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The cold world of skimo & alpine climbing

The cold world of skimo & alpine climbing

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Holly sheet...are the retailers nuts?

I had  an interesting conversation come up this week.

Most know I buy a lot of gear at retail.  I also return a lot of gear to retailers with out a .oz or remorse.
Couldn't write the blog other wise.

I personally shop most everyone online and all the retail climbing stores in the Seattle area.

Economic times are a little tough for most.  Myself and extended family no different from anyone out side Wall Street I suspect.  But we (climbers and skiers) all have a certain amount of disposable income.  I have when unemployed and when working full time.  Most do, if you climb.  You make "gear" a priority.  How much of a priority is up to you :)  Rent or new double boots?  Food or gas money?

So....I suspect you'll be as amazed as I was with this conversation.

After a few years off a friend wants to do the Cassin in good style spring of 2013.  It has been a while since he has been in the alpine.  But he has always skied and climbed hard.  Hard enough to have been on pro deals in the past.   The Cassin is a great goal but shouldn't be out of his  reach either.  He no longer has to trade food for gas money financially.  But he wants to get in a couple of good seasons in yet before kids are part of his future responsibilities.

A quick look at his gear room, our conversations and worse yet, a look here at the blog and it is obvious some new gear will make things easier, safer and warmer for his climbs, this winter and eventually the Cassin.

My guy is a businessman.  He knows numbers.  So out comes his hit "list".  The number when done is $5000 of new gear.  Where to start the shopping?  I send him to literally all of my normal sources with $5000 in hand and a list he wants filled.  How hard can that be?  I mention that with $5K...most retailers should be willing to cough up a fair discount.  If it were me I'd want 20% off the top, no questions asked.  And I'd want the EXACT color, size and item on my list.  No chit chat, no BS, no hassles.  I give you a $5K order.  I pay $$4K for it plus shipping and taxes as required.  That $5K will cost most retailers between $3000 and $2500 at a 40% or 50% margin depending on whether it is hard goods or soft goods.   This order is a combo..but mostly clothes which go at 50%.

Sure they will have shipping and time involved and if the items are not in stock they will have to order the gear.  Which is more time involved.   But then $1000 for a few hours work would seem to be a decent day's wage when the guy on the phones @ less than $20 per hr. After all my guy has the ability to go anywhere and buy the gear, hassle free, at retail.

You would think someone would take on a quick turn like this one and it would be done same day.

The list has yet to be resolved but from first contact the buyer is so frustrated it seems he is willing to just pay retail from any business that won't bull shit him around.

Retail specialty stores...the ones still open...wonder why they are doing poorly?   The online folks?  It doesn't take much effort to have good customer service let alone great customer service.   Seems a few of them will be out of business before they figure that one out. 

I don't mind paying retail.  But like most I prefer not to if there are other options available.  Those that I do buy from better be damn nice to me and earn my money.   But no question if I were going to drop $4 or 5K at one location...they would be giving me a discount or I'd shop else where.   Even if that means EBAY.  Given enough time I could dig up everything on his list at 1/2 price, new with the hang tags intact.   If you are a retailer and think other wise you are an idiot.

Can't wait to read and then publish the anonymous excuses ;)


Daniel Rudmin said...

Probably just sales staff that don't see the benefit to themselves. After all, they don't own the place and they don't have the authority to bargain.

Rafal said...

Agree with Daniel here, most staff are not authorized to do deals, etc.

Speak to the owner of a small shop and things might go better... though I recently had a similar conversation with a local shop owner, and given that the major retailers won't do discounts, the small shop owner has no incentive to bargain, either.

Anonymous said...

its too bad that you feel that local shops have become irrelevant with the 1/2 price screaming deals on the internet. ive worked specialty outdoor retail for the past 8 years and feel that shops still play a very real role in the outdoor community. past and current employes of the store i work in have been involved in the development of nearly all the local crags, started and continue to maintain the local nordic ski system, offer free climbing and skiing classes, and write grants for local clubs for trail development funding... small list in comparison with what everybody puts in to the community. sometimes i think that there is more to it than price.

Dane said...

Please don't put words in my mouth. I don't think local shops are irrelevant. And I have more than once said in public and private if you want the local shops to stay around we must support them with our dollars.

What a good shop is capable of and how they support the community is one thing. And for their part admirable and required imo.

