Carlson School grad places concept on shelves

Craig Gustafson

After graduating from the University’s Carlson School of Management with a master’s degree, John Benzick found himself inexperienced and unemployed.
Every potential employer, including Nike and Adidas, said Benzick lacked work experience to become a product manager at their companies.
So instead the 33-year-old just created his own product.
Now, a year and a half later, Benzick’s line of Morphic outerwear hits the shelves Nov. 1 at major retailers like Seattle-based Recreational Equipment Inc., as well as other smaller local snowboarding and ski shops.
Morphic designs and markets jackets and pants that come with detachable colored trims. With the flip of a zipper, a skier can change the outfit’s color and design, so the next time down the hill the appearance is altered. The first-year designs have two jacket and pant styles with up to five different color schemes. Various uniquely designed patches are also available.
The idea for Morphic came from Benzick’s own experiences on the slopes.
“When I was a snowboarder, I always wanted to keep changing the way I looked,” he said. “I’d have my mom patch new stuff on my jackets and pants all the time.”
Now Benzick’s mom gets a reprieve as a Hong Kong manufacturer produces his new color schemes.
Benzick said he saw the current trend in modern-day sports as a business opportunity.
“There’s a rock-star mentality in terms of the riders,” he said. “Major sports are breaking up and kids are rushing to individual sports.”
Benzick says Morphic’s target consumers, snowboarders and freeskiers, have attitudes similar to participants of the X-Games and Gravity Games — where young athletes compete in half-pipe skateboarding and various extreme alternative sports.
In those competitions, final scores are mostly irrelevant; it’s all about who can make the coolest moves, he said.
Benzick pointed to the recent construction of several skate parks in Hopkins, Shoreview and Maple Grove as evidence to support his theory.
The idea, however, didn’t come to fruition until Benzick took a Carlson business formation course. He and a group of students created a business plan and conducted focus groups to assess the feasibility of what would become Morphic.
After graduation and several job rejections, Benzick brought his idea to a Las Vegas trade show where he learned from manufacturers exactly how much money he would need to start up his business.
“I didn’t want to be ‘schlecking’ these things out of a van for five years,” said Benzick of the need for an overseas partner. “You have to have rocks in your head to get into this business.”
Through a family connection and some of his own cash, he raised $270,000 to launch his dream. Three weeks ago, he received word the first shipment was on its way.
A dozen retail stores in California, Colorado and Minnesota have already purchased a total of $100,000 of Morphic products. The suggested retail price is $240 per jacket, $200 per pair of pants and $35 to $45 for extra trim packs.
Die-hard snowboarder Jamie Pierre ran into Benzick while shopping for gear last month and saw the Morphic line for the first time. The 27-year-old said the interchangeable trims are a perfect fit for the niche of customers in alternative sports.
“The material looks really bomber,” Pierre said. “When you go out on the slopes 150 days a year you don’t want to wear the same thing every time.”
Even national retailer REI committed to offering Morphic this fall — a real coup for Benzick.
Rich Ness, specialty shop manager at REI’s Bloomington store, said that location will carry Morphic outerwear; so far, there has been a lot of local enthusiasm for the products.
“(Morphic) has the potential, but I can’t really say whether it will be a positive or a negative,” Ness said.
Tucked away in a small Minneapolis warehouse, Benzick is already focusing on new designs for next year’s crop. He said his business will remain true to its name, meaning the outerwear will constantly change to keep the company fresh.
“To some extent people aren’t going to get it right away,” Benzick said. “But the concept is cool and I think people will gradually come around.”

Craig Gustafson welcomes comments at (612) 627-4070 x3222. He can also be reached at [email protected]