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Environmental wax facing uphill challenge

Hillbilly getting publicity but distribution has been a problem

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It should have been an easy concept to sell. Many ski and snowboard waxes are toxic with uncertain long-term effects on people and the environment. The people at Hillbilly Wax-Works have an environmentally-friendly alternative that is competitively priced with other high-end products.

It’s also been about a year since Hillbilly went public and interest from the beginning has been high, with articles in Maclean’s magazine and both national and regional newspapers. On April 9 at 4:30 p.m. CBC TV will be doing a feature on toxic waxes that will feature the company and its newest line of Ethica Enviro-Wax.

Still, even with positive publicity behind them, HillBilly founder and "Waxorcist" Tyler Bradley is finding it difficult to get his product into the market.

One reason is the product itself. His manufacturer "screwed us" by sending them the wrong product. They had to do a recall, and as a result almost went out of business. They have since fixed the formula, and Bradley believes the product is now exactly where they want it.

Distribution has also been an issue. "I find I hate going into stores because retailers act like they’re doing you a favour, and I think we’re past that point where we even say this stuff is an alternative – it works as well as anything in the price range," he said. "Where I am now is realizing that I’m totally inept when it comes to sales, and that we need someone to go out and talk to the distributors. I can’t sit back and wait for people to come to me."

Other problems are common with other start-ups – maintaining cash flow, keeping product in stock, deciding how and where to spend marketing money, etc.

But Bradley says there is light at the end of the tunnel. He has recently met with representatives from Whistler-Blackcomb, Armer Sports (Atomic, Salomon), Whistler-based Prior Snowboards, and has an upcoming meeting with Mountain Equipment Co-op. He also plans to speak at the Canada West Ski Areas Association annual general meeting this spring, and was invited to speak at a protest at DuPont’s annual general meeting. Dupont is a chemical company that sells and markets the wax and water-proofing materials that many scientists and environmentalists believe could have long-term effects on health and the environment.

As an extra boost, Hillbilly has been nominated for an Outstanding Sustainable Style Achievement award from the Sustainable Style Foundation. The award ceremony takes place on April 22, which is Earth Day.

Bradley says there is light at the end of the tunnel, providing the company can limp through the summer months.

"We are all out of spring wax because a heli-ski company in the Interior bought it all, which was awesome," he said. "We’ve also been marketing to heli and cat operations across B.C. – and there are over 40 – because a lot of them want to show their clientele that they use an environmentally friendly product. Usually they have bigger concerns than wax… so it’s great they’re giving us some attention."

Before he looked at Hillbilly as a business, Bradley was on a mission. In recent years a lot of information has surfaced about PFCs (perfluorocarbons) and PFOAs (perfluorooctanoic acid), which are a byproduct of PFC’s.

PFOAs have been linked to cancer, birth defects and organ damage in laboratory animals, and according to the Environmental News Network they have also been linked to birth defects in people working for DuPont.

The risk of PFCs is that PFOAs are a byproduct of manufacturing when PFCs break down in the environment. As well, PFCs are classified among the most persistent synthetic chemicals in history, and do not biodegrade over time. There is concern over what might happen when PFCs start to accumulate in the environment and in species, including humans.

Other wax formulations that do not contain PFCs can contain petroleum-based paraffin, microcrystallines and other synthetic materials with their own sets of problems.

Hillbilly’s formulas are secret, but they are made with natural ingredients and biodegrade over time.

In the end Bradley knows performance will be a large factor in whether his waxes will appeal to customers.

"A lot of ski techs are interested, but they’re also skeptical," he said. "That’s why we’ve been working to get so many samples out there, because at the end of the day people have to try it for themselves."

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