Looking for top quality ski poles or SUP paddle?
Keep your stoke on hand with a pair of ski poles or a paddle from Grass Sticks!
To find out more behind how Andrew Beckler got its start and what’s in store for the future, Josh interviews Grass Sticks founder, Andrew Beckler
More about the episode...
Josh sits down with Grass Sticks founder Andrew Beckler. Grass Sticks was born with the intention to get people excited about their ski poles and SUP paddles. Before Andrew began Grass Sticks he noticed that people weren’t getting particularly excited about ski poles and he wanted to change that. Having been an extremely active member of the ski community, it was easy for him to prototype every chance he could and truly come up with an incredibly lightweight, and durable product that could perform on all levels. With their newest SUP paddle and their hand-over-fist growth in the past few years, we’re excited to see what turns Grass Sticks will take next!
Have an opinion? We want to hear it! Join the conversation and leave a comment, check out show notes, and get all the links mentioned in this episode below
- Check out Grass Sticks’ website
- Grab a pair of Grass Sticks ski poles or SUP paddle
- Follow Grass Sticks on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter
- More about why to choose bamboo
How did you get into the ski pole biz?
“It started with the ski poles. I wasn’t initially dead set on using bamboo but, as a long time skier, I've been a ski instructor for about six years, I’m familiar with the industry...what it comes down to is people don’t really get excited about ski poles...that is kind of the opportunity I saw there, in turning ski poles into something people could be excited about…”
What is your background in and what led you to start Grass Sticks?
“I think most of it has to come from my passion for outdoor sports. I graduated college in 2010 with a Physics degree and a degree in civil engineering as well and I didn’t got down that path at all. Graduated, about 2 days later I was in Alaska as a sea kayaking guide for a couple summers, I was a ski instructor at Steamboat…”
What made you settle down in Steamboat Springs?
“I grew up and went in college in Pennsylvania. My brother is two years younger than me but moved out to Steamboat Springs one year before me and I just followed him there…”
What about Steamboat captured you?
“There’s two different sectors to that. There’s the town and loving the town and with moving somewhere to ski so you have to love the mountain too. Compared to a lot of the other bigger resorts in Colorado, most of them are smack-dab in the middle of i70. They’re great towns, great places to live but, if you go out in the weekends you’re going to sit in a lift line…”
What was it like prototyping Grass Sticks into the product that you offer now?
“It was an adventure we broke a lot of bamboo, we broke a lot of parts. We had a lot of things just fall apart because we weren’t assembling things the right way. It was almost a full season until we got it right…”
Is there anything that surprised you about actually building your poles?
“I think it’s honestly how strong and durable they became...it surprised me how much you can actually put it through, how much I could crash without breaking a pair of poles…”
Did you have any mentors that helped you build Grass Sticks?
“On the manufacturing side it was mostly just us. There’s not too many people out there who do what we do. It was a lot of talking to people about the glues we were using or, our bamboo supplier...we really dug deep into every little aspect of it and talked to so many people...on the business side of things, in Steamboat there’s a lot of other businesses in here. We have a local business mentor in town and, there’s always people at all these other companies who we can reach out to and grab a beer with to talk business…”
How many people are involved with Grass Sticks?
“It is three of us in the winter. We have myself, which is handles a few different areas right now, we have a production manager and, an events manager. We all do other stuff aside from that but we are all full time in the Winter…”
At any point has anyone challenged you with starting Grass Sticks?
“I had, maybe a little push back from family for a few months at the most but, as soon as they realized I was doing what I wanted to be doing they couldn’t be happier...Like most people when you go to college, spend a lot of money on a degree, and don’t touch it there’s some pushback and shock there. But, in the end doing what I want to be doing and being happy about that, everybody is pretty happy with that now...”
What has the growth looked like since the beginning?
“The first season we probably sold 200 to 300 pairs of finished product poles. We did a lot of prototyping where we just sold to friends and, as we changed and upgraded things we just gave them new poles...The second year we did about 500, last season we did about 1,000, and we’re projecting around 1,500 this winter…”
What would you attribute your consistent growth to?
