Rich Whinnie is exactly the kind of person that snowboarding needs more of. As the Midwest sales rep for Low Pressure Studio, he’s the face of Rome Snowboards and Bataleon (as well as sales rep for The Agency Group) and a fulcrum of the snowboard community in one of the most winter diehard regions of the US–an area that trades on dedication regardless of a lack of elevation and a surplus of numbing temperatures. Rich came up deeply embedded in it all, a foundational ethos that shapes everything he does–in addition to a commitment to constant learning. He is a true snowboarder’s snowboarder. Cutting his teeth on the trails of Nub’s Nob in Michigan, Rich got his start in the snowboarding industry as a Rome regional rider while working retail at Ride 45 Board Shop. From the very beginning, his ethos was defined by passion, kindness, and plenty of grit as he was welcomed both into the Rome and retail families. Over the years, Rich worked his way up through listening and learning–he credits much of his success to being attentive to those around him, whether legend in their own right or up-and-comer with a fresh perspective, and now he is the one nurturing the Midwest scene and instilling his personal breed of considered tenacity into the industry around him. Over the past few seasons especially, a Midwest uprising of new talent has been growing and Rich is on the ground floor of supporting the riders and cultivating the community. We need more Rich Whinnies in snowboarding, but at least we’ve got this one. – Mary T. Walsh
Name: Rich Whinnie
Job title: Midwest Sales Rep for Rome and Bataleon and The Agency Group
Where you’re from: Indian River, Michigan
Where you live: Michigan
Home Mountain: Nub’s Nob
What is your current job and can you tell us a little bit about what your role entails?
I am the Midwest Sales Rep for Low Pressure Studio (Rome and Bataleon), and Sales Rep for The Agency Group (Bell/Giro bike, mostly). It’s my job to work alongside the best retailers in the Midwest and present what I consider to be the best product lines in the industry.
What does a typical day at work look like for you?
It really depends on the time of year. Currently (June) I am cranking away on the bike biz side of things for the most part.
For snow, 23/24 product lands in September, which is when I start my big shop tours–that includes staff clinics and some early season snowboard events. I’ll make sure everyone is up to speed on all things Rome and Bataleon–team, in house, products, art, etc.
In recent years, winter order deadlines for the following season have moved up significantly. Where we would normally have until April 1st to sell in next year’s lines, we now have until February 1st in most cases. I used to do a lot of my selling on hill with retailers and riders where it felt more organic talking about the products. Now, with more urgency I get requests like, “Just send me the pdf and order form, I’ll take care of it,” with no line presentation. Most sales people would see that as a win, as it’s less work for similar results, but as a snowboarder first, it certainly makes it harder to present in the way I prefer. There’s nothing wrong with it, just different and that’s where adapting has been imperative.
How did you start snowboarding?
Skateboarding was first, and even before that I would stand on sleds sideways, but my first real snowboard experience was when I was 12 at “The Jones’” family property in Indian River, Michigan. He had a snowboard and a few of my friends did at the time, so I went over to his place to try it one day. He already had a kicker set up, so we hiked that all day until after the sun went down. I landed my first Indy grab that day (more of an Indy tap). After that, I ended up going on weekly school trips to Nub’s Nob using my friend Phil’s hand-me-down outerwear and renting or borrowing equipment about ten times that season. After that year it was the “every day” mentality.
When did you know that you wanted to work in the snowboard industry?
It was the early days of hanging out with Pete Harvieux. He was the Rome rep at that time. I met him in 2003 and in 2006 he put me on his regional team. I brought up some old emails and it’s funny reading our early conversations. One line that stood out was from 11.9.2004, right before he put me on his team. He said, “Thanks for being interested in the SDS…trust me when I tell you…it really is about snowboarding and shred sticks, not all that other crap….”
I don’t think I ever had the feeling of “I want to be a professional snowboarder.” I know I couldn’t do that. I just knew for a fact I wanted to be surrounded by it. So, when Pete asked, “Yo Rich, do you want to help with some events and trade shows and I’ll pay you?” My answer was an immediate “Yes!” I went to my first Rome sales meeting in 2008, I think, and that really hammered home the idea of wanting to be a rep for them. Josh [Reid] and Paul [Maravetz] (the founders of Rome) laid down the strongest foundation for a snowboard brand you could ask for. They had an in-house motto of sorts: “We are sort of like a reverse mullet: party (snowboarding) in the front, business in the back.” To this day, I live by that.
What was your first job in the industry?
My first paid job was at Ride 45 Boardshop in Petoskey, Michigan in 2007. They also have a bike shop, Latitude 45, where I would spend most of my retail time. I would work summers at that skateshop, then snowboard and help Pete from fall to spring. I eventually moved to the bike shop for sales. It was just busier and far more foot traffic where I wanted to learn more about the business. That’s where I learned TONS about the retail environment. Repping has made me better at retail, and retail has made me better at repping. It has allowed me to be more honest on both sides of the industry, since I can deliver first-hand experiences from each.
Between that first job and now, how did you get to where you are currently?
I started off as a rider with no sales experience. I got to where I am now by listening and learning mostly and being upfront about my goals. They say “it’s who you know” but it goes deeper than that. It’s the connection between who you know that’s the kicker. I’ve surrounded myself with individuals who have that same unexplainable passion that I have for snowboarding, and they were all willing to help me along the way.
What experiences or lessons have been most valuable to you to get to where you are?
Being thankful. We aren’t coal miners. We aren’t selling medical equipment. We are selling fun. I go in with the mentality “I get to go to work today” versus “I have to go to work today.”
What do you feel are some of the most important skills or areas of knowledge necessary for your current role?
