Come along the journey how a splitboarders idea became the ignition spark to blaze the trail for a solid growth local company, just to cite some of Spark's binding's names.
Bozeman, Mont. – Spark R&D, the splitboard binding manufacturer, based in Bozeman, Montana has finalized the purchase of the industrial building it has been working out of for the past five years. The purchase comes as the company celebrates its tenth year making splitboard bindings.
That's how the press release starts with and a decade deep is more than enough reason to take a look back to the beginnings. Spark's website also comes with a dedicated overview of their 10 years of innovation in splitboard bindings. Visit them further down and take a look to our video with Will presenting the new products for winter 2016/17, too.
But let's get back to the press release as it shortly sums up what's behind Spark R&D today and how they got there. Of course they had their challenges as well, but they grew from the experiences and now they are able to design, 3D scan, 3D print, CNC machine, CNC turn, bend, punch, cut, tumble, anodize, injection mold, print, laser engrave, assemble, inspect, test, package and ship all in-house in Bozeman Montana.
“It’s something we have been thinking about for a couple of years,” explains Will Ritter, Owner and Chief Designer at Spark R&D.“
We have been growing steadily, buying more machines, manufacturing more parts in-house, and hiring more people. We were literally out of space for people to work and places to store product.”
Spark R&D finalized the purchase in March, and were able to occupy the entire building on Sept 1. This expansion will mark the third major move in the past ten years. The company upgraded from a 1,500 square foot shop to a 4,000 square foot space in 2011, then rented an additional 4,000 square feet in 2013. With the latest purchase, Spark R&D will have 12,000 square feet of office, warehouse, and shop space.
This steady growth has paralleled a worldwide industry trend with more people heading out into the backcountry each season. Spark R&D is well known in splitboarding and backcountry circles, but like many companies in niche industries, they come from humble beginnings. In 2006, Will was working as a professional engineer and designing bindings in his free time. “I didn’t actually set out to start a company,” says Ritter. “Splitboarding was something that I really enjoyed, but the whole set-up was heavy, flexy, and tall. Being an engineer, I couldn’t help myself. I thought, there has to be a better way to do this. So, I designed a binding and prototyped it. I had just planned on riding it myself but I showed it to a couple of people – and they were really stoked.”
As momentum grew and word spread among splitboarders that there would soon be a splitboard specific binding on the market – Will took the plunge and dedicated himself to Spark R&D full-time. He had been a regular on the splitboard.com discussion forum and this is where he took his first preorders.
In 2008, with the company growing, Will’s wife Becca Ritter (now Spark R&D’s CFO and Co-Owner), jumped on board on a more official basis to help stabilize the company’s sales and finances. “It got very real, very fast,” says Becca. “I went from answering the phone and assembling crampons to taking dealer pre-orders and writing bank loan proposals. It was an exciting time.”
The company has continued to grow and now has 35 employees. They have slowly, but purposefully, moved all of its manufacturing in-house. From their shop in Bozeman they now have the capacity to design, CNC machine, bend, anodize, print, injection mold, laser engrave, assemble, and ship all of their bindings and accessories.
“We take a lot of pride in our in-house manufacturing at a time when a lot of companies are outsourcing” explains Will.“ Not only can we employ people in our community, but it allows us to really focus on product quality control and research and development. We can take ideas from concept to prototype in a matter of days and sometimes hours. It used to take months when we had to wait for overseas suppliers.”
Most recently, Spark R&D installed a plastic injection molding machine in the shop. For the 16/17 season they will be producing all of their plastics in-house, from pucks and highbacks to strap ladders and adjusters.
The building purchase and the increased capacity it will provide, comes at the perfect time as they prepare to ship their 16/17 orders and further expand their in-house manufacturing program.
Since starting with our splitboard journal nearly half a decade back, we are always happy to meet Will at the Ispo trade show in Munich showing us the latest developments.
Visit Spark at splitboarding.eu and their "A Decade Deep!" page below for the 10 years retrospect.