Action Sports Barbie | The Lauren Lidford Interview

From ‘Barbie’ to business owner, Lauren Lidford talks us through her story as one of the UK’s most prominent action sports sales agents

The Luminaries Series is about shining a light on some of the most inspirational people in our industry, documenting their rise in their given professions, and sharing some of their insights from along the way.

As the saying goes “Behind every great man is a great woman” but perhaps more relevant here is “behind many great brands, is a great Lauren”. Lauren Lidford to be precise.

“I get to travel around the UK, talking about snowboards, meeting with shop staff and spreading the stoke”

The curator of a no doubt exquisite chapeau collection, Lauren wears many hats. She’s an entrepreneur, a shrewd business owner, a sales rep, a yoga teacher, a snowboard instructor, a marketing guru, and an all-round good lass. She’s the brains behind Ragdoll, an action sports agency representing a roster of premium and prestigious brands, including Mervin MFG, Giro and 686.

If you’ve met Lauren, you can pay testament to her tenacity, her wealth of business knowledge and her uncanny ability to turn any chance encounter into a good time. When you’re out at any UK or Euro event, expect to see Lauren accompanied by her extra cute pooch, Dallas, and her fleet of ace snowboard gear.

When we see initiatives like Gnu Girls that shift the narrative of what we expect to see in snowboarding, we oftentimes don’t stop to think about all the work that goes into them behind the scenes. Lauren is an often-unsung hero of the snowboard community, and we’re super stoked to pay tribute to her and shine a light on her story.

We hear how Lauren set up a business despite adversity, learn how she managed to thrive during a global pandemic, find out how she turned a patronising nickname into a strong identity and get some insider tips for anyone wanting to break into this side of the industry.

Tell us a bit about your job – what’s a typical day in the life of a sales rep? Is there even such a thing?
Pre-Covid I was lucky enough to spend a lot of time driving round the country talking to people about snowboarding all day. It felt like taking the piss for quite a while, because I’d just drive round to snowboard shops, talk about my snowboard products, train up the staff, drink coffee and eat biscuits, then go out for dinner and talk more about snowboarding.

“I love plans, but plans don’t love me, they never seem to come to fruition”

The last couple of years it’s been a bit different, there’ve been a lot of phone calls, a lot of discussions about how we can see next season panning out but none of us are Mystic Meg, we’ve not got a crystal ball. But really I am the luckiest person, I get to travel around the UK, talking about snowboards, meeting with shop staff and spreading the stoke.

How did you get here? What prompted you to get into this side of snowboarding?
It actually started around 15 years ago. I was in a petrol station, and I picked up a copy of Cooler Mag and at the time I was wearing like Paul Frank jeans with my swinging keychain, Bench jumpers and big fat Etnies or DC trainers. I fully looked like a skater girl, but I had no idea. I’d picked up this magazine and I remember reading the intro by Sam Haddad and just thought, ‘Wow, this is so cool’.

Lauren and Dallas.

In the mag I saw an ad for Girly Camps and went on their surf retreat in Hossegor and I remember just being really obsessed with the surf scene. I couldn’t actually surf that well, but I loved the vibe and the people. Over the next few years, I’d be off and about on all these solo jaunts, through Portugal and Spain and just really got into the surf side of things.

A while later a friend of mine broke up with his girlfriend and said, ‘Fuck it let’s go snowboarding in Andorra’, and so off we went and from the first day I was completely and utterly hooked. The next season I went off to Whistler, and it was 2009/10 which was the Olympic year, so it was absolutely extortionate. I did my CASI Level 1 [instructor qualification] and then managed to break my ankle the next day, so I couldn’t go on with doing my Level 2, but I decided to stay the season anyway.

On the way home I was at Vancouver Airport struggling with all my bags, and I ran into Matt Bailey, who worked as a Graphic Designer for OnBoard. We got chatting and I happened to have a copy of Cooler Mag with me, and then he said that he worked in the same office as Cooler and that I should get in touch with them to see about any jobs going. And that was that. I went for an interview and started at Factory Media, and it was great. Working in that scene gave me so many connections across the whole industry that are so useful to what I do now with Mervin.

So, it sounds like this wasn’t always the plan, and you just rolled with the punches and evolved along the way to meet the needs of the industry.
Totally, I love plans, but plans don’t love me, they never seem to come to fruition. Originally my plan had been to go back to Canada to teach but it was just really hard to get a job and visa to work over there, so I just had to kind of roll with it.

