New K2 CEO De Rocco talks rocker, growth, global strategy

Anthony De Rocco, the new president and chief executive officer of K2 Sports, talks to SNEWS about market share, global growth strategies, and just how much rocker technology is changing the snowsports market right now.
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The breaking news out of K2 Sports in Seattle on Aug. 22, 2011, was that Anthony De Rocco would be taking over as president and chief executive officer of the brand on Sept. 1, while current president and CEO Robert Marcovitch would assume the same role with The Coleman Company. Both brands are part of the publically traded Jarden Corporation’s Outdoor Solutions group.

In a statement announcing the move, Jarden CEO James Lillie said, “(Anthony’s) industry knowledge is unsurpassed and his long-term contributions to the success of K2 Sports and the winter sports and outdoor recreation markets make him a natural fit to continue K2’s impressive growth trend. Anthony has the unique ability to be product, market, retailer and end consumer focused. He has used those skills to help drive the performance of K2 Sports.”

De Rocco joined K2 in 1990 as a design engineer, and most recently served as the executive vice president of global brand and product development. He has also held the title of vice president of winter sports product development and vice president of global marketing. A dedicated skier, passionate traveler, and certified product development geek, De Rocco now holds the reins to the biggest name in U.S. skiing. As K2 moves toward celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2012, he took a few moments on the phone to tell SNEWS just where he expects to take the brand from here.

SNEWS: Congratulations, Anthony. You’ve certainly been part of an incredible run for K2 over the last few years. What are your immediate goals? 

De Rocco: The immediate goal for all of the brands in K2 Sports is to be in the top three in every market that we play in. If you look at the two biggest markets for ski and snowboard, in Europe and the U.S., there are places where we are accomplishing that, and places where despite some dramatic growth we still see opportunities to grow. In the kind of industry that we are working in right now, the only way to really achieve growth is to take market share.

How do we do that? Hopefully we continue to have great product innovation where we are creating trends, while also achieving the kind of operational excellence that drives innovation and continues servicing our customers. In the last 10 years, we have done a lot, from acquiring Line or starting Full Tilt to moving so strongly into snowshoes. Going forward we have to keep our eyes open for opportunities in other categories, or in looking at other brands that might make sense from an acquisitions angle.

SNEWS: Despite the continuing economic turmoil, last year was a record-breaker in the U.S. in terms of skier visits and retail sales. Do you think this is the new norm, or did all of the pent-up demand just come together at the right time with all of the snow? 

De Rocco: I think it speaks to the fact that skiing and snowboarding are still such great sports, and sports that the whole family can do together. My experience in terms of family events is that there are not a lot of other sports you can actually do with your kids, or that people look at and think of as a great family activity. Going on ski and snowboard vacations is something people look forward to doing with their family and friends, and despite the last few years having been tough for the U.S. economy, I think you can still count on the importance of people wanting to spend time with their families.

Hopefully this is not the high point. We still have to figure out how to get more diverse people into the sport, and encourage more people to enter the sport, because once we get them out on the snow, it usually leads to addiction. I like to think we can get more people addicted to the snow. 

SNEWS: It’s hard to imagine an explosion in technology like what’s occurred in skiing and snowboarding with wider boards and rocker in the past 10 years. Do you think those leaps in technology are what will keep driving sales?

De Rocco: There’s no question the technology in the sport has exploded, from wider widths to rocker. And when you talk about rocker, you have to talk about fat skis, too. It’s something we’ve certainly committed to, because we think it improves the sport for every level of skier and snowboarder. It’s a technological innovation that expands performance, but also makes it easier, which is why you’re seeing rocker in everything from entry-level skis to the World Cup right now. 

A lot of people don’t want to hear about how it makes the sport easier, because those progressions in accomplishment are what keeps it interesting or they like being elitist, but it really opens up the opportunities for skiers of every level. Entry-level skiers can progress faster, while the wider widths make it easier to go all over the mountain, and ski powder and crud, and there’s been a lot of excitement from that standpoint. Our commitment to the technology speaks to K2’s focus to being on the front of that trend, and that commitment is one of the reasons we continue to see growth in the U.S. and abroad.

SNEWS: So what’s your strategy as CEO. Is it maintaining more of the same, or is there a particular stamp on the brand you think you can add for yourself?

De Rocco: It can never just be more of the same--you always have to look to the left and the right to figure out the next angle. You have to be ready to discover what the next wow factor is, whether it’s from something organic to what you’re already doing, or it’s outside of your comfort zone. You have be on the look out for the cutting edge of trends, the new categories of excitement, and the great companies that can ultimately fit into the development of where you want to go. I think you will see some fun things come out of K2 in the next couple years. There will be some things that will turn some people’s heads, and you’ll see us staying focused on adding fun to what we do. My goal is to keep this company evolving. I’m incredibly excited about the challenge. It’s incredible timing for me personally, and I can’t wait to lead K2 into the future.

--Peter Kray

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