Hanging out ist "State of the Art", here you get our online interview with Becca and Will from Spark R&D. 10 Years of research and development paired with sparking moments - enjoy!
We had the chance to ask Becca and Will 20 questions about their development of Spark R&D. 10 got ansered by E-mail and 10 by our virtual interview.
Here we go:
1.Why did you start a Splitboard Binding Business - was it really just the thought - WoW splitboarding is great but it must be even more amazing with a proper binding for splitboarders?
Well yes actually, that’s the real origin story. I wanted better gear for splitboarding, but it just didn’t exist, which blew my mind. Combining the baseplate of the binding with the slider track and leaving out everything that wasn’t needed seemed like the way to go, and when I made a set it was awesome how much better the board rode being lower with a stiffer and lighter connection.
2. What do you personally think about Splitboarding Will / Becca?
Will: It’s my favorite sport, I’m as stoked as ever! I love getting out and going wherever we want to go, and chasing down the best snow we can find. I hope to be splitboarding as a very old man.
Becca: I actually grew up ski racing, and got really into backcountry touring when I moved to Montana when I was 18. I gave up all that ice in exchange for powder. I actually started splitboarding when we started Spark … before I could really even snowboard ;)
3. Isn`t it difficult to run Spark R&D together with your wife / husband?
No, actually it’s great. We make an amazing team and for the most part see things the same way. You need to trust the person you’re running a company with 100%, I don’t trust anyone in the world more than my wife. Like anything there are pros and cons, it can be pretty rough when we’re both stressed out about the same issues from work and we bring it home and just need someone to vent to but can’t use each other as an outlet.
4. Did you think about going international when choosing the name Spark R&D?
Nope, I hope it’s not too offensive or strange in other languages! At about the same time that I started the bindings I also started doing freelance mechanical engineering design work on the side of my day job. I did both of these under the same name – Spark R&D - the R&D stands for Research & Development. The design work funded the development and launch of the binding side of the company. As time went on and the binding business grew, we phased out the design work. We’ve been working 100% on bindings and accessories for the last five years. We just never re-branded to drop the R&D from Spark. It’s part of our history, so we’re pretty attached to it.
5. How do you deal with uncertainty in the industry?
There is no real way to deal with uncertainty, other than just staying grounded, paying attention, and taking chances. We try to be ourselves as much as possible, while listening to what customers want in their products. We also keep our production quantities pretty tight. Overproducing is something that is really tough on the snowboard industry as a whole.
6. How do you deal with warranty? Is it challenging internationally?
Our warranty specialist either works with the customer directly or with our retailers. We take pride in the great feedback we get on turning warranty orders around quickly and getting riders back on the snow. To keep things from being too slow and expensive internationally we have 10 warranty centers set up worldwide: https://www.sparkrandd.com/contact/warranty/. These dealers have a larger stockpile of spare parts and can address warranty orders faster and cheaper than we can from the US. This approach is working well for us.
7. Which are your major improvements if you compare the states of innovation - from the beginning until now?
Our original Ignition and Ignition II bindings had sandwich style baseplates with pins and weighed in around one kilogram. This sandwich was an upper and lower piece of sheet metal with plastic spacers separating them. These pieces were made in another machine shop and then we assembled them at Spark R&D. It was a good way for us to get started as it didn’t require much equipment, but they were expensive and took a long time to assemble. The next step was when we moved to the Fuse with a solid baseplate machined from billet aluminum. This required upgrading our CNC mill with one that cost about four times as much as our original machine. These new baseplates were stronger, lighter, and made in house. From there our next step was the Blaze binding. This was the first one that featured our own highback, which was lighter than the ones we were buying from Bent Metal, and had negative lean and booster strap slots. After that the biggest step we probably made was going to our original Tesla style bindings. These dropped the pins and moved to our snap ramps to lock the binding in ride and touring mode, and moved the climbing wires from the board to the bottom of the binding. After doing those for two years we moved to our T1 bindings which had one climbing wire that moved into two positions rather than two separate wires, and our Rip ‘N’ Flip highbacks with a fast forward lean adjuster that can quickly toggle between your forward lean position and a negative lean touring position. With this current architecture the binding weight is down to 681 grams and everything works better than the original. There’s a good page on our site that goes into more detail on these changes which you can check out at: https://www.sparkrandd.com/ten/.
8. How did the joint venture with Burton affect your own business?
Working with Burton has been great, and definitely mutually beneficial. At the beginning we established the relationship to get their top shelf straps and buckles onto our bindings. After a couple years of that they were interested in offering a splitboard binding to their dealers, originally distributing our Magneto binding and then moving to their Hitchhiker bindings. It helps us sell to a wider audience, and run our factory more year round. I’ve definitely learned a ton about snow business from working with them over the years. I’m very proud that Burton with its history and standing in the industry let our little company put their parts on our bindings.
9. How did you manage to meet the required quantities, or are you just very flexible in your production?
We have a very talented team at our factory that works very hard to get our production done on time. Production planning starts as soon as we have orders in hand and our whole season is planned out at the beginning. It also helps to have been at it for a long time, each year it gets easier as we improve our processes and organization.
10. What do you think about alternative materials like forged carbon or magnesium - are you investigating in that direction?
Generally, I’ve concentrated on making the best binding we can for the widest audience. Exotic materials are certainly exciting and can offer higher performance, but typically at a really high cost. There’s only so much time and money to put into advancements and we generally put that time into changes that will help the majority of our customers. If you look at companies using these materials, they are only offered on a small amount of the total product that they sell. All that said though we do get requests for bindings featuring some premium materials which we may implement when the time seems right.
Interview with Becca and Will:
You can find the complete video on our Youtube Channel.