Co-founder and CEO Russ Warner experienced the power of social media firsthand when a video of one of his company’s transparent longboards went viral in 2020.
Warner and co-founder Brent Johnson started Ghost Boards as a side hustle they hoped would cover payments on new cars.
“She was just a regular high-school girl, a senior in high school,” says Warner. “She didn’t have many followers, but TikTok grabbed one of her hashtags and put it out in front of everybody. TikTok put it out in front of 50 million people.”
At that time, the company would get 10 to 15 orders — about $1,500 to $3,000 in sales — on a good day from its Shopify site. On May 31, 2020, “My phone just went ballistic,” says Warner. “We sold 600 boards in one day.”
Ghost Boards wound up getting about $200,000 in orders — or 1,200 longboards — in three days, and that many again every week for a month. “We ended up making $4.5 million in six months,” says Warner.
For context, the company made 661 boards and $124,000 in 2019. Johnson would cut the boards on his day job’s CNC machine on nights and weekends, and Warner handled assembly and fulfillment largely from his home.
The seed for Ghost Board started to take root more than a decade ago, when Johnson made his first transparent longboard for his son on a CNC machine out of scrap plexiglass more than a decade ago. Warner, a neighbor, saw it and bugged Johnson for one for years. Johnson finally made him one and Warner tricked it out with light-up wheels and other bells and whistles.
Warner says he then spent more than a year convincing Johnson they could cover payments on new cars and make $400 a month each if they started selling the boards online. “It was just a hobby to build a couple boards and sell them,” says Warner.
Warner soon started exploring social media for marketing and sent a few influencers free longboards. That generated some early exposure, and the company found a fertile market by advertising on Instagram.
Before Maddie K.’s video went viral, the side hustle was already getting overwhelming for both of them. “Every night, Brent’s showing up to my house with like a dozen boards for me to build,” says Warner. “I was, ‘I have a job. How am I going to do this?'”
Post-video, Warner and Johnson initially turned the website off, fearing they would have trouble scaling manufacturing to fulfill tens of thousands of orders. After considering shutting down the company in the face of overwhelming demand, the duo ultimately ended up doubling down on the concept.
With a big assist from Warner’s wife, Sarah, the company found five local CNC machine shops to help the company work through the backlog, and assembly became a neighborhood affair where Warner employed as many local kids as possible.
“I asked every neighbor and all my kids’ friends, and all their friends, and all their friends,” he laughs. “We had 50 kids show up at my house. I put three pop-up tents in the driveway and I filled up the refrigerator with drinks and had pizza delivered every single day.”
He adds, “We were cranking out 250 to 400 boards a day, and just doing everything we could to get the boards out.”
Ghost Boards has since invested in an 8,000-square-foot facility with two CNC machines and more than 20 employees to handle the workload. Johnson has gone full-time with the company, and Warner works full-time as well while maintaining a second career in the mortgage industry.
“As of 2021, we finally got caught up by running the machines until 2 a.m.,” says Warner. “It was a lot cheaper to keep it in-house. I was doing everything I could to eventually cut out the outsourcing.”
Warner credits his wife for transitioning the company from side gig to full-fledged manufacturer. “She is the brains behind the set up of everything, from legal documents to everything else,” says Warner. “She was the organizer, I was the sales guy, and Brent was the machinist and perfectionist.”
Now that the operation’s costs are under control, Warner is now focused on establishing Ghost Boards as a business for the long haul. “I’ve got inventory on my shelves for a little over 30,000 boards,” he says. “It’s paid for, it’s sitting there, it’s ready. I could scale really easily now.”
The company has moved into wholesale and brick-and-mortar retail with an outlet store in Lehi that works with other manufacturers on Ghost-branded products like traditional skateboards and clothing. “I want 30 percent of the business to be wholesale, 10 percent at the out store, and 60 percent direct-to-consumer,” says Warner.
He’s aiming for sales to eclipse $5 million in 2023. “We’re building into that next stage: a lifestyle brand,” says Warner. “That was my 2021 of brainstorming all of that, and now 2022 is full-bore moving forward for that whole lifestyle of Ghost Boards.”
Challenges: Avoiding one-hit wonder status, says Warner. “One of my fears is to be a fidget spinner,” he says. “The challenge is always to continue growing and moving forward.” That translated to boards with LED lights, wooden inserts, swirled resin, and other design innovations.
Staying on top of trends in tech and social media is another challenge, as is expanding wholesale distribution. “Getting into stores is not as easy as people think,” says Warner. “You have to make sure your margins are right, and get in front of people.”
Opportunities: Building a lifestyle brand and expanding into new categories. “My thing is marketing and growth,” says Warner, citing new products coming in 2022 in the form of transparent wakeboards and snowboards.
Needs: “A sales team,” says Warner. “And then continuing with invention — and growth.”