Upstarts: Concrete Native

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Cody Crooks, Rod Deerr, and Ross Crooks, Concrete Native founders.

Concrete Native was born out of a necessity, of sorts.

 In 2010, Indiana University graduates Rod Deerr, Cody Crooks, and Ross Crooks were searching for a backpack that didn’t exist. Much like the clever entrepreneurs that continue to crop up left and right, born from the ranks of Gen X-ers who aren’t satisfied with settling and always searching for another avenue to create outside the box, the friends set out in what has now been a three year process.
But that’s okay, according to Cody Crooks, who says the team is more concerned with landing on the perfect end result: in this case, a backpack that carries multiple types of skateboards and snowboards without the boards slipping, even if the bag is empty, which they say hasn’t existed until the launch of their brand Concrete Native. After creating initial prototypes earlier this year, a Kickstarter campaign— which goes live today, July 15, and allows for a 35 days fundraising period—will be the last step in the tight-knit crew’s business plan.

“We have are partnered with a manufacturer in Seattle, and at this point they are just waiting for us to give the go ahead,” says Crooks. “Distribution is something we will be working on through Kickstarter.”

 We caught up with Crooks to hear more about the brand’s plan as they kick off their initial fundraising campaign, their goals for distribution, and the overall concept behind Concrete Native.

 What is the story behind the brand itself, and what sets it apart from other brands like it on the market today?

 The story started when we [Cody and Ross] needed a backpack that didn’t exist.  They cut up and took apart other bags, reconstructing something that fit their needs.  The most important among those needs was a backpack that would comfortably and effectively carry the longboards they used to get around town.  We brought in Rod, a design student at IU, to help streamline and help complete the first prototype.  From these first prototypes to the final product, we have a backpack that out performs similar bags on the market.  There are a lot of skate bags out there, but to put it frankly, ours works best.  Specifically, our backpack’s strap system will hold any style of skateboard, longboard included, and snowboards completely secure at any height on the bag.  Unlike other backpacks on the market, your board will not slide at all on our backpack. It stays exactly where you position it, whether the bag is full or completely empty.

What were the founders up to before this, and what are their specific backgrounds within and outside the industry?

Before the brand, all of us were action sport hobbyists at Indiana University. Cody majored in sports marketing and management, Ross majored in tele-communications, and Rod studied design. With all of these studies combined, we believe it gives us a well-rounded approach to developing a brand. In addition, we all have worked and still continue to work at a skate and snow shop that Rod manages full time.

An upclose look at how Concrete Native’s bags hold boards in place.

We started to develop the brand in 2010, so it’s taken us three excruciatingly long, challenging, and exciting years!

 Tell us more about launching the Kickstarter campaign? How will this help the company grow and evolve to the next level?

 The Kickstarter campaign is the final step in what has been an extensive process to launch this new brand.  We have been able to fund ourselves up to this point, through brand development and prototyping.  The money we raise from our kickstarter will allow us to move into the manufacturing stage.   Furthermore, it will enable us to grow the company and move it toward future product development and product extensions.

 What’s your business plan look like for the next six to twelve months?

The next year is crucial for this company’s growth.  In addition to producing our first wave of bags we will be focusing on future products to expand our versatility and supply greater demand for the brand.  Future products will focus on the functionality of our original backpack, but move into a more trendy/fashion forward direction.  We will also continue to secure retailers, both on a national and local level.  Finally, we will work toward building partnerships with other brands, retailers, athletes, and all around rad people to help further the brand’s growth.

 When do you hope to have your first round of products developed, of if you’ve already done this, what’s the next step in increasing distribution?

At this point in the process we can estimate our first run of backpacks being ready by December. Just in time for Santa!

 Are you already in any key retail accounts, and if so which ones? Which shops are you trying to target moving forward?

We are in talks with retailers on a national and local level. With our backpack being able to be carry different types of boards we can target any kind of action sports shop or major retailer, whether it be snow, skate, or surf.

What other brands or retailers\ are you planning to or hoping to partner with as a way to grow the brand?

We are planning on partnering with both core and chain shops. We will start by focusing on local shops and then hopefully move into national chains. The backpack covers a wide client base. So, we are open to different opportunities and seeing how it develops organically.

 What do you think are the greatest opportunities within the action sports/apparel market at this time?

 As the entire industry continues to grow, more specialized areas develop within the action sports markets. For example, longboarding no longer consists of just cruising around town, as the downhill race scene has emerged.  Niche markets like this are underrepresented and overlooked by many sectors of the market. We would like to partner with these more specialized sectors and push toward a focus of bringing quality products to these markets.

 What are some of the biggest challenges you face as a start-up brand?

Inevitably, we have to find people outside our company to work with us on things like prototyping, manufacturing, etc. So, the challenge we faced was working with people that had the same vision for where we wanted to take the brand and the image we had for our products. However, the most obvious challenge is raising capital to launch a new brand.

Do you view the bag/backpack category as oversaturated, and if so what are some of the ways you are working to set your brand apart?

 The backpack category may seem oversaturated at first glance, but the saturation comes from either fashion bag companies who don’t focus on function or vice versa.  Concrete Native products are the bridge between these two worlds.  We believe we have brought unmatched function without sacrificing style to the marketplace.

What strategies do you have in place for marketing and telling your brand story in the future?

 We feel that if we represent our brand in an honest manner, and have a quality product, word-of-mouth will be our best advertising.  We will of course continue to utilize social media heavily and try to establish an industry presence on-line and in print.  Also, we will work toward partnerships with other brands and possible sponsorship of professional/amateur athletes.  “The look” of the brand is important and we will continue cultivate and develop our own unique style of marketing in the future.

 How crucial has social media been in getting the brand out there? What has been some of the success stories you’ve had so far?

Social media has been crucial for getting our brand out.  It allows people to be part of our conversation and growth via a picture on Instagram or a tweet.  We love the direct interaction it allows us to have with our followers.  A great example of this interaction is when our followers on Facebook and Instagram had the final decision on our exclusive kickstarter t-shirt design.

 Anything else you’d like to add that I didn’t mention here? Fire away:

We would just like to say that this has been a wild ride so far, but it has been a labor of love, and we are extremely stoked for this Kickstarter campaign and the doors it will open for us!