“The more comfortable you are with your blind spots, the better you’ll be when working to improve yourself”

I feel so lucky that I’ve managed to still stay within my passion, even though it wasn’t exactly what I had planned initially. And it’s all connected, working with Cooler selling advertising to these retailers, and then working with Mervin I got to reconnect with them all years later. I was initially selling advertising space and then I’m selling this really cool brand.

So, it was all kind of intertwined, and you’re still in the same industry, but you sort of flipped 180 and went from being the media side to the business side.
Yeah 100%. When I got made redundant at Factory Media, it was actually Hannah Bailey that called me into London one day and said they were starting a new magazine and they were going to Spring Break.

So, I went with them, riding with Lois Pendlebury and Amy Ram and she took a photographer, and it was on that trip I started chatting to Matt Taylor-Garcia who used to be the rep for HolySport doing Mervin. I just vividly remember being obsessed with the Gnu Ladies Choice, I think I took it on day one and didn’t give it back until day four. I was so into it that I immediately bought one and then he and I always stayed in touch. When he left HolySport he said to me “You have to take this job”, so that’s how I got into selling Mervin, initially through this distributor.

That all kind of feeds into how you founded Ragdoll, originally distributing through Holy Sport then? It’s interesting though, as it’s concrete proof that not everything works out how you planned initially, but there’s no one set route to get to where you want to be, especially in an industry like snowboarding that has so many people fighting for what’s realistically not a lot of jobs.
Yeah, completely. I was at Holysport and I had a job teaching yoga in the evenings, and one night my boss called me to Stansted Airport. He was flying out the next day and told me we needed to have a meeting, but my class didn’t finish until 8 and the airport was an hour away. When I arrived, I was like, ‘Hey, sorry I’m a bit late’, and he told me I had to give up yoga because I already had a job.

“It’s great to sit and have this conversation where we can take a step back and look at women’s snowboarding as a whole and see how fucking awesome it is”

Which was bizarre because I was teaching yoga at 7pm and finished at Holysport at around 5 so there was no conflict of timings or anything, plus the pay was so dismal that I needed extra income. So, we had this meeting, and I was telling him that it was a tough market at the minute.

We disagreed on ideas and he became very hostile towards me, so much so that another person in the restaurant stepped in to make sure I was okay. I gave the keys back to my van the next day and quit, I thought, ‘Fuck this, there’s no way I’m going to be spoken to like that, on my own time, in a packed restaurant’.

It was a tough decision to walk away because I didn’t want to represent that company, but I absolutely loved Mervin. So I called Marian [Mervin MFG EMEA General Manager] the next day and explained the situation, and pitched my own ideas for them, and how we could garner longevity and success within the UK. He said he’d keep me in mind, but I fully expected to never hear from them again.

After a while working various jobs in action sports events, I had a call from Marian, and he explained he wanted to offer me the gig with Mervin as a direct agent. There were a few other guys in the industry that thought they had the job, but Marian knew what I was capable of, and they wanted me. I had to set up a limited company, so I went straight to my desk and set up Ragdoll Agency. It’s nerve wracking to jump into something totally alone but it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

Wow, what a douchebag in the restaurant, but you must feel so vindicated that you got the last laugh with it.
I actually saw him at ISPO and went to shake his hand and say no hard feelings and he completely disregarded me. We locked eyes, I smiled, and he walked straight past me. I feel like a lot of these people get threatened, and do you know what? Fine. That’s none of my business if you feel threatened by my success.

“With everything that’s been going on, it’s great to sit and have this conversation where we can take a step back and look at women’s snowboarding as a whole and see how fucking awesome it is”

I think sometimes men are intimidated to speak to a woman about something like snowboarding. They think she won’t want to know the sidecut or understand different profiles but that’s just not the case.

I think one of the things I like most about you is that you’re unapologetically feminine. You don’t feel the need to dilute yourself to fit into this traditionally machismo-fuelled industry and I think that’s really cool.
I used to get called ‘Action Sports Barbie’ because I used to have my nails done, my make up on and I had this long blonde hair, but I’d be like, ‘Fuck you, if you want to take me at face value then that’s on you.’ I took the nickname and reclaimed it, they wanted to poke fun at me, well I fed into it and yeah, I’m girly but I’m not just a two dimensional caricature.

