatic. It might not have cost the company a life, but it could have backed up a lot. The risk was definitely there and a very high nervousness with it. Once you’re inside the tunnel and you’re running, it’s just going to be more forward anyway. It was so much work and so much stuff to move – to be honest, it was a great time! It was tough for the whole team, but they all worked really well together. Maybe one can compare this to sailing the other day: You are sitting in a boat together, you are in a stormy sea and very close to the “out of control” in front of you. But if everyone sticks together and you end up seeing what comes out, it’s really fun.

Till Eberle catching some air on Maui. Bromwich photo.


Last year, you mentioned that the move was aimed at having greater freedom in brand design and potentially exploring new or revisiting old business areas. I recently heard a rumor about you venturing into snowboards. Can you elaborate?
Till Eberle: No, that was a joke. It was not from us, but has made a dealer from Austria. But the joke has succeeded. After all, you are not the only one who has gone to pieces.

I was curious to see if, perhaps out of nostalgia or a bold move, you’d be diving into the increasingly challenging snowboard market. I’m relieved now. Regarding North Kiteboarding, how do you feel about their activities? Is it odd watching what others are doing with what was once “your” brand? I noticed in your talks you seem to steer clear of mentioning North wherever possible.
Till Eberle: Hm, that does not happen so much on purpose. Of course, we also considered how to handle it. Sure, at the very beginning, you’re thinking a little bit about how it feels like someone else is sleeping with your wife. And that, even though you’ve spent 18 years in the relationship, and now suddenly there is another at the start. But at some point you are over it.

Well, well, but you ended the relationship.
Till Eberle: Anyway. It takes a little getting used to, so that they are now committed to being market leaders and leading all innovations as theirs. That may be true for the brand name, but not for the specific products, for the team behind them, or for the team riders or any other content that ultimately makes up a brand. But of course I can understand their play as well, I probably would have done it in their place just like that. I do not take that too personally. We are a small industry and the guys like Klaus Warkentin or Mike Raper mostly come from the Cabrinha, are okay, have experience and are sure to do well. Whether a copy-and-paste strategy is effective, I cannot judge. But sure, they have the brand name right now and somehow have to pretend they did what we used to do. So we decided that we should do our own thing. Duotone should not be a copy of North from the start, but we want to go our own ways and evolve. We try to re-position the brand on the emotional side, both in terms of brand values ​​and content. And if you look at our “language”, be it what we communicate about graphics or content or which team riders are with us, then that is quite successful.

Till Eberle, CEO Boards and More, on the island of Fehmarn, Germany

Last question about a current trend: Surf Wings – will that be the big new thing or is it a nice gimmick you like to sell?
Till Eberle: I cannot tell you.
But for “I cannot tell you” you have produced relatively many wings … .

Till Eberle: You might have to go back there. It’s a bit of a hassle to say who really got that idea moving, and it’s fair to say that Slingshot worked in that direction a few years ago. I like to give them the credit, but they shot down the project then. Before that, we had even played around with the idea for the SUP area, but that did not work. Then at some point we saw the Slingshot guys play around with it and Ken Winner, (Duotone kite designer) has put a lot of energy into the project in the last two years. At first, this was with us as a small, illegitimate child. Eventually, however, the thing was leaked and created an insane virality. That was about the end of January. Then we thought, “there’s no such thing as interest in it!” Suddenly, others approached us, such as Raphael Salles from F-One and asked us how we would assess the potential. What’s interesting: It’s a huge hype! We presented the Wing at the dealer meeting in Tenerife in April to see how exciting it is. From then on it went around. It developed a competition of the brands to claim who had the Wing Surfer first. Robby Naish embraced it incredibly fast. You also have to be grateful to Robby, because he has a huge reach, and if he does something that brings a lot of momentum throughout the story. He releases a video and the whole world talks about it. That was the case with stand-up paddling, just as with kiting. To set trends, Robby Naish is a power. Anyway, we currently have a lot of demand with our wings and lots of orders – partly also demand from directions that I say, since that has nothing to look for, for example, from commercial sports shops in Germany, where you would never have expected. I think they got it wrong because they hope it’s a toy for stand-up paddling. Maybe this was mistaken in the marketing of one or the other competitor over. Whether it will be the next big thing on which the wind sports community really jumps up, you have to see. Interestingly, we also have demand from the foil surf community. This is quite a big topic in Australia and America. It’s not a huge sport, it’s too technical for that, but I can imagine that in three to four years, around 50,000 Foil Wings will be sold each year.

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