From blueberries to oil refineries to (sometimes) fictional mobsters, New Jersey is known for superiority in certain areas. Snowboarding is not one of them. Even plugged-in shredders—worshippers of Shaun “the Flying Tomato” White and would-be emulators of Danny Kass’s signature “Kasserole” move—might be shocked to learn that one of the edgiest companies in winter’s coolest sport is led by a Jersey native. That connection turns out to be much more than a fluke of geography.
“There’s a lot of authenticity to the people in New Jersey—they’ll call BS on you,” says Westfield-bred Paul Maravetz, 39, of Rome Snowboard Design Syndicate, a.k.a. Rome SDS, a.k.a. Rome. “I don’t think it’s a bad hypothesis that my partner and I both grew up in places where people were open and honest, and that that’s influenced what Rome is about.”
Cofounded in 2001 in Waterbury, Vermont, by Maravetz and his college buddy Josh Reid, Rome is the fastest-growing company in snowboarding and the sixth-largest snowboarding brand in the United States. Now an operation with more than fifteen employees and an estimated $5 million in annual sales from boards, other equipment, apparel, and accessories, the Rome brand embodies authenticity with a large dose of anti-establishment ’tude. The company’s path to success has been a fast, wild ride—the kind snowboarders love.
Maravetz began mountain life at age 13 as a skier, making routine visits to Vernon’s Hidden Valley Resort and what was then Vernon Valley, now Mountain Creek, and weekend trips to Vermont with a friend’s family. He discovered snowboarding in a skateboarding magazine and bought himself a Burton board. Soon he was obsessed with the still-underground sport, hiking the hills of Echo Lake Country Club during the winter to sharpen his moves as the groomed mountains weren’t yet welcoming this new breed of alpine athlete.
“Most people want to have something individualistic about themselves, and there was an aspect of that for me, that nobody else was doing it,” Maravetz says. “But it was more that there’s something different about going down sideways, whether it’s a snowboard, skateboard, or surfboard. It just puts your body through these really interesting G-forces.”
Maravetz’s parents were both chemists (although his mother eventually ran a Montessori school in Westfield). When Maravetz set off for the University of Vermont in 1986 he had decided on a career in engineering, eventually focusing on structural engineering. “I was interested in building bridges and buildings and stuff like that,” he says.
At UVM, Maravetz met Reid, his future business partner, though it took him several runs. He kept seeing a group from a nearby dorm throwing snowboards into the back of a car but was invariably seconds late in racing from his room to catch them. Eventually, he timed it right and found himself a part of the small circle of cutting-edge boarders.
Upon graduation, Maravetz returned to New Jersey to work for an engineering and consulting firm that advised companies building cell phone towers across the Tristate area. A few years into that first job, during a weekend at his Long Beach Island summer share, a friend of a friend noticed the Burton T-shirt that Maravetz was wearing and told him that the company was looking for an engineer who was into snowboarding. Two months later, in September 1991, Maravetz became the board-design engineer at the burgeoning sport’s premier company. He spent the next decade at Burton, moving from engineering to project management to directing advanced research and development, a career arc that gave him the breadth of experience, he felt, to move onto a “next-level challenge.”
“I had a great run at Burton,” says Maravetz, “but as the company got bigger I realized I had way more influence when I first started. You could work on everything and have input. But when you get to 650 people, that’s just impossible.”
Maravetz also saw that the snowboarding industry, just finishing a vast consolidation, offered little choice when it came to brands geared to the sport. He’d seen enough companies rise and fall to know that the task for him and Reid would be, well, mountainous, but he also believed there was a real opportunity.
As with many launches, Rome’s was arduous. During its first year of operation, Maravetz had to drive four hours each way, two times a week, to and from Quebec City, Canada, to monitor the goings-on at his less-than-reliable board-manufacturing factory. “I remember being terrified that we were potentially going to blow all of our seed money with nothing to show for it,” Maravetz says. “It was an amazing gut-check.”
Over the next few months enough e-mails began trickling in from interested consumers who had heard of the company via “the underground,” as Maravetz puts it, to convince him and his partner that the dream of building a “true, relevant” brand was within their grasp. Rome, it should be noted, is a meaningless moniker, chosen partly because it was memorable, monosyllabic, and had interesting graphic potential. But Design Syndicate turns out to be much more than a cool, alt-sounding add-on. It is, in a sense, what the company is all about.
“One of the things I like about Rome is that they solicit input, and if they get enough people saying something, they’ll actually adjust what they’re doing accordingly,” says John DiNicola, snowboard buyer for Cherry Hill’s Danzeisen & Quigley, one of the state’s oldest specialty sports retailers, now in its 45th year. “The consumer has a real voice with the company. They have a small, growing pro team, but really, they’re relying on the consumer, which is a breath of fresh air in our industry. The people that don’t migrate with the rest of the crowd tend to migrate toward the brand.”
Maravetz ascribes the company’s democratic spirit both to his parents—“they’re non-traditional people,” he says—and to his experience as a green twenty-something at Burton, designing snowboards with input from many of the sport’s pioneers.
“I may be the final mix-master,” Maravetz says of Rome’s development model, “but [collaboration] is how I always developed product. We expanded that model to the rest of the business, because two heads are better than one, and three are better than two. But it only works if you have an organization that can process the information. We read every e-mail, every bit of feedback.
“It really is a syndicate—a syndicate of riders, retailers, sales reps, and employees,” he says. “It’s a network of like-minded people. Different groups may have different perspectives, but they all have the same kind of passionate tie to snowboarding.”
Maravetz lives fifteen minutes from the lifts at Stowe, where he begins almost every day with a hike, jog, or snowboarding run. It unites his work and personal life; he lives his brand. But he often returns to Westfield and the Jersey Shore to stay connected to the spirit that drives Rome.
“The people are just so damn genuine,” he says. “It’s still very much home to me.”Click here to leave a comment