Jim Banks On: 3000 Hours, Don’t Confuse Your Kia’s With Your Ferrari’s
COASTALWATCH | JIM BANKS
3,000 Hours - and don’t confuse your Kia’s with your Ferrari’s!
Creating, developing and fine tuning a surfboard design is a massive amount of work… if you want to get it right. Just to create a new design can be a massive task. Sometimes you can be lucky and get real close with the first one, but even then, there’s always be more fine tuning and months of building and testing different versions to get it just right.
Some of my own designs, such as my twin keels, now have about 3000 hours of research and development behind them. There's more than ten years of designing, building and testing different combinations of rockers, bottom contours, fin placements etc. Go good? You bet they do, get a fair return on my 3000 hours? Dream on.
My Magic Carpet twin keel fish design is without a doubt the fastest board I have ever surfed, and I have spent a lifetime building fast surfboards. For decades I devoted myself to riding barrels as deep as I could, and I can tell you now that if you want to to ride the barrel as deep as possible, then you’re going to need a board that goes as fast as possible. Not only is this Magic Carpet board crazy fast, it will also perform high speed carves and whips in waves from 1ft to 10ft. And why? Because I have spent thousands of hours developing the design.
How many have I actually sold? Well, over the ten years, maybe 200 to 300 all up. Not many for the thousands of hours of R&D. So what’s that mean? Well for a start that’s 10 to 15 hours of R&D for every Magic Carpet I build. Now, my lifetime’s worth of skill and knowledge in regards to designing, building and understanding surfboards didn't come easy. You can’t learn it in a book and you certainly can’t get it online. It’s a lifetime of trial and error, careful observation, a massive amount of patience, plenty off frustration, and at times, even required putting my life on the line.
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What’s it worth? Surely my lifetime worth of skill and knowledge is worth at least a fifth-year plumber or electrician, and they’re around $100 an hour these days. So at standard plumber/electrician rates, every Magic Carpet board I build owes me between $1000 to $1500 per board just to cover the R&D costs. And what do they sell for? Currently they’re $1095 (but not for long!) Houston we have a problem!
This is a major part of the problem for small production, highhigh-quality manufacturers like myself. We just don’t build enough boards to be able to price them competitively in todays market. Or is today’s market massively out of whack and we are building Ferraris and selling them at Kia prices?
Solutions? Drop the R&D, just copy other shapers designs and follow the trends? Well, actually it is a very common approach and usually the only choice for new brands and start up backyard builders. That’s ok, we all have to start somewhere. But if you are truly passionate about surfboards, eventually you get the itch to understand just what exactly is going on, and so starts the very long journey of developing your surfboard design and building knowledge and skills.
Of course, the other option is to go large production, but there’s serious problems with this solution. Quality is going to be a nightmare to control, pro team riders are going to cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars, and you’re probably also going to need to sell 150 boards a week just to break even. You’re also going to end up over-saturating the market, which will drive prices down and kill the second hand board market in the process. Sound familiar?
Or do we call a Ferrari a Ferrari, and price them accordingly, factoring in the the real costs of small time production? Currently for my boards, by the time we put the board in the customers hand and allow for all our time to design, build, market and sell the board, it’s around 30 hours per board. Many of the process’s that we use to build my boards can take twice the amount of time it takes to build a medium to high volume production board. And then actual production, marketing and business costs still have to go on top of that.
SEE ALSO: Jim Banks Surfing Uluwatu In The 70s
Which is why from February 1, my boards are all going to be $2000 and up. Even though I’m sure that any accountant would tell me that even at that price, there’s still no wholesale or retail profit margin and that they probably need to be double that. It’s certainly a big roll of the dice, but all I know is that I’m just not going to build boards for $10 - $15 an hour anymore. But even at the $2000 price is anybody going to buy them? Maybe, maybe not.
If that means that I need to go do something else, well, I’m ok with that. I’ve got plenty of things to do.
There’s no doubt it’s interesting times, as shapers like myself, have had enough of working for peanuts, while the big brands dance along the edge of a very sharp financial knife. Cardboard cutout surfboard anyone? We have more out the back…. we have red one, yellow one, blue.
Whichever way it goes, and whatever eventually happens in what I believe to be a currently unsustainable industry, one thing's for sure, don’t confuse your Ferrari’s with your Kias!
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