Cloud 9 Griptape
Nationwide and BlueVine’s Pitch to Win Contest Finalist
Kyle Ayling pitches Cloud 9 Griptape during Pitch to Win
Nationwide and BlueVine partnered on a contest for small business owners called Pitch to Win. The goal is to help owners with compelling concepts take their businesses to the next level. In June, owners entered the contest before submitting a video pitch in August. In October, finalists pitched live at Nationwide’s headquarters in Columbus, Ohio.
Seven finalists entered Nationwide’s Jeffers Auditorium in hopes of impressing the judges with their stage presence, carefully crafted pitch, and quick wit. Only one, however, began selling himself the instant the doors opened. Kyle Ayling, founder and CEO of Cloud 9 Griptape, wowed the crowd by skateboarding down the aisle a natural way to show off his product. Cloud 9 Griptape makes skateboard griptape, which is applied to the top of a skateboard and appears underneath a rider’s feet. Their selling point is the unique and colorful graphics they offer as an alternative to the standard black griptape. Cloud 9 believes this traditional styling limits how skateboarders can express themselves.
“You might think a skateboard brand has no business taking part in this,” Ayling said of his Crown Point, Indiana-based company entering the Pitch to Win contest. “The reason our customers love Cloud 9 is we make products that allow skateboarders an opportunity to stand out and express themselves, and it’s a positive, unlike 99% of the skateboard industry.” Acknowledging the gritty side of the sport, he said, “[Customers] can still have a bad boy persona but show positivity and take proper care of themselves with healthy habits.”
Cloud 9 Griptape focuses on positivity and self-expression in their griptape designs
Cloud 9 Griptape was started seven years ago when Ayling became frustrated with the current state of the skateboard market. “The industry doesn’t represent skateboarders in a positive light and that’s just plain wrong,” he explained. He set out to give riders a better, more positive way to express themselves, and the company was born. Shortly thereafter, Cloud 9 derived its name from a lyric in the Katy Perry song “Wide Awake”, which Ayling heard on his way to work one morning.
Ayling and his wife Sara both work other jobs to support Cloud 9. Sara is a graphic designer for a construction company, and Kyle works for a roofing company with an executive who has served as his mentor. Even with all their hard work, the company has had a difficult time keeping its product in stock. Its offerings are currently sold at Zumiez and on the Cloud 9 Griptape website, and it has sold 50,000 sheets of griptape since 2012. However, the limited-run style of production means that popular designs often sell out quickly, and competition in the space can be tough for a small business.
“The other 4 griptape companies are Goliaths, and maybe I can be David and Cloud 9 Griptape can grow as a major competitor,” Ayling said. He balanced that aspiration by saying, “To own a skateboarding company, your passion is not to make a lot of money, but to show where your heart is.”
Cloud 9 Griptape produces unique graphics with limited runs
Even as demand increases, Ayling continues to focus on exceptional customer service. Cloud 9 offers 60 different designs, a 90-day guarantee, free shipping, and personalized wrapping with a personal note. “We emphasize integrity,” he said. “Our customers know that we will do the right thing for them.”
“We always remember to put the riders’ needs ahead of our own,“ he continued. “Our staff and I are here to serve them.” In order to continue meeting those needs, Cloud 9 plans to soon offer other products, such as skateboard hardware, wax, and additional apparel.
To boost their brand, Cloud 9 announced that it is sponsoring two skateboarders in the 2020 Olympics. This is the first year that skateboarding will be included as an official sport, and the company could not be more excited. They are sponsoring Mariah Duran from Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Kate Shengeliya from Moscow, Russia.
Ayling noted that the Olympic Games draw 3.6 billion viewers with 26.5 million impressions in the United States alone. "That is equivalent to a $95,000 Google ad or a $360,000 Facebook ad," he said. With two riders prominently sporting Cloud 9’s griptape atop their boards, he’s hopeful that the company will get some quality airtime and improve their brand recognition. In particular, slow motion replays present a great opportunity for their name and designs to be seen.
While the summer of 2020 holds a great opportunity for Cloud 9 Griptape, Ayling’s focus never wavers from his everyday mission. He will continue to spread positivity and encourage self-expression, because as his slogan goes, “Life is too short for boring griptape.”