Monument: Creating Creative Boards
It’s no secret: snowy weather seldom comes to the Metropolitan Washington area until winter is halfway over. As soon as the first flake hits the ground, two things happen: beltway drivers get anxious, and snow lovers of all ages get ready, excited to have some fun in the fresh powder.
The passion snowboarders bring extends far beyond the sport itself, or even the gleaming mountains they flock to every winter: as is true in similar sports such as skiing and surfing, for many adherents, loyalty to their brand of board is fierce.
Equally fierce, if not more so, is the competition for this business. Enter Monument Snowboards, a DC area company that for ten years has been crafting some of the slickest, most distinctive boards available.
The story of Monument Snowboards starts not with a dream, but with a theft. Landing in Steamboat, Colo. in 1998, Monument founder Dave Tran found himself in a unfortunate (if all too common) predicament: relieved of his board, his boots, and all the rest of gear. Scrambling to find replacements, he noticed two things: first, that in terms of style, the selection of boards was stale to the point of predictability; second, that many of the snowboard brands were going out of business. He had to buy one of their boards to save the trip, but he came off the mountain with something much more valuable: the idea that would become MNMNT.
Four years later, with seed money saved from waiting tables at legendary Adams Morgan dive bar Millie and Al’s, a dedicated army of local artists whom he knew personally, and lessons learned from observing the ebbs and flows of the industry, Tran purchased what would soon become Monument’s first batch of snowboards.
From the very beginning, Monument Snowboards’ focus was on the art. According to Tran, “Where other brands’ art is bastardized and corporate, our approach is more artist-driven and organic. We make boards that are a work of art – something you could hang on a wall, just as soon as you would ride down a mountain.”
Here’s the thing: at first glance, there’s no way to tell Monument boards from the rest of the pack.
Despite the rise of identity-based marketing and the ever-growing presence of QR codes and Twitter handles, Monument Snowboards takes a massive risk each time they sell a board: Out of respect for the artists who design the boards, Monument does not place a logo, a slogan, or Monument branding of any sort on the board. Tran acknowledges this choice has its consequences, and embraces a certain level of what he calls “creative uncertainty” when working with artists. This simple gesture of respect has proven well worth the risk, though: according to Tran, one thing the artists love “is the freedom to do the work they love, purely and without interference.”
Gorgeous artwork is Monument’s hallmark, but make no mistake: the craftsmanship and ride of Monument Snowboards is top-notch, and thanks to his years of experience both riding and producing snowboards, Tran has a finely-tuned understanding of the nuances of sourcing his boards. “Quality control is crucial,” he explains, “sometimes you’ll get better boards from China, and sometimes they’re making better boards in California.”
Considering the risks they take on their boards at speeds that top 50 miles per hour, it’s no wonder experienced snowboarders have high demands and, in Tran’s words, “extremely specific” preferences. But both novices unfamiliar with terms like flex, camber, sidecut radius, and stance – as well as experts who know these variations all too well – know that while snowboards are meant to be ridden, a board’s aesthetics make a strong visual statement. These are MNMNT’s core customers: riders of all levels who want top-notch boards with authentic, cutting-edge artwork.
Their roots are in the Washington area, but Monument’s market has grown considerably in the ten short years that have passed since the first board was manufactured. Competing in a market saturated with major-label brands, Tran understands well that networking with and educating retailers is just as crucial to Monument’s success as traditional marketing to customers.
Early in the company’s history, Monument Snowboards was a player at the major trade shows, going toe-to-toe with corporate brands like Burton, SIMS and K2. Seeing little chance of getting noticed in that environment, Tran decided to change tacks. Geared toward and backed by the mass-market brands, he explains the trade show scene “just didn’t make sense for us so instead, we’re doing it the right way: building our reputation slowly and surely and making killer boards.”
This approach gives Tran and his lean team – four distributors, operating in the Pacific Northwest, Northern California, Colorado, and New England – the chance to go beyond traditional marketing, and connect with communities of artists and riders; essentially, to grow the business as organically as possible.
Ever in search of customers who are avid snowboarders as well as art lovers, Tran’s vision for Monument is expansive. Not one to be deterred by the slow, steady growth the company has achieved thus far, he continues to find demand for Monument Snowboards all over the country – and has recently begun to set his sights on markets in Europe.
Regardless of where the shifting market takes Monument Snowboards, Tran is intent on staying true to his roots, both locally and within the artistic community.
As Monument Snowboards enters its tenth year, Tran is too focused on the company’s future to rest on his laurels or concern himself with a proper anniversary celebration. Still, options abound for commemorating the anniversary: currently in the pipeline for production is a budget-friendly “District Series” which would pay homage to the company’s roots in DC. Dave hopes to reconnect with Ron Thompson, a college friend and the first artist Monument worked with, to lend his work to a new Monument Snowboard.
But the real celebration, Dave explains, is business as usual: “Really, we just want to do things right: keep growing, and keep making the greatest boards we can.”
To learn more about Monument visit www.monumentsnowboards.com.
Monument Snowboards: It’s All About The Art.
Over the ten years since the company’s creation, Monument’s Artist Network has grown from a relatively small, local collective, to a global consortium of gifted, prolific artists who produce the mold-shattering work that has come to define the MNMNT brand.
Owner Dave Tran’s approach to working with the artists is what sets Monument’s boards apart from the competition: where major companies have art directors and committees to recruit, train and often assimilate artistic talent, Monument’s formula is far simpler: Dave works directly with the artist, and gives them carte blanche. As long as it fits on a snowboard, the artwork goes to production as-is, without a single edit.
Some artists tend to push conventional boundaries, but Tran insists on letting the artwork speak for itself – a fact both the artists and Monument’s customers appreciate. Admittedly he has gotten nervous about some of the artwork, but in each case he has been surprised – or rather, awestruck – by the raw power and aesthetic purity of the finished product.
Another liability of this hands-off approach is less apparent: Monument boards bear no company logo, graphic, or any other branding, making word-of-mouth their primary means of marketing. “Sure, it’s tough not adding our logo, but it’s worth doing for the sake of the art, and the purity of the artists’ intent.”
To learn more about the artists, visit their websites:
Maya Hayuk: www.mayhayuk.com
Peter Beste: www.peterbeste.com
Cleon Peterson: www.cleonpeterson.com