By selling its Switch Kites brand direct to consumers online, Inverno Trading has disrupted the industry’s traditional distributor/retailer model. And it’s gained legions of fans in the process.
Inverno Trading, a Kiwi kite surfing company that first took flight in June 2011, is the only kite surfing brand to sell directly to consumers via its online shop. Its business model was about removing the middle-men. The trouble is that those middle-men—and the brands they sold—had earned the trust of consumers and, unsurprisingly, a new entrant telling consumers that its products were as good as the very best AND were half the price was met with cynicism.
Gaining credibility was the biggest challenge for the company. And, up against big spending competitors—and without a retail presence—it probably always will be.
The best way to confound the cynics was with the product itself. So it contracted a world-famous aeronautics engineer based in San Francisco to design exclusively for the company and then incorporated his personal brand and credibility to alleviate concerns. It also sponsored New Zealand’s best kite surfer, Marc Jacobs, and put him on the professional kite boarding world tour (he was previously unranked, but is now #2). And while many of the global brands are all white sand and bikinis, Switch wanted to promote its rebellious, ‘pro-choice’ streak so it created more of a youthful, cheeky, “skate park” vibe.
Instead of stores, Switch relied on a team of riders/sales advocates located at all the world’s major kite surfing locations who can be contacted via the website to arrange a meeting. This concept was tested in New Zealand and Australia several years prior to the creation of the company. And it worked, with the word of mouth on the beach backing up the story experienced online, or vice versa.
Switch relied exclusively on online marketing, with an emphasis on video content, social media engagement and consumer tracking. And it also recently developed ‘Switch Labs’, online videos that show its gear being tested to destruction.
The goal was to create a globally recognised brand synonymous with rebellion, freedom and performance. It wanted active online commentary and debate. The response from the distributor/retail system was aggressive and it worked to validate the challenger model in the minds of customers. Supporters and detractors of the brand duked it out on social media forums all around the world, every day, and many customers went in to bat for the brand against the big boys.
A number of nationalities have created Facebook sites for Switch Kite surfers in their respective countries; the Switch Facebook page now has the most friends of any kite surfing company in the world; and the rider team has grown from 80 in June 2011 to over 500 now.
It is closing in on 4,000 registered customers in 65 countries (70 percent of its market is in Europe) and it averaged 23 new customers a week in 2013, with 53 percent of sales repeat customers. It also sold a heap of new branded clothing, showing the power of the brand.
Clients regularly create and post Switch video online, some have had their cars custom stickered with Switch signage, a few spent their own money getting flags and signs made to put on the beach, and one team rider was even talking about getting a Switch tattoo. All prime examples of the strong consumer advocacy among the global ‘Switch Tribe’.