We recently had a fun opportunity to talk with the owner of a new favorite supplier, Ryan Monson of American Gear Company (AGC). AGC is a manufacturer of high end custom skateboards, surfboards, snowboards and promotional items, all made in the USA. Here’s a chance to get to know more about Ryan …
American Gear Company: rooted in 1997
Founder: Ryan Monson
What was your first job and how did it shape you?
In 9th grade I started working at a movie rental store. I always liked to work and this gave me an opportunity to finally make some money. It was a good feeling to tell my dad I couldn’t mow on Saturday because I had to be at work. That job shaped my mentality to do whatever it takes to make it happen. One day I rode my bike to work and the owner of the video store told me I couldn’t store my bike inside the business. In fact he made me ride home and figure out how to get back to work. It would have been really easy to quit or ride home and not come back, but to me that would be failing. Every job brings an element of adversity or challenge, you have to work through it and solve the problems.
What surprised you most about starting American Gear?
Customers don’t just show up! It doesn’t matter how amazing your product or service is, you have to get in the trenches and find customers. I was expecting to turn on the “open” sign and make money…
What has been the biggest challenge over the years?
Finding good employees, hands down the biggest challenge EVER!
When I first started I built a small little shop inside a space the size of a 2 car garage. I built snowboards and drove them to Big Bear Mountain where I would stand outside the rental shop and get renters to try my boards at no cost. I would come home with a pocket full of money and have to start the cycle again on Monday. That was hard work and in the summer I starved! So in the late 90’s when the Internet was becoming a viable place to do business I asked a friend of mine to build a website that marketed me as a “Full Service” factory. He said “Dude you’re 1 guy with crappy equipment. How can you be a full service factory?” I assured him I would figure it out.
My first request for custom promotional boards came from Tower records. They wanted to run a promotion in their magazine called Pulse. I gave them a price and they agreed to do it. The light bulb went off in my head and I quickly realized this is how I can make money while I try to build my retail brand. So from then on I put more efforts into marketing and catering to the promotional products industry. My volumes went from a few boards a week to a few hundred a week within a few years.
What part of the business is it that you love the most?
I love building relationships with customers and helping them be successful with their clients.
What is the biggest focus for your company in 2016?
Nobody knows who American gear company is, however most people have either seen or ridden boards built in our factory. Our goal is to make people proud to have product built in our factory, made in the USA. We want our name to have value and be recognized. We do everything in Utah, with our own hands. That has merit!
To what do you attribute the growth of your company?
It’s all about the relationship! Having a good relationship with your customers, one that is not just customer/vendor but a partnership. We believe there is a solution to everything, it just takes a little give and take. One year we made a few hundred snowboards for the Snickers brand in the Netherlands and the order got lost at sea! My crew came in during the Christmas week and slammed out another 200 boards, sent them via UPS and they arrived in time for the promotional campaign to be successful. Not many companies would do that for their clients.
People are beginning to want American Made. We are in an industry where nearly all of the products are made overseas. We are the only US producer of skateboards, snowboards and wakeboards that services the promotional industry.
What characteristic has helped you most as an entrepreneur?
I never give up. It actually drives my wife crazy, ha.
What’s the most important business lesson you’ve learned in the last year?
Never get too comfortable. Always be willing to change. I don’t know everything.
Who has been a key mentor for you?
My dad. He’s a good old school business guy. I like old school business more than new school ways.
What would be your next dream career?
A home depot greeter.
What is the best advice you ever received?
You get not what you deserve but what you negotiate. Haha j/k The best advice I’ve ever had is nothing ever happens until you make it happen.
What’s your hidden talent?
My secretary says I am able to give people hope.
How do you recharge?
Ride my bike, work in the yard, hang out with my wife and kids
I probably shouldn’t have (fill in the blank) … stayed in California as long as we did. Life got rad once we made the exit!
Interested in including custom skateboards, wakeboards and snowboards in your next promotion? Give IPG a call. We’ve got the source!