Behind the Scenes Part One: John Rauvola, Flowbuilt CEO and President.
Curious about what the future of manufacturing might look like? Interested in how primarily footwear, but also other industries can 'be the change' in more sustainable production, at a great savings to cost, waste, and ultimately, our environment?
You can learn more here about Flowbuilt Manufacturing, a US-based facility in Ferndale, Washington. About what we do, who we are and how top footwear brands currently work with us and will in the future. In the first introduction of this series, you’ll get to meet a few members of the team at Flowbuilt. From the basics of their background and current responsibilities, to how they envision the future of customization and automated manufacturing, these profiles will offer a glimpse into their way of thinking and how it can change the future of footwear manufacturing entirely.
John Rauvola, President and CEO, Superfeet Worldwide Inc / Flowbuilt Board Member
“I remember working in the ski industry, years ago, the head of manufacturing discussing our adaptation to the snowboard business, and at least one person pounded the table saying, ‘This will never happen. It’ll never take off. Our equipment isn’t built to handle these big, wide things. It’s going to cause all of these problems. We’ve got to get out of it.’
Within five years the snowboard business was bigger than the ski business at the time and the company then expanded into footwear, inline skates and eventually, many more categories. Those expansions led to a period of explosive growth that skyrocketed that brand to a $750 million company.
Where we are right now with Flowbuilt is that precipice. We’re at the very beginning of an exciting, new, and potentially massive market of personalized products. Not everyone is able to embrace that vision quite yet, not everyone is convinced of what the future of footwear manufacturing looks like. But we built Flowbuit with the confidence that this new model of manufacturing is exactly where the market will lead next.”
What, exactly, is your role at Flowbuilt?
I’m the CEO and president of Superfeet and Flowbuilt. Overall I have 30 years of leadership roles in consumer products, building brands, and driving innovation through new product development with some really great companies. As CEO and president, I’m responsible for setting the vision for the company, defining the strategic initiatives and goals, and ultimately helping to assemble a team to accomplish those goals and realize the overall vision.
Tell us about your background and how you’re drawing on it to help with your current role at Flowbuilt.
I spent 15 years with K2 where I started on the operations side and progressed through product management, marketing, sales, and on to international sales and marketing. We grew the ski business from about $60 million to $750 million. From there I moved to Pearl Izumi where I was brought in to help position the company for a sale. After we successfully grew the brand by 20% per year-over-year for 3 years and found a new owner, I then moved on to a 100% family-owned Swedish company called Bona. With this company I was tapped to help establish their retail business, and over six years we worked our way into hardware stores and eventually expanded into Home Depot, Lowe’s and other mass market retailers.
The common thread throughout my entire career is really brand building and driving innovation. And ultimately trying to disrupt the industry and marketplace through those innovations. The key is finding an unmet consumer need, and fulfilling it.
How do you describe Flowbuilt and its vision to a prospective partner?
Flowbuilt is a disruptive custom insole and footwear manufacturer facility. Our vision is to ultimately revolutionize custom insoles and footwear.
We have the talent, the technology partners, the innovation, and the footwear manufacturing expertise to affect a major shift in how insoles and footwear are made - and to bring cost savings and efficiencies along with it.
What, if anything, has surprised you about Flowbuilt since you started working there?
One of the bigger surprises as we’ve worked with multiple footwear brands is just how entrenched they are in how they’ve been manufacturing and developing footwear for decades. And it has been incredibly hard for them to change and get their heads around what Flowbuilt is offering as a new solution.
The current and traditional development times are extremely long. It’s two or three years from an idea or design to ultimately having a finished product coming off the production line. Asking them to think in terms of weeks, not months or years, is pretty radical and it’s taking some people a while to come around.
Based on your experience, do you feel like we’re at the tipping point of personalization?
I think we’re still early in the curve. I don’t believe most consumers can yet fully appreciate or understand the many benefits and possibilities of personalization. You hear a bit about customization, but its full potential has not yet been explored.
But it makes so much intuitive sense. Those unmet consumer needs - you can get a product that is customized specifically for you versus something generic, and it’s pretty radical. Who wouldn’t want that? Especially if that personalized product is cost competitive with an off-the-shelf option.
Stay tuned for more executive profiles. In future posts, we’ll also take a closer look at some of the challenges and issues facing today’s manufacturing industry as a whole, and how we are using new innovations - and existing technologies in new ways - while looking to turn the entire industry on its head.