A 24-year-old robert burns grabs his backpack and snowboard and throws it in the back of his truck. Ten inches of fresh powder. Hood River is at its best in March and again in summer, when he rips up the Gorge on his windsurfer. He tears a new strip of duct tape and mended the pants he’s had on life support for the past six years. A two-shot Americano at Ground Coffee will get him to the first chair at Mt. Hood for a few runs.
Forty days on the mountain and, likely, a little late for work, again. Well. In a couple more years, he’ll get a real job, new board pants and maybe even a Dakine Builder’s Pack with a chainsaw pocket for trail work on Whoopdee. No hurry though, as Burns is merely a fictional character representing a key demographic of Dakine, a Hood River-based outdoor gear manufacturer, re-centering its brand after years adrift under Billabong ownership.
In 2013, Billabong was in financial trouble. In a five-year flurry of acquisitions that began in 2005 and included Nixon, West 49, RVCA, and SurfStitch, Billabong acquired Dakine in 2008 and moved the smaller company’s headquarters south to Irvine, California. The conglomerate-in-the-making woke up to a recession and a spending hangover.
At Dakine, founded in Hawaii in 1979 but located in Hood River, morale waned under a corporate culture that was financially way out over its skis.
Dakine had long been a scrappy outdoor retailer known among young adrenaline sports participants for its backpacks, and ski and boarding gloves. Its culture was much different than its Australian parent company.
Billabong quickly began to sell off properties. After making an unsuccessful buyout play for Billabong, San Francisco-based private equity firm Altamont Capital Partners bought Dakine in July 2013.
For Hood River, this was an opportunity to bring home Dakine headquarters. For employees, it was a return to roots. For Dakine’s new CEO, Leslie Lane, operating partner at Altamont Capital and former general manager of Nike Running, the rebuilding of the Dakine brand began.
photo by Blaine Franger
“I asked everybody if there’s one thing we could do to quickly bring back customers, what would it be?” Lane says. Customer service was the response. So began the Dakine makeover. The company doubled its hires to improve customer service and rebuild the accounting department. It extended a lease on its distribution warehouse in The Dalles and reinstated a global sales meeting after a four-year hiatus.
Perhaps the most crucial element for Dakine die-hards was bringing all operations back to Hood River. “The location is a priority over the job,” says Chico Bukovansky, vice president of sales and a Hood River resident who has been with Dakine for twenty years.
In 2013, Dakine moved into an eco-friendly building overlooking windsurfers and kiteboarders on the Columbia River. After years of cutbacks, this was a big boost for morale. Going forward, the company known for its backpacks and gloves will introduce new ski outerwear to the market.
For his part, Lane, who lives in Bend and works three hours north in Hood River, it’s a lifestyle upgrade. In his prior roles, he has spent years flying all over the world and away from his family. “Now I drop my son off at school on Monday, work through Thursday in Hood River and then am back in Bend,” he says. “I have a good life.”