Magazine Feature / People

Students design ‘cool looking’ ski poles

In a writing class during his freshman year at DU, Colin Wayne was asked to create a brochure for a new product. A competitive skier who spent every winter working in ski shops, he designed a brochure for some “cool looking” ski poles. His twin brother, Ben Wayne, meanwhile, was attending Gonzaga and heard about a business plan competition in which the winner would get $10,000.

The brothers, along with their friend, Patrick Wessels, decided to enter Colin’s idea.

“We wrote a business plan for it, which was quite horrible; we were freshmen,” Colin says.

They didn’t win and they doubt they even came close with their “crappy” plan, Ben says, but they still thought they had a good idea. They started looking for a manufacturer and graphic artist that summer. By his sophomore year, Colin was having pole samples delivered to his dorm room in Nelson Hall. That December, Sick Stickz Ski Poles received its first order — shipped to their parents’ house.

“All we had was pretty much a website and inventory,” Colin Wayne says. “We didn’t know how to sell to shops or the industry timeline.”

What they did have was a strong aluminum ski pole with a Colorado state flag and the novelty of young identical-twin skiers going shop-to-shop to sell their made-in-Colorado creation. East-coast transplants themselves, the Waynes knew they could target proud Colorado natives and tourists who returned to their icy eastern slopes with a souvenir that showed they’d conquered the most challenging Western terrain.

Their first sale was 15 poles to the Eskimo Ski & Board Shop — a Colorado institution. Three years later, their poles are in nearly 20 shops in Colorado, California and Washington. This year, they showed their poles at the SnowSports Industries America (SIA) trade show for the first time.

“That put us on the map,” Colin says. “Retailers look at you different. It makes you a lot more legit, able to boost sales, get accounts, show retailers that we’re here.”

The brothers are ramping up to increase production by 400 percent.

Despite being identical — so much that they received the same scores in math and writing on the SAT — they have different strengths and play different roles in the company. Ben transferred to DU around the time the company was getting off the ground during their sophomore year. A finance major, Ben is the strategic thinker who looks at costs and how to implement plans.

Colin — the marketing major — has been the innovator and salesman. Get him talking about ski poles and he won’t stop.

“We are skier driven,” he says. “Everyone involved is a skier. Our target market is people we call new school skiers, terrain park skiers, free skiers, big mountain and backcountry — skiers pushing the limits of the sport.”

“Colin has boundless energy, which is vital for a young entrepreneur, or any entrepreneur in general,” says Kevin Archer, an adjunct professor of international political economy at DU’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies. Archer also owns a company called the Institute for Global Education. He operates a study-abroad program in Vienna, Austria, which is where he met Colin Wayne in fall 2008.

“We had about a 12-hour train ride, and he explained the dynamics and asked me questions about running a business overseas. We became fast friends,” Archer says. “He knows the ski industry as well as anyone in it, and he saw a niche coming out of high school for a ski pole designed for the free skiing crowd: Graphics mattered and attitude was everything.”

Both brothers are seniors. Colin is planning to start the one-year MBA program this fall, and Ben is still deciding between that or an entry-level job in the financial services industry.

The next step for Sick Stickz, Ben says, is conquering Colorado, then branching into Utah and out east. They’re already well on their way between orders from Christy Sports, and Ben says it looks like an order from Colorado Ski and Golf is on its way.

They attribute their growth to the SIA show and the crazy hours they put in getting ready for it. They were going to school full time and working another 40 hours each week setting up meetings with retailers, finishing poles, managing last-minute crises with samples, creating promotional materials, and making trips to Home Depot to construct a ski pole holder.

“It’s pretty phenomenal how far they’ve come so quickly,” Archer says. “It’s really unique and remarkable for a university student. In fact, I don’t know of any other university students in my tenure at two universities that have started a manufacturing firm.”


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