Meet Your Merchant: A decade strong: Arcade Belts CEO reflects on company, staying true to Tahoe
Nearly 10 years ago, Tristan Queen was spending late nights sewing buckles on belts and packing orders, doing all he could to help a small business get off the ground.
While much has changed in the past decade for the CEO of Arcade Belts — a company that now has an international reach — Queen can still be found putting in long hours at the business’ location in Squaw Valley, often finishing the day’s work by emptying the trash before heading home.
“It’s a labor of love that feels natural,” he said.
“I’m still involved in almost every single aspect of the company from products to marketing to sales and finance.”
Arcade Belts Co. was founded in 2010 by Tahoe locals Queen, Cody Townsend, and David Bronkie. The trio desired a better belt for skiing and riding — one that didn’t have a buckle, which bit into their stomachs, or came loose, allowing snow down their pants during a powder day in Tahoe.
“What we set out from day one was to make products for ourselves and our friends and people that share this lifestyle,” said Queen. “We want to continue to celebrate the dedicated dirt bags and the world-class athletes alike. Those are our people and those are the people we want to make great products for. The backside of that is, we want to celebrate what those people are doing. It’s a unique lifestyle. If you live it and breathe it every day, that’s what we’re trying to celebrate.”
Today, the belts have evolved into an international brand with Townsend’s adventures across the globe serving as a marketing tool and Queen running the company as CEO.
“We’re very appreciative to be in the position we’re in,” said Queen. “Surviving as a small business, it seems like there’s booby traps everywhere you look.
“We’re healthy, we’re stable, and we’re still telling the original story with the original product. We didn’t have to compromise what we’re trying to do, but we’re still trying to perfect the product and perfect the industry chapter that we’re trying to write 10 years in.”
Queen, who lives in the Tahoe area with his wife and son, continues to be uncompromising in his approach to the company, putting in long hours with Arcade Belts’ 10 full-time employees.
“It’s a bunch of really talented people. It’s super tight-knit and a very solid crew,” he said. “Everyone who works here wouldn’t be able to survive in a city. The only way this works is to do it here … being able to walk outside, get on the hill, take a ski or snowboard break or in the summer, be in the lake in 10 minutes. That’s the life force that makes the company go.”
While the hours spent doing tasks like sewing have, mostly, been replaced with running the company, the amount of energy he puts into the product still burns as brightly as it did in 2010.
“Even though the things we were working on were a bit more simple, it felt just as challenging then as it does now,” said Queen. “We sort of feel like we’re just getting started. We haven’t perfected the product. We haven’t perfected the brand, and we’re still putting a lot of elbow grease into it in a very similar way to back then.”
Today, the company markets itself to much more than skiers and snowboarders, with belts designed for all walks of life, and even a line of suspenders. Recently, Arcade Belts announced it was adding to its sales force with new members focused on Utah, Los Angeles, and Ontario, Canada.
“It’s a continuous evolution of great people that are working on this brand across the U.S. and Canada,” said Queen on the announcement.
Moving forward, Queen said one of the biggest challenges the company faces is competing on a global level against larger companies, while staying true to its local ties.
“In order to run a brand that’s both successful and true to its roots is very challenging, and that’s why we’ve always tried to stay as close to the project as possible, and stay rooted in Tahoe,” said Queen.
“Our biggest challenge is competing against all of the noise that’s out there. People are swamped with advertising and brand stories, so the biggest challenge is how to get our story to 10 times more people than we’re getting it to. You’re competing for people’s eyes, and ears, and hard-earned dollars. That’s something we want to do very genuinely.”
Though much has changed since the time the company launched, Queen said it still feels like Arcade Belts is still just getting started.
“We’re looking at Arcade Decade for 2020,” he said. “The evolution of the brand has yet to be written. There’s a lot we’d like to do. It’s not just about products. We want to be responsible, we want to sustainable, and we want to give back. We want to blend all of those things together.”
Justin Scacco is a reporter for the Sierra Sun. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.