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Ben Harmon

Ben Harmon is doing well to turn Bing into cha-ching. The 1998 Dominican graduate, former owner of Sentury Snowboards that in 2011 was acquired by Voile Manufacturing, initially partnered with Microsoft to manufacture custom boards with the logo of Microsoft’s search engine Bing branded on the top and bottom-sheet graphics.

Ben Harmon

“Microsoft was an avenue for us to make revenue. It helped us get out there,” says Harmon, now a member of the Voile Manufacturing team. “But I think what made it for us (Sentury Snowboards) that helped us was our direct sales and changing the way we delivered our product.”

How Sentury, based in Reno, got to where it is today is more indirect. About 13 years ago, Harmon, who earned a biology degree at Dominican, shared a four-bedroom house near campus with a couple other Dominican grads: Sean Harmon (no relation) and Mike Adams. With Sean’s expertise in art, Mike’s marketing background and Ben’s technical know-how, they started building snowboards in the shed.

Their boards somehow caught the eye of the owner of Ravenswood Winery, who asked them to build him three boards. The next order was for 50. The next order was for 300.

“We didn’t really know where it was going to go. It was a hobby, a labor-of-love kind of thing."

“If you’re motivated you’re going to find someone in the area who’s going to help you get started,” Harmon says.

Sean Harmon and Adams eventually gravitated toward other careers, but Ben took the snowboard business to Reno and incorporated it under the name “Slouch.” Six years ago, the company, which has grown to seven full-time employees, changed its name to Sentury Snowboards.

“It was a little more marketable, more modernization of the company,” Harmon says. “We decided to go with a more mainstream name.”

Sentury couldn’t get much more mainstream than teaming with Microsoft, which has a licensing office in Reno. One of its vice presidents spotted a Sentury snowboard and asked Harmon to build him one five years ago. With Bing trying to appeal to a younger audience, Sentury seemed like a natural fit.

Someone else thought so, too. In September of 2011, Voile, a United States-based manufacturer of splitboards and skis, acquired Sentury and brought Harmon, its founder, on board.

What made Sentury Snowboards a successful production company and attractive acquisition, Harmon says, was quality control every step of the way. The boards were handcrafted, high-quality and more affordable because Harmon adopted the NetFlix business model and delivered direct. Sales increased when they shifted to online delivery and used promotion codes, which helped Sentury get sponsored by more than 300 universities that buy boards at wholesale cost.

Essentially, Sentury was versatile and flexible enough to adapt to trends and demand.

“We were a kind of niche industry brand then,” Harmon says. “People in the know, or in our industry, were buying our product … Our customers were basically marketing our boards."

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