When I worked at TSA, I can say first-hand that admittedly while there wasn’t a 50/50 split of men and women customers looking for hardware, there were still a helluva lot of women who snowboard and are consumers. If you’re a shop owner or a buyer and you refuse to cater to that demographic or you only offer 1 or 2 models, then you’re exacerbating this problem of the lack of women in snowboarding. It’s this sort of chicken and egg scenario where you say you don’t have women customers so you don’t buy women’s gear, but then how can you ever have women customers because you haven’t got anything for them?
If you don’t support women’s snowboarding, then you don’t support women. It’s as simple as that. If you’re not buying women’s snowboards for your shop, then you’re alienating 50% of the population. It’s madness.

It’s the biggest bug bear during buying season. I’ve been speaking to retailers recently who haven’t bought anything for women, and their justification is the lack of appetite for it. But they’ve got one 3-season old Roxy sitting there and that’s their only stock. If anything, it would be useful for these shops to take on a female member of staff to understand the customer.

So, aside from Mervin you’re now working with Giro, Hip Lock, Evoc and 686. You’ve managed to not only survive during a pandemic, but actually thrive and grow your business. That’s super impressive.
Yeah, I’m super stoked because they’re all premium brands. And while they might not be ‘core-core’ they’re still really sick. Take Giro for example, it’s difficult when you have these huge brands like Dragon and Oakley with this huge dominant market share, but the tech and design in Giro goggles is insane.

And working with 686 is a bit of a dream come true to be honest. I mean of course their stuff is always sick but deeper than that I’ve always really resonated with their vibe and the fact that they’ve had this incredible longevity in snowsports, is really awesome to be a part of.

And that fits in with our other brands. Take Gnu for example, they’re super tech products, and you have Lib sitting at that premium price point, both really well-respected companies so it ties together nicely as a business to have these top-tier brands.

So now that you have these less traditional non-hardware brands, how have these new additions changed your approach to business?
Well, it’s opened up new doors for me, like now with Giro I’m going into places like Opticians which is different to what I’m used to. I have to think outside the box with these new acquisitions and be creative and flexible with my strategies, it’s exciting.

On the sales side of things, what trends are you expecting to see over the coming years?
People are so much more conscious about responsible manufacturing these days, which is awesome, that’s 100% on the uptick. And working closely with Mervin, who are so committed to being as eco-friendly as possible has actually changed the way I live my day-to-day life. I visited the factory in Washington, and it was evident how genuinely passionate they are about being sustainable, it’s not just marketing spiel.

What advice would you give someone who is looking to break into this side of the industry?
It’s about believing in yourself and your skills and having the confidence to take up space. It’s fine to have the ‘gift of the gab’ when you’re talking to people or making sales, but don’t blag things. I’ll always ask questions if I don’t understand something, or I want further clarification I’ll ask, and then I have that information in my locker to use going forward. Don’t be ashamed to not know things, no one is born having reams of information and the more comfortable you are with your blind spots, the better you’ll be when working to improve yourself.

“If you don’t support women’s snowboarding, then you don’t support women. It’s as simple as that. If you’re not buying women’s snowboards for your shop, then you’re alienating 50% of the population. It’s madness.”

I hate the saying ‘She believed she could, so she did’. It’s so cringe, but the point still stands.

Haha, it’s like the ‘Live, Laugh, Love’ of the business world. It’s interesting though, most people we’ve spoken to have echoed that sentiment. It’s quite telling that pretty much everyone gave that kind of advice.
It’s not always easy, you know? There are some days that you take professional knocks and especially during the last few years with everything that has been going on but it’s great to sit and have this conversation where we can take a step back and look at women’s snowboarding as a whole and see how fucking awesome it is.

Totally. There is so much potential and passion here and we can only go upwards.
Take a look at Mia Brookes for instance, she’s such an incredible rider and young person, she’s humble and gracious and that’s the future of women’s snowboarding. We’re lucky really to have ambassadors like her and established members of the UK scene like Sarah Fish to guide the next generation.

Lauren, as always it’s been a pleasure, thanks for your time. Make sure to follow along with Lauren’s journey as she takes over the action sports world one brand at a time with Ragdoll here.


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