It’s 3 a.m. and professional skier Eric “Hoji" Hjorleifson stands over the blueprint he’s sketching for a ski boot lever. An overhead lamp illuminates blizzard conditions through the tiny windows of the 12- by 24-foot basement-level workshop—but Hoji hasn’t skied for four weeks and doesn’t plan to go tomorrow. Before nightfall, he strolled to a few more steelworkers’ shops in Bad Häring, Austria, and discovered several obscure bolts and screws. He’s on the verge of finishing the Frankenstein boot that he’s been doggedly hammering out for three years.
Hoji is as elusive as he is credible. At 35 years old, he is one of the greatest yet little-known big-mountain skiers of all time, reveals Hoji, a documentary-style ski film that premiered last week (get the full tour dates here). As the movie spotlights, Hoji is also a fanatic tinkerer. Since childhood, his ingenuity has manifested from complex Lego creations—like multi-story ski lifts—to improving friend’s ski bindings, and now, his own patented invention: Dyanfit’s Hoji Pro Tour ski boot, one of this winter’s most revolutionary product designs.
Retailers received the boot September 1—and they’re already calling in more orders.
“To date, the Hoji boot is tracking to be the most successful, sought-after piece of gear that Dynafit has debuted since the subsidiary launched in North America in 2007—and, over that decade, the brand has launched other award-winning products like the Beast binding and Vulcan boot,” says Eric Henderson, Meteorite PR. “We’re seeing huge reorders. To have retailers (even more than two) reordering early to get backstock is a primary goal for any product campaign,” he says.
A unique marketing campaign
The sales spike hinges on a multi-pronged marketing strategy, which includes sharing a succinct story—of a product and film—across platforms. Hoji may ultimately garnish the most attention for the boot:
“As people look up the “Hoji” film and hashtag on Instagram and online, images of the boot come up. It will be interesting case study to see how it impacts sales,” Henderson says, who relies on a “rule of fives” to build product trust and brand recognition, which ultimately drives sales: Once a consumer sees a product twice online and in print, and on social media, they are more likely to purchase, he explains. More than 500 audience members attended this week’s film premiere including 42 media members.
“Every time we talk about the Hoji boot, film, or athlete, we see spike of social engagement from the overarching story,” says Ross Herr, Dynafit and Wild Country Sales Manager. Dynafit and Arc’teryx (two of Hoji’s main sponsors) co-funded the film, which celebrates Hoji’s career. The hope, Herr explains, is for the film to leave an impression on consumers about the authentic origin of the Hoji boot—and the hardcore athlete who designed it—which will help quicken product sales on the shop floor.
“It’s a huge opportunity to have the athlete, product, brand, and marketing all firing in one cohesive manner—that happenstance doesn’t come along very often,” says Herr. It’s par for the course that professional athletes provide product feedback to the designers of their sponsors. It’s near impossible to find a skier with a Powder Awards Best Line who sacrifices months on skis to hand-build a self-funded product design.
How a revolutionary boot was born
With no engineering background, Hoji sought the guidance of Fritz Barthel: inventor of Dynafit’s first-ever ski tour bindings, which revolutionized the industry, 38 years ago. The two met on a skin track at a Dynafit meeting in Switzerland in February 2014. Barthel recognized Hoji’s spark and invited the skier to his home workshop in Austria. The design consultant taught his protégé about materials and mechanical properties, and skills like milling, grinding, cutting, and sketching. Four ski boot iterations later—and after hundreds of hours of aggressive product testing—Hoji’s makeshift prototype finally impressed Dynafit’s boot designers. In 2017, the brand invested in a mold.
“The marketing that was laid out from the European team and implemented to the U.S. market was directly parallel of the sales cycle of sell-in to sell-through. Dynafit has not capitalized on other product launches with the same clear, targeted strategy as done with this boot,” explains Henderson.
By January 2018, Dynafit had about 20 pairs of boots in the hands of media and offered a limited edition pre-sale of the boot: 50 direct-to-consumer sales via Backcountry.com and another 50 sold to the brand’s network of retailers, guides, and athletes. By the time the boot officially launched this fall, product endorsements, testimonials, and a teaser video were already live.
“In January, we received tons of good early feedback from our retail partners about the boot—they [are] stoked. We also asked for critical feedback and made a lot of changes before delivering the boot to retailers September 1—an impressive feat for us,” Herr says.
To leverage audience engagement across the film and boot, Hoji’s brand partners collaborated to coordinate events—Dynafit retailers can host film nights—and a well-coordinated social media campaign: Via an eight-step process on social media, folks can win a Hoji setup with boots, bindings, and skis.
“The film has been instrumental to the whole marketing strategy—that was the consumer piece that we needed to complete the cycle,” says Henderson. Dynafit used the film debut to invite ten key North American retail partners to a private Q&A with Hoji. Learning about the boot from its creator will help hone sales strategy, Herr explains. Dynafit’s intent was also for their retailers to network and exchange ideas—for the first time, ever—and to pitch them a long-term plan regarding the Hoji product line (details have not been shared at print).
Clearly, Barthel and Hoji aren’t done. “We’re working on and imaging some ideas…we’ll need to submerge ourselves in the dungeon,” says Barthel. Whatever these two creators have up their sleeves, Dynafit will be ready, and, hopefully, consumer trust is well-established. By then, more people will definitely know the name Hoji.