The ability to understand and adapt, rather than to read and react. Having a better understanding of how other roles around me work helps me hone in on my own understanding of my role. This is a never-ending process that I do enjoy. Change will always be a constant and facing it with a positive mindset makes change a more comfortable feeling. Also, not being afraid to be wrong goes a long way, if you’re willing to admit it and change. “You win some, you learn some.”
What is a skill that you didn’t necessarily think would apply to your current role, but has proven to be invaluable?
The importance of listening to and telling stories. Mary, I know you certainly know what this means as you’ve done an amazing job doing so. Snowboarding has so many characters and getting to know such a diverse group of individuals helps me understand where certain regions are coming from. Whether that be sales driven stories or stories about your favorite line–it’s a unique language that we can all come together on. I feel extremely lucky to be able to walk into a room full of snowboarders and carry out conversations like we are old friends.
What is a challenge in your current role that you didn’t expect and that you have had to navigate?
Staying “connected” has quickly become a digital activity. I deactivated my Instagram for a few months last year only to realize how far I was behind on snowboarding news. I still feel most connected on snow, but in my line of work, digital and physical have become equally important.
How do you deal with set-back professionally?
Set-backs in my control are the worst–this could mean a missed clinic, a shop I haven’t talked to in too long, or not getting a team rider the gear they need quickly. I take these very personally, and the way I deal with these are knowing that I have some blind spots to work on and face them headfirst. “It’s a small setback, to a great comeback”.
Some things I have to brute force. I absolutely hate the feeling of talking in front of a big group of people, but with my job, I must at times. There are clinics and things I look back on and think, What a foolish thing I said there, and I just look at it like, Well, that was me then, and this is me now. And move forward.
Who do you look up to in the industry for inspiration?
My parents, Rose and Phil. Stories really should be written about them.
If it wasn’t for Pete Harvieux, I wouldn’t have even considered what I do to be an option. He kept me in the game for so long and shared so much knowledge and feelings over the years. Most of the inspiration I have is directly connected to Pete. So many snowboarders can say that about him.
Dan “Sully” Sullivan has been my sales manager at Rome for the 16 years I have been a part of the company. He truly has been the glue that has kept me attached to the brand for this long. It truly is about snowboarding first and the rest follows. I’ve never met anybody so authentic in both business and personal life.
Mike Paddock, art director at Rome. Art plays a huge role into what we do, and he’s made our selling much easier with so many kick ass graphics and art stories. I always feel so great snowboarding with his work under my feet.
Christian Janssens, owner of Latitude 45 Cycle and Sport. I’ve spent a lot of my adult life working retail at his shop during summers. He took a lot of his time to teach me versus tell me. He’s known I’ve always wanted to be a year-round rep, and he’s made it clear I always have a home in retail at his shop. If I could do both, I would in a heartbeat. Shoutout to Chris, Heidi, Jason, Marc, and Mike, too. 🙂
Bill Rehor was the Giro rep for 30-plus years and he is another rep I feel fortunate to have grown up around. He has given me more tips and opportunities than I can count–to this day–not only as a rep, but as a human. He really is the salt of the earth that has plenty of style and finesse.
As of Spring 2022, I got hired by John Kerkhof to help with Bell/Giro bike under The Agency Group. John and Bill worked side-by-side on Giro for the past 15 years, and when Bill decided to retire, John took over and my name came up as someone to work with. I never saw it as an option, even though it was joked by my peers many times over the years (long story). John is one of the smartest people I have ever met. His resume is astounding in both work and play, and I really couldn’t ask for a better partner to learn from and work with.
What do you feel has been your biggest impact in your area of work?
“We cannot do great things on this Earth. We can only do small things with great love.” – Mother Teresa
If I make any impact at all, it’s being present in every conversation I have. I can talk to one of my team riders about a gnarly back 50-50 on some sketchy kink they just landed for their part and in the same breath talk to someone who enjoys their weekend rides on e-bikes with their families. To me, the amount of passion is the same in both–one just hurts a lot more. There is much more common ground with other humans than we realize, and just being open to conversations is enough to feel that.
What keeps you driven and motivated in your line of work?
Snowboarders play the biggest part. Watching my regional team riders do what they do is very motivational. Charles Beck was the first person that’s younger than me that I really looked up to. And I think it’s important to find inspiration from people both younger and older. And if you’ve been paying attention, the youth is kicking ass right now.
Working in snowboarding is a wonderful, yet often complex combination of our personal passion and professional life. How has this come into play in your experience working in the industry?
I am fortunate to have a career in an industry where personal passion drives my professional life. Fat Mike of NOFX once said, “This isn’t my job, my hobby, my habit, it’s sad–but this is my life.” I’m here for the long haul, as long as I’m alive. People notice that, I think.
If someone was interested in doing what you do, what would you recommend they pursue to reach this goal?
Working in retail is a great place to start. “Think globally, act locally.” I believe that statement comes from helping save the environment, but it can be applied to the sustainability of our industry as well. Working in retail, I learned firsthand what it meant to be there for a local community. I sell ideas over products, and retail helps you understand where the riders are coming from on the ground level. There are other ways to do this, but in my opinion it’s the most efficient way.
Be vocal about what it is you’re wanting to do. If your goal is to become a rep, be upfront about it and I can assure you that other reps and retailers will assist you. Midwest reps and shops are tight with one another, and when we hear someone is interested, we all communicate and try to find places for the right people.
Be real. Humans in this industry can see fake from miles away. If you feel different than others around you, embrace that. We will love you for you.
Lastly, best piece of advice someone has ever given you that applies to your professional life that could be helpful for someone reading this?
“Don’t sweat the small stuff, and it’s all small stuff.” – book of the same name by Richard Carlson (great audible, too)