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From ski slopes to pavements: How Covid-19 caused this snowboarding firm to switch biz models

Daphne and Alex at the ride side hq

When Singapore’s circuit breaker was announced in 2020, snowboarding company The Ride Side’s revenue hit zero overnight. With borders closed internationally, no one in Singapore was buying any gear.

There was no word on how the company’s founders Alex Hsu and Daphne Goh were going to “claw” any money back on travel cancellations.

Keeping our customers’ faith and trust was more important to us. We had to make refunds totalling six-figures to customers for trips that cannot be fulfilled as borders shut.

– Daphne Goh, co-founder of The Ride Side

Travel partners also could not provide any answer as to whether there was any chance of recovery for them. Worse still, their inventory was stocked with snowboarding gear worth well over six-figures.



Bringing snowboarding to Singapore

the ride side founders
The Ride Side’s founders, Alex Hsu and Daphne Goh / Image Credit: The Ride Side

Alex and Daphne launched The Ride Side four years ago to bring snowboarding to more Singaporeans, and providing access to the community became a core focus for them.

The duo had then set out to break the notion that snowboarding is an extreme sport reserved only for the affluent.

It started when Alex was going on snowboarding trips on his own. Soon, family and friends started approaching him on how to go about planning a snowboarding trip to Japan and this casual hobby of his quickly escalated into organising trips for 90 people over six weeks in 2015.

The Ride Side advanced camp in japan
Advanced Camp in Japan / Image Credit: The Ride Side

Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic gravely affected their snowboarding business.

Before the nation’s lockdown, The Ride Side had hired a new team. To keep their promise to their team, retrenchment or going on a hiatus were not options they wanted to consider. Alex and Daphne were then forced to hunker down and plan for the long term, even though there was no end in sight for COVID-19.

Hopes of returning to New Zealand’s ski slopes by July 2020 fizzled out with the lockdown extension and the rapid deterioration of global health situations did not help.

The company, which saw over 4,000 guests in the last four years were at their wits end.

Keeping the team together

Not expecting much, they explored ventures into lifestyle options from snow brands they represented: face masks and indoor balance boards.

With the support of the community, The Ride Side sold 2,000 masks and 200 balance boards.

Come August 2020, the pandemic situation worsened and it became clear to them that travel was not going to happen anytime soon. Still, Alex and Daphne held onto the hopes of returning to Japan’s slopes in December and did all they could to keep the business afloat.

The Ride Side started venturing into something that had always been on their minds, but never thoroughly explored. As a natural extension to snowboarding, The Ride Side branched out to join the skate community.

the ride side balance boards
Balance boards / Image Credit: The Ride Side

“We had to accelerate our retail and e-commerce development plans, and expand our product mix as quickly as possible,” said Daphne.

Alex and Daphne pushed forward with their plans to switch gears fast and build more partnerships.

“Through it all, we saw the community coming to lend their support at every turn of our journey. That is something we truly appreciate and probably have no words to describe how thankful we are, as a business in the digital age, to be able to garner such support.”

Two sides of the same coin

To Daphne and Alex, skateboarding and snowboarding are usually two sides of the same coin, depending on the season.

In winter, people snowboard; in summer, they skate. There is no distinction anywhere else.

To us, it’s not a pivot. Our core remains the same: providing accessibility to the community. We’ve broken the barrier for snowboarding. Now, we hope to contribute the same energy to other board sports.

– Daphne Goh, co-founder of The Ride Side
The Ride Side HQ Skate Demo Area
The Ride Side HQ Skate Demo Area / Image Credit: The Ride Side

They discovered that the community spirit in board sports was strong.

Initially, The Ride Side saw a healthy uptake in skateboarding and longboarding. They then started bringing in various boutique brands that were previously not available in Singapore.

The response was encouraging, as both beginners and seasoned skaters started patronising their stores.

Riding the surf-skate wave

Soon, The Ride Side turned their attention to surf-skating, which was still a niche sport in Singapore at the time.

They saw a gap in the market they wanted to fill: for the local surfing and snowboarding community, the travel ban meant people could not do what they love for quite a while.

“We felt that the similarity between the movements experienced while surf-skating versus surfing and snowboarding made it the perfect alternative, and the best remedy for those deprived of the sport they love so much,” said Daphne.

the ride side studio
The Ride Side HQ Skate Display / Image Credit: The Ride Side

The people closest to The Ride Side, from the snowboarding community, were among the first to try surf-skating.

Gradually, support from local surfers, wakeboarders, and wakesurfers started pouring in, and surf-skating quickly gained prominence in the board sports community.

When snowboarding, the sense of freedom you feel and the thrill you experience when making turns down the mountain is unrivalled and addictive. While irreplaceable, the turns you get on the surf-skate are probably the best alternative you will experience on land and are good enough to pacify their longing for the mountains.

– Daphne Goh, co-founder of The Ride Side

Eventually, they brought in more surf-skate brands to “fill the spectrum of surf-skate types and levels to suit everyone’s needs, from beginners to advanced riders.”

The Ride Side is now the official distributor in the region for the surf-skate brand YOW.

From surf-skates to lessons

Passionate surf-skate customers started forming close friendships and bonds, and the local surf-skate community grew.

