NESJ Explores Kulkea's Evolution into a Cherished Adventure Outdoor Brand.
First Published to NESJ Spring 2020 Issue.
Inspired by their Finnish heritage, Boston area brothers have taken the ski gear bag market by storm. NESJ explores the rise of Kulkea as it evolves into a cherished adventure outdoor brand.
Walk into any New England ski lodge, and you’re bound to find ski boot bags — piled atop tables or packed into corners and cubby holes — adorned with the name Kulkea. In fact, you’re likely to be seeing more and more of them, given the brand’s increasing popularity. But Kulkea is no overnight success.
The brainchild of a pair of brothers from Massachusetts — David and Steven Abramowitz — Kulkea’s first boot bags hit the market in 2012. The process and planning, however, started years earlier, even before the brand officially “launched” in 2009. David Abramowitz, 54, a longtime corporate attorney, said the initial impetus came about from his desire “to start my own business,” and a moment’s inspiration.“I was searching for months to determine what type of business to start when I went up north to Vermont for a weekend to ski with some friends,” said David, Kulkea’s chief executive officer. “I went to the local shop looking for a replacement for my ski boot bag.
“The bags didn’t look like they were even designed by a real skier,” he said, adding that the quality also left a lot to be desired. “I thought I could design something better, and that’s when it hit me. After the weekend, I put together what I thought a real skier would need, and then I ran it by my brother, who thought it was a smart solution.”
Steven Abramowitz, a veteran of high-tech marketing firms, signed on. He said he and David both were motivated by their mother to be innovative and independent. “She came to the U.S. from Finland, got an education, raised four kids, became a leader in the community and launched a successful residential real estate business,” said Steven, 49. “Dave and I are five years apart; he was the big brother I wrestled with endlessly and looked up to.”
“While in high school and college, we worked together painting houses,” he said. “The work was hard, dirty and a bit dangerous, but we were determined to make a name for ourselves as expert painters. We planned in detail, focused on the quality of our work, the tools used and the materials to do a better job than others at a reasonable price. After that experience, Dave and I knew we could do something on our own.”
The brothers “began meeting regularly to spitball business ideas,” when David had his “lightbulb moment” during his ski trip to Sugarbush, said Steven, now Kulkea’s chief marketing officer. The pair then set to work designing and creating a new line of ski and ski boot bags.
“The learning curve was steep,” said Steven. “We had no industrial design, manufacturing or related supply chain experience. We networked and relied on the good nature and enthusiasm of friends, family, acquaintances and organizations to help us."
“There were countless setbacks and surprises,” he said. “We knew that any company manufacturing products was only as good as its supply chain. After several cycles and some failures, we were fortunate enough to secure a great designer, factory and partners.
“Another hurdle was to enter and prove our concept in a market dominated by a deeply rooted competitor and large luggage brand.”
David portrayed Kulkea’s early days as an eye-opening experience.
“The challenges were far more than we expected,” he said. “Here we were, two guys — a corporate telecom lawyer and a tech marketing guy — entering into the world of developing products for the alpine ski market. We brought a lot of great experience and expertise that would be hugely helpful, but in the early days we needed skills, knowledge and resources we hadn’t yet acquired. Learn how Kulkea overcame challenges in the full article at skijournal.com's Spring 2020 digital edition.
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