While it's based in Bend, KiteLine sells equipment worldwide
By Rachael Rees / The Bulletin
Published: June 11. 2013 4:00AM PST
About 14 years ago, Michael Giebelhaus scraped together enough funds to place his first order of kiteboarding equipment to sell out of a Bend skateboard and ski shop.
Today, he's one of the leading retailers in the sport, he said, selling kites, boards, harnesses, apparel and accessories to more than 15,000 customers all over the world.
“People thought I was crazy for starting a kiteboarding e-commerce business because they didn't know what it was," he said referring to kiteboarding — a sport combining aspects of surfing, wakeboarding, windsurfing and paragliding
Giebelhaus first experienced kiteboarding on land — riding a wheeled board,pulled by a kite, in Southeast Oregon's Alvord Desert in 1999. From there, he started making his own kiteboarding equipment with friends to see how he could take the sport in new directions.
“We were early pioneers of the sport before there were that many brands of products out there," he said. “We would find old surf boards, mount bindings on them and take them to Wickiup Reservoir. In the winter we'd go out on skis with a kite."
Because there were limited options to purchase gear, he decided to start his business.
“KiteLine started with a $10,000 cash advance from a credit card. I took the risk but knew there was big potential in the sport," he said. “I got started with it when the sport was just beginning in Europe and barely here at all in the U.S."
Today, he averages about $1.5 million in sales annually. While Giebelhaus doesn't currently have any other employees, he said he hires independent contractors to help with marketing, advertising, Web development and shipping.
Giebelhaus works out of his Bend office. Much of his time is spent as an online salesman, plowing though up to 150 emails a day, Skyping and answering phone calls about his products. The remainder is spent boxing up and shipping orders to places ranging from New Jersey to New Zealand.
But he also gets to have some fun.
“The best part of the job is getting to try all sorts of new gear and selling something that I'm passionate about," he said. “My job takes me to some great places where I can still operate the business while on vacation, thanks to the Internet, while surrounded by the sport, my family and my customers."
Q: What is your favorite part of owning and operating Kite Line?
A: Watching it grow from a tiny seed into a thriving tree. It's been a lot of work, but it's been my work. I haven't had a boss in more than 20 years and really can't fathom it. There are lots of trade-offs to owning your own business — no paid vacation, no paid health care, no set hours, lots of personal time and investment — but I do have many freedoms that others don't have.
Q: Where do you see the business in the next five years?
A: I can see our sales growing steadily as it has in the past 14 years. Kiting is only getting easier and more accessible, and people are discovering how easy it is to travel with ... Personally, I'm at a point in the business where I might be looking at my exit strategy so that I can focus on some social-entrepreneurship ideas, but I won't stop kiteboarding and living the lifestyle.