Thomas Brierton and college buddy Eirik Nordgard are slowly introducing their hand-crafted Natural Logs to skateboarders around the world. For this edition of Making It, Thomas talked with us about the surprising role social media has played in his company’s distribution plans, the intricate factors that contribute to a board’s performance, and what it’s like to get a niche lifestyle brand off the ground.
How long have you been hand making skateboards? Are you doing this full time?
We’ve been making boards a little over a year and a half now. Establishing the company is a full time job, but the demand to make boards is not yet full time. When we are not making boards, we focus on board development and brand marketing.
You just rolled out a Kickstarter campaign. How has the process been so far? What is your fundraising goal?
Our Kickstarter project has been a fun and challenging process so far. We’ve put a lot of effort into making the video and into developing cool gifts for our backers. We are very proud of our products, and our Kickstarter video is our chance to show everyone how passionate we are about making skateboards. Our fundraising goal is $15,000. With this financial backing, we will be able to start a marketing campaign and buy tools that will help us produce more efficiently. We really hope that Kickstarter will help us take our business to the next level. You can check out and donate to our project at http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/853817344/natural-log-skateboards
How did you get the skate shops in Canada and Norway to start carrying your boards? What are you plans to get into more stores? Will stores be the main distribution channel, or will you be selling online also?
Getting into stores has come through a combination of social media marketing and industry connections. We picked up our Canadian store, The Strom Surf Shop in Tofino, through Instagram. We’ve established retailers in Southern California by driving store to store and showing our boards in person. Our boards were placed throughout stores in Norway by a Norwegian distributor, whom which we knew through personal connections.
We hope to get into more stores by establishing a name for our brand, building a solid product line, and then personally contacting stores to introduce them to our products. We would like our main distribution channel to be through our online store since our profit margins are greater, but we also find importance in being in stores so people can see and feel the quality of our boards in person.
We’re noticing a lot of shapers, from surf to skate, are going with vintage styles. What is it about those shapes that make them fun to work with? Are you interested in exploring never-been-done-before shapes?
The classic, clean lines of the vintage designs are very appealing to us. They give us room to play with the natural beauty of wood and really focus on the craft of making skateboards. Exploring never been-done-before shapes is not a priority for us at the moment, although we never know where our creativity will take us. We are more interested in exploring new materials and board building techniques.
What is your favorite wood to work with?
Tough question. We really like to work with a variety of woods for different purposes. Structurally, a combination of bamboo and maple yields a really nice result in terms of flex and board response; however, working with the same type of grain over and over gets a little repetitive. It’s really exciting to make veneers out of salvaged wood, or even unique hardwoods, and then combine them with a bamboo/maple hybrid core. We’ve been experimenting with recycled oak from salvaged barns dating back to the early 1800’s. These boards are really special since each nail hole and quarter-sawn mark makes every board exclusive, and the uniqueness keeps the board building process interesting.
When you’re testing out your boards, what are you looking for them to do, besides give a smooth, fun ride?
Our goal in making skateboards is to create a product that leaves the customer satisfied. Most people demand a smooth and fun-riding skateboard, so our goal is to make a board that not only looks great, but also is smooth and fun to ride. However, our testing process is much more intricate than simply looking for a smooth ride. There are a lot of factors that contribute to the overall performance of a skateboard, such as board thickness, weight, material combinations, and the shape of the board. We experiment with different materials; for example, a bamboo/tri-axial fiberglass hybrid board has a snappier flex than a solid bamboo board. Once we decide which materials to use, our next step is determining the appropriate board thickness. Finding the perfect thickness is very important for the flex and overall ride of the board; we usually test many different thicknesses before we are satisfied. These are just some of the things we look for when testing our boards.
We see that an apparel line is also in your company’s future. Those leather patches with the California state flag stamp look rad. Is that line purely a creative decision, or are there business reasons for doing both boards and clothes?
An apparel line is definitely in our near future. We are going to debut our apparel line in our Kickstarter project. Our line includes handmade Horween leather wallets, Snapback hats, and organic T-shirts made in Los Angeles. Our clothes share many of the same attributes as our boards, such as quality materials, a clean design, and a passion for making the best products we can. The main business reason for incorporating apparel into our brand is to create a more complete brand with a wide range of products to offer to our supporters. Not everyone needs or can afford a new skateboard, but most people can appreciate a quality wallet or t-shirt.
When will you be able to kick back on your board and say – “We’ve made it” – what will success look like for you?
Success for us will be when we are able to financially support ourselves from doing what we love. Right now, we have to make certain sacrifices to establish the business and get the ball rolling. We look forward to the day when we have a legit shop, employees, a recognized brand, and a steady outflow of products. We want to make board building our careers, so getting by financially from pursuing our passion is our vision of success, and kicking back on our boards is just part of the job.
For more on Natural Log Skateboards, check out their website at http://www.naturallogskate.com/