Second Calling: Julian Carr
[Editor's note: This is part two of a new series called "Second Calling," about freeskiers turned entrepreneurs. It is written by pro skier Griffin Post. Stay tuned next Wednesday for the third installment, a story about a pro skier who started selling skis in his garage and turned the idea into a major Internet retail business.]
If you've skied in Utah over the last decade, you've likely run into someone wearing a Discrete hat. The company, with its rectangle-pyramid logo, was the brainchild of pro skiers Julian Carr and the late Billy Poole. From its humble beginnings in Salt Lake City, Discrete has now grown to more than 90 storefronts in nine countries throughout the world. Today, the man behind the brand, Carr, splits his time between running an international apparel company and living up to the name he created for himself in the early 2000s as one of the best cliff-punters in the game. As the biggest advocate for the brand, he's as well-known for his massive front flips as he is for his company. Recently, I caught up with Carr to talk grassroots marketing, carrying on after Poole's death and leveraging his personal brand for Discrete.
XGames.com: Essentially, you're the face of Discrete. How has your ski career, or connections you've made from it, pushed the brand beyond a grassroots company?
Carr: I've always had a belief and a vision for the company of where I want it to be. So even in the first couple of years, all the marketing, website and digital assets have displayed Discrete in a professional manner. We're punctual with our company operations and that goes a long way in the business world, plus we pay attention to details. Tie that all in with all the pre-established connections I had made in the ski world as a professional athlete and suddenly our PR reach is satisfactory, our athlete roster is world-class and our visibility in the industry is beyond a grassroots image. We've come a long way, but believe me, we're a long ways off from my vision. We're chipping away at it.
Discrete has had, arguably, one of the best grassroots marketing campaigns in the ski world. Have you recently been able to see returns on giving out free product to the right people?
I've certainly put a lot of thought into Discrete's marketing strategy. I can't quantify the return, but all I know is that Discrete is part of a larger community. The snow community is amazing and it feels great to have established a brand that reflects the love and passion that all the amazing people have for snow in this sport.
You started Discrete with Billy Poole. When he passed away was there ever a sense of being overwhelmed by going it alone, or was there that much more of a reason to succeed?
You know, for a second there it was a serious consideration. To put it into perspective, four days prior [to] Billy's passing, I blew my knee and tore my calf muscle. Right before I blew my knee, Billy and I were out filming for Warren Miller, we had our first trade show lined up for Discrete in a couple weeks, we were hiking for a line together and we had a little moment about how great life was. Then, one hour later, I blew my knee, and four days later, Billy passed.
Life throws you curveballs. I realized I was lucky to have the chance to feel pain; I was lucky to feel sorrow. Billy didn't have that ability. I realized I absolutely needed to make that trade show happen and make Billy proud. I rallied and a good dozen of our closest friends helped construct the booth and make it happen. It was amazing. Billy will always live in the spirit of the company; he was such an incredible skier and had an overflowing passion for shredding. I celebrate Billy for all the reasons I can't comprehend with what happens after you pass, instead of dwelling on the reasons I can comprehend to be sad.
To some people who don't know you, they might just think of you as "the crazy guy who throws 100-plus-foot front flips." Does this ever interfere with people taking you seriously in business?
If anything, it helps. The second I engage with someone in the business world, they feel my ability to assess and negotiate. Business is all about negotiation; to negotiate well, you have to have sensibility. If I were a crazy person I would exhibit zero sensibility. And that is how I assess 100-plus-foot cliffs: with sensibility.
These days, do you spend more time in the office or on the hill?
I split it for sure. Even on long office days the beauty of being based in Salt Lake City is that I can tear out of my office and 15 minutes later I'm at the trailhead of Mt. Olympus. Come winter, I can ski powder all morning, hit the office in the afternoon or vice versa. My late January and early February is all about trade shows, so I'm locked down, but after trade shows I can really turn on the travel. In the last couple of years, I've been to Japan, Iceland, Europe twice, South America twice, lots of places in the [British Columbia] area and U.S. I'm a lucky guy, but I work hard, train hard and have the discipline to balance it all.