Men of Action: Sports

sports items

Instantly recognizable and practically an icon of summer for American kids all over the nation. It’s difficult to believe that the Razor scooter didn’t come to the market until the year 2000.

That iconic child’s toy had more austere beginnings as a mode of transportation for office workers in Asia, who would use scooters to quickly and efficiently move across busy downtown corridors. Essentially what made the Razor model A scooter a success in the U.S.—5 million were sold in the first six months of its launch—is a marketing not a product design innovation.

Razor’s founder Carlton Calvin tapped skateboarder Ali Kermani to introduce this rather utilitarian product to not only a new geographic market but a completely new user base with a different core offering. Kermani recalls, “I was skater who was working with the owner of Razor when he was setting up Razor in 1999. So we collaborated on that and net result was the launch of the Razor scooter in 2000. That went amazingly well, and I’m still at the company.”

Today, Kermani is vice president of new initiatives and is often tapped to design, develop and test new products for the company. He works in close collaboration with Ian Desberg, vice president of design and development at Razor. Desberg is formally trained in design but also has a background in action sports.

“Certainly, I have a degree in toy design from Fashion Institute of Technology, which was the first toy design program maybe ever,” Desberg remarks. “But why I’m such a good fit at Razor is my upbringing. Not that I grew up here in Southern California, but growing up in Ohio we were really excited to participate in action sports. We were reading magazines, racing BMX bikes and skateboarding. This was in the 80s—the boom years for action sports.”

Kermani adds, “We have a very diverse group of employees here who actually go out and play on the weekends. So I see our products getting [physically] bigger. Ian’s 6 ft. 5 in., and we designed the Crazy Cart XL with Bryan Wood in mind, he’s also taller than 6 ft.

“The great part about bringing Bryan [who usually works with vendors in the manufacturing supply side of the business] into the design and development process for Crazy Cart XL is Bryan’s passion is racing cars,” Kermani says. “He became instrumental in the success of the product. He’s the authentic guy that we turn to for styling cues and for identifying the places deemed ‘authentic’ by the racing community for distribution of marketing materials. And we took this idea of resonating with the action sports community first and creating a core audience of early adopters to the launch of RipSurf.”

Desberg notes that the RipSurf community is definitely “not just kids” and that surf culture plays into the product’s core offering and how people identify with the product and subbrand. Using a patented design that enables the PP board to ride like a surfboard but on dry land, the RipSurf also taps into a variety of surfing cues including vintage film.

“First off, CMYK is obviously from design and design is saturated through everything that we did here,” says Kermani. “But also the way that we arranged the colors bespeaks a classic surf film, The Endless Summer. The colors (cyan, magenta and yellow) are used in the film to represent the setting—the sky, the sun and the ocean.” Desberg adds that the K comes in as black is the preferred color for a surfboard stomp pad.

Razor then chose to use transparent packaging to enable the product and package design to work together to create an overall feel.

The use of transparent packaging is relatively new for Razor.

“PET sleeves aren’t new for packaged products but they are new for us because our first products were so heavy,” Desberg explains. “Now that we have products that could survive in PET sleeves, we started using them.

“Originally, our go-to-market strategy was to use a PET sleeve for RipSurf in specialty shops where the staff had the time to carefully handle the packages,” Desberg says. “But we’ve had amazing success with them. Shelf wear has not been an issue, and neither has pack-out. Our factories have done a great job packing it out, taking care to get it right so that they were packed in masters to ship well and go through environmental testing well.”

Using transparent packaging also enables shoppers to quickly identify products heavily marketed through other vehicles, such as Razor Jetts. The company’s take on heel wheels adds spark pads that kids engage while skating.

“And the best way to tell the sparks story is to show it,” Desberg remarks. “The minute we show the spark—flames coming out of your feet—kids get it. Every kid wants sparks coming out of their shoes. When we put it on TV, we got a huge lift from the commercials. It’s been a couple of years since we got such a lift out of television!”

Kermani counters by stating that the Desberg’s team’s work on the package design was still essential to the product’s success. “This story may begin on television or YouTube, but kids are coming into the store and looking for the wheels. One of the great things that Ian did was make sure that the box doesn’t obstruct the shoppers’ view of the products. That whole integration of all the marketing and design efforts drives sales!”

Collaboration and integrative, iterative design is essential to Razor’s business philosophy, Desberg and Kermani explain. And part of what makes that work is creating a corporate environment that encourages people to pursue and develop passions outside of work.

“Our people’s outside passions enhances all of our perspectives and allows us to execute excellence and bring great products through production from all perspectives,” Desberg remarks. “That’s what makes Razor a really interesting, powerful and fast-moving company.”

Kermani adds, “I think it actually starts with our founders: the two owners really have built a comfortable family feel. People are free to be themselves and that allows people to bring out their own skills and their passions and bring them to work. Whether that it’s in their own department and applied to their job or some other portion of the project.”

Working at a toy company is also fun, Kermani reminds me. That combination enables the company to attract and retain a diverse team, from traditional definitions of diversity such as gender (Nell Oliver, a Package Design reader and a driving force in making this article and Package Design Matters episode happen, is director of digital marketing and one of many female executives at this sports-oriented company) to outside interests, BMX Hall of Famer Bob Hadley, who is admired by the entire Razor team for his product development skills, is affectionately referred to as “Bob their Builder.”