In two months, The Ride Side had a community of over 300 surf-skaters meeting actively every week for surf-skate sessions at East Coast Park.

Overwhelming requests for surf-skate lessons finally pushed The Ride Side’s team to organise a surf-skate lesson programme.

The team sought help from the world’s best surf-skaters, one of whom includes Loskisessions from Spain, to help bring the best possible surf-skate programme to Singapore.

Currently, The Ride Side offers surf-skate lessons with a full programme from beginner-level introductory sessions, to weekly training sessions for advanced riders keen to further develop their techniques.

Surf Skate Lessons at The Ride Side
Surf Skate Lessons at The Ride Side / Image Credit: The Ride Side

Later in August, the team plans to launch a “Fundamentals of Skate” programme for newcomers to explore and experience different types of skateboards: trick decks, cruisers, longboards, and surf-skates.

They aim to help new customers understand the differences between the boards before making an informed decision in purchasing their first board.

The Ride Side said it sees very encouraging and positive support from members from all kinds of board sports.

The community “has always been brought together by a shared love for the freedom and individual expression the various facets represent,” shared Daphne, adding that they are happy to see friends from the various communities come together to support them.

Halfpipe: Singapore’s first skate bar and cafe

Halfpipe skate bar and cafe
Halfpipe skate bar and cafe / Image Credit: Halfpipe

The Ride Side also started Halfpipe — the first skate bar and cafe in Singapore — to bring people together through a shared love for skate, coffee and craft beers.

Skater or not, the team hopes for Halfpipe to be a place where discovery can be made, and bonds can be formed across different groups.

Halfpipe skate bar cafe
Halfpipe skate bar and cafe, exterior / Image Credit: Halfpipe

“We’ve met amazing people at Halfpipe, weekly regulars and new friends and it’s surprising how seemingly different people actually walk through our doors, and leave as new friends,” said Daphne.

“Navigating our way through the various Covid-19 measures while trying to build brand awareness for a new concept in Singapore has been challenging, to say the least. But we have a great support system and a team that’s committed to seeing it through with us.”

From negative sales to over seven figures in one year

The Ride Side went from negative sales when Covid-19 hit, to over seven figures in just one year. This was accomplished by the company’s quick decision in expanding to e-commerce and retail shops for skate equipment.

They gained over 3,000 new customers locally and regionally through their e-commerce business. What started as one store grew to two, coupled with their new bar and cafe Halfpipe.

A third store is also slated to open this September at Kallang Wave Mall — this will be the first flagship store for their new experiential retail strategy.

Preview of The Ride Side's third store at Kallang Wave Mall
Preview of The Ride Side’s third store at Kallang Wave Mall / Image Credit: The Ride Side

They also plan for a more intensive push towards global e-commerce, with a focus on developing better customer experience and operational logistics.

Their skate team expanded from just Alex and Daphne in January last year, to a core team of eight today. They have further plans to continue providing career opportunities to people in the board sports industry.

The founders of The Ride Side credit their success to the strong support from the community and family.

The Ride Side team in Japan
The Ride Side team in Japan / Image Credit: The Ride Side

“There were many instances when we wanted to give up, but the support and encouragement from family, close friends and the community we’ve built had helped us to push through and so our current success is as much theirs as it is ours,” said Daphne.

“Build a strong team with values and standards that align with yours. Because in tough times, they will be the ones with you, day in and out, problem solving and lending strength. We have an amazing team that believes in us, working tirelessly alongside us to shift gears, build up capabilities and take on new operations like champs.”

Supporting the local skate scene

For the first time in history, skateboarding was included as an Olympic sport.

“We see more parents bringing their kids to get skateboards in the last two weeks,” said Daphne. “However, I think it’s too early to know if this will give the sport the boost it needs, but we know that more businesses are looking to venture into this industry thanks to the Olympics.”

With the attention of more businesses, the skate community may be on the receiving end of more resources.

For now, Alex and Daphne feel that Singapore needs to ramp up its infrastructure in order for skateboarding to grow here. For example, more skate facilities, skate schools, shops, and perhaps more inclusion of skateboarding in school co-curricular activities (CCAs) would encourage more people to pick up the sport.

the ride side skate team
The Ride Side’s skate team at Ubi / Image Credit: The Ride Side

The Ride Side started their very own skateboarding team in May this year. They sponsored eight talented local skaters, aiming to support them through training, entering competitions, embarking on new skate projects, and gain more recognition through The Ride Side’s partner brands.

Although COVID-19 restrictions has dampened the plans they had in mind, they remain hopeful that training and community skate sessions can resume with the easing of measures.

Alex and Daphne also hope that through The Ride Side, they can help shine a spotlight on the talent that is already present in Singapore.

Ultimately, The Ride Side aims to break barriers and give everyone a chance to try board sports.

“Regionally, there isn’t a standalone e-commerce platform that offers the range of brands and products that we do, and certainly not at the prices we are offering,” said Daphne.

The firm wants to make the various board sports accessible and affordable to as many people as possible in the region, she added.

“From a snowboarding company providing access to people in Singapore in 2015, to growing regional snow tourism in three years, to present day: a new global action sports D2C e-commerce platform in 2021. It’s been a whirlwind of a journey, but we’re only getting started!”


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Featured Image Credit: The Ride Side

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