John Zimmerman better known amongst his Ocean Rodeo (OR) crew as 'JohnZ' has been instrumental in developing OR for just over 5 years now. Trained as a middle school teacher and established as a computer systems tech in his self-started company, you might be wondering how the heck he ended up at Ocean Rodeo? Possibly the fear of kids? Possibly personality clashes with PCs or just the possibility of realizing more for his life.
JohnZ always knew that he loved the West Coast and the ocean around Vancouver Island, BC - he just needed to find the right combination of outdoor activity and occupation to allow him to live his dream.
The computer company he began during school was in his words “a means to an end”. It kept him employed in the place he wanted to be - Victoria - enjoying the West Coast outdoor life. But he felt his work didn't reflect the lifestyle he wanted or the place he chose to live. So he sold up his computer company and took a trip - the inevitable one everyone should take at some stage in life.
Through the soul searching of a long road trip down to Mexico's Baja Peninsula with his dog and his van, John's quest began. The ski industry was where he thought he was going, but in 2003 after some looking around, a job came up with Ocean Rodeo. John laughs as he remembers how he applied and "didn't actually get the job". He wisely kept in contact with Richard Myerscough, the owner of OR and with some persistence, good timing and his sales/customer service experience he was offered the job a little later. Where's the kiting still?
John first witnessed kiting on Vancouver Island around 2000 with the first guys out there kiting being Richard Myerscough, Ross Harrington (the Designer for OR) and Mark Vincent. This definitely caught his interest but by his own admittance John told me that he didn't know what a chicken loop was when he first arrived at OR in 2003.
Things have come a long way since then and you'll see him out at many locations around Victoria, Vancouver Island, San Fransisco, La Ventana, the UK, Spain - Europe ... you get the picture. Johns 'job' managing his existing customers and creating new business relationships means John does get to travel to great places to meet people, make business contacts and kite. All year, around the world kiting is the norm not the exception in his case.
The competitiveness of the kiteboarding market is one that can make or break companies and I wanted to find out John and OR's approach to the market. Not choosing to compete with the large marketing budgets of some brands, John stressed the innovation, durability and quality of the Ocean Rodeo product line being the reputation OR stands by. 'Performance over hype' is how OR sums this up. It's this dedication and backing of the products by all at Ocean Rodeo that keeps the dealers and crew of riders happy and committed to the brand.
Now that Ocean Rodeo has established itself, gained traction in the North American market and is moving into the European one, John openly admits that it was 'a slog' from 2004 when he took over the sales and marketing of the OR brand.
Getting product into dealers shops was difficult. Why would shop owners take OR products when nobody has asked about them? This was was the general resistance John received from shop owners and dealers while getting Ocean Rodeo into the market.
John explains that OR's solution to this has been by taking a 'boot from the ground up' approach. And it's this marketing approach that's been a 'really positive move for OR'... Loosely termed 'the Crew', OR has developed a close following of riders. Essentially 'the Crew' consists of a family of worldwide riders that OR embraces and rewards in various ways including with a forum and 'OR crew events'. These crew events and the word of mouth they stimulate has allowed OR to rely on its riders to really showcase the solid vibe and trust of the OR products. John openly acknowledges his respect for the other companies out there, but the word of mouth and example set by OR's crew of riders shows others that OR is a trusted company with great products.
JohnZ(left) and some of 'the crew' of OR riders
An interesting comment that John and I discussed, is that of 'Succeeding internationally being easier than succeeding in your own back yard'. This seems true to some extent just across on mainland BC in the city of Vancouver and Squamish - a small but prominent area of kiteboarding BC that just hasn't embraced OR. There is an obvious void of OR kites in this small geographical area - a short ferry ride from Ocean Rodeo's Headquarters on Vancouver Island. But head down to the Gorge, San Fran and you'll find plenty more OR kites. Sure its an international market, and no doubt there are factors, but in a small local market some 'pride' has seemingly caused resentment to the success of an Island brand somewhere along the way. As an outside observer in this area, it seems something may have stained the stoke that drives Canadian pride or what have I missed here...?
John has established himself and OR in a somewhat fickle kiteboarding market. He meets and kites with a great crew of kiters and has been instrumental in the growth of OR. He's amazed by the phenomenal innovation of Ross Harrington, OR's very experienced and somewhat unconventional designer who John calls "a gem in terms of the industry". The respect John has for what Ross brings to the table as a designer is very evident in what he tells me.
Having his boss, Richard Myercough, not only in the forefront of the kiteboarding market, but full throttle in the Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP) scene has also been an exciting and interesting one...From Richard's SUP (almost crazy) driven world, a new line as the neoprene accessories and revolutionary surf and kiteboarding specific drysuits have evolved. "If Richard had his way we'd be 50% SUP company", keeping his boss's 'eyes on the prize' as it were, sounds like it has been trying at times!
Over the past 5 years it looks like John has had everything he could have imagined thrown at him and some things he couldn't have. If you're thinking of a career change or starting something in the kiteboarding industry – take a page from JohnZ's book. Take a trip. Mexico is nice... but watch out for the tequila with the worm – cause you might just end up where you want to be!
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