“I think there’s two things to that. Having a solid product that people are excited about is the biggest. We have a product that people love and we try to treat our customers the best way that we can. We answer the phone as much as possible, we help people out with picking their length and even picking what color they want…”
How have you structured your manufacturing?
“We build everything in house. We are not manufacturing our plastics and we are not growing our own bamboo. Our bamboo comes from Calcutta, India, that’s where the good stuff is, and our parts come from Europe. As we grow we hope to manufacture and design our own parts but, as you know that takes quite a bit of capital to get your own mold…all the building is done in our Steamboat Springs shop...”
What is your commitment to sustainability?
“Right now it’s a case by case basis. We have the advantage that we’re producing natural products, things that are very low energy to manufacture in the first place which is great. I’d say the biggest burden is that it has to ship from India…The nice part about bamboo compared to trees is that it grows incredibly fast. We’re using just a small 5ft piece that we get for the ski poles. That comes off a 30-40ft piece of Bamboo that only takes about 3-5 years to fully mature...”
What has been some of the hardest parts about starting Grass Sticks?
“I think a lot of the hard parts come from the ups and downs of starting your own business. Obviously when you’re starting out there’s not cash flowing out of the heavens...it was a bit of a change going back to being as broke as I was in college but, obviously there's a lot of rewards to that too…”
Did you raise any capital for Grass Sticks or was it all bootstrapped?
“All bootstrapped to start out. We will probably be getting a bank loan this season as long as we grow like we’re expecting to…”
Was there a learning curve to fully understand loans and what the best value would be for you?
“It’s still a learning process. Balancing the right amount to take out, making sure there are no penalties to paying back a long early...it was a huge learning process, I have never taken out a big loan like that…”
What is one of your biggest fears in regards to Grass Sticks?
“I think in general commitment is a hard thing whether it’s in a relationship or if you’re starting a business...right before I started Grass Sticks all within the same two weeks...I got a ski instructor job in Telluride, found a house which is an impossible thing to do in that little town, was set and ready to go then about a week before I committed to the lease I decided to start Grass Sticks instead…It’s a very slow starting thing breaking into the ski industry...it’s a commitment and it’s scary, but looking down the road as long as things are moving in the right direction, which they are, it will help me live the lifestyle I want...”
What have been some of the biggest mistakes that you’ve made since you started?
“One of the biggest things was that first winter when we started things out, we sold poles to people...I can’t stress enough that it would have been so much more helpful if we grew that much more slower, and had another season to continue to test things out. Because, when things do go wrong, and they will, you have to go ahead and fix it…”
What advice would you give someone that wanted to start a business?
“I think the biggest piece of advice that I received from some of our mentors is be confident. Be overly confident to people. Sound more confident about things than you actually may be. For an example instead of saying “we hope to change the ski industry” say “we ARE changing the ski industry”...a lot of simple word choice can make you sound a lot better when you’re talking to people about what you’re trying to do and it kind of falls back into the way you feel about what you’re doing…”
Where do you see Grass Sticks headed into the future?
“We just realized our SUP paddle last summer so I really hope for that to grow...Since we released that product in the early stages of the industry I think it’s got the possibility to become a bigger force than the ski poles are...I obviously want to see our reach grow within the ski market as well, it’s certainly headed in that direction now. Aside from that hopefully we can launch some more products in the future…”
How much do you think your success has to do with luck vs skill?
“I think the product is a huge part of it...As far as luck goes I think we set ourselves up to be in a good place, but I can’t think of anything to huge. That could be setting ourselves up for success or that could be plain luck. Things have been happening for us in Steamboat Springs and I think that really helps things snowball because of that great local market we have…Our first big boost was winning the local entrepreneurship competition that the local college puts on in conjunction with the city. We too first place in that...Things have been certainly falling into place and I think it’s a bit of a combination of the two...”
What is one of the best parts about running Grass Sticks?
“I think it’s great that I get to continue to do what I want. I went from skiing about 100 days a year to skiing about 70 so it’s awesome that I can still make that happen...It's just great to be working in the industry that I play in as well…”