In this particular case I mention, my friend was trying to support the "local" shops to the tune of 4or 5 THOUSAND dollars.

Everyone should be involved in their community. This blog is my effort to do so.

But when it comes to what I pay for gear..especially if it were $5K worth of gear at one go, there isn't much that convinces me it is anything but a money transaction.

You earn my business by price, customer service, quality products and communiy involvement. Anyone might well mean more to me on one transaction than another.

Having a huge public profile supporting projects and causes that are important to me doesn't mean much if your customer service sucks.

Anyone who does much Internet shopping for climbing gear knows the ones that suck...and the ones that don't. Anyone that spends much time in the local retail stores also knows the ones they like and the ones they don't.

From my own experience in both I can tell you up front and with no hesitation, price has nothing to do with any of my impressions gathered for either type of store.

Dex said...

OK, you can stick it to me when I'm done with this rant, but I have to say something here. First of all, obviously yes retailers get 40-50% margins when they make good buys and things sell at retail. As for the $1000 the shop supposedly makes with a 20% margin, that is a big time fantasy. Assuming you are not talking about an internet operation there is rent to pay, health insurance, retirement plans (if you treat your employees decently), an advertising budget, and this doesn't even begin to cover the overhead in a small store. And what store can sell specialty climbing gear at retail with all the internet bargains out there? And apparently it is ok to expect a 20% discount from the little guy but do you expect that when you buy online from the big guys? Its a given that every customer should be treated with respect, but the respect needs to go both ways, otherwise the sales dude goes home hating life, and that ain't right. Lose the attitude and the demands, and take your 5k down willing to do a little barter, give and take, you might have better luck. I am no longer in the retail trade,I enjoyed it for 25 years and gave plenty of discounts, but it has to be fun, life is too short and its only money. Incidently I climbed the Cassin 25 years ago and I never go into a store expecting a "pro deal".

marcello said...

just saying,i am a very young mountaineer, a very poor, young, mountaineer. I have to buy online or slightly used things because they are cheap and really, no different. I have no money or at least it takes a very long time to get a very small amount. I could get a job, but alas i am in school, i have no time for a job, unless i want my grades to be gone. But, i love,love! my local shop, my shop is
Neptune Mountaineering, they are the best, they will custom fit boots of all kinds and have a full climbing museum! they have edmund hillary's boot from everest, pitons from the eiger north face fa, they even have a guys toe in a jar and K2 cigarettes. They have gear from europe, america and all the good places. One of my favorite things is that they have workshops and lectures from kurt diemberg, dee molenaar, josh wharton etc..!
check it out!
And I would love to buy from them and i can when i can(climbing gear onlyish), but as i have said, if i want to climb, its got to be cheap and good. the internet does that. I am sorry Gary Neptune but i shall buy a different day, until now geartrade is where i shall reside.
Marcello Sbrocca

Dane said...

Hey Dex, nothing to rip you on.
But I might disagree with a few random comments you made.

I did the writing here... and it isn't my 5K, but it is my attitude that you seem to disagree with.

"Lose the attitude and the demands, and take your 5k down willing to do a little barter, give and take.

5K doesn't earn you a pro deal by any means. No amount of money does. Pro deals are generally reserved for those that give something back to the community. Not how much money they spend. My buddy recieved the privilege of a pro deal on several occasions in the past. Simply a comment, not an endorsement that he should again. Only that he was aware of what some of the pricing options available in the outdoor industry. Neither does it cost much for a retailer to order 5K worth of gear, more so to sell it out of inventory and off his floor space.

I've worked retail as well. Always happy to sell at retail prices and happy to work out a discount for someone willing to spend 5K$ all at once, if they asked. It always seemed like good business imo.

"apparently it is ok to expect a 20% discount from the little guy but do you expect that when you buy online from the big guys?"

My point was simple. I am willing to pay retail when required and I am in a hurry. If I have the time I will shop around, in person or on the Internet and pay less, sometimes much less. 20% isn't a huge savings if you look around and have the time to look and wait.

"I am no longer in the retail trade,I enjoyed it for 25 years and gave plenty of discounts, but it has to be fun, life is too short and its only money. Incidently I climbed the Cassin 25 years ago and I never go into a store expecting a "pro deal".

No reason you mention that would make me think you would get a pro deal now..or then. But if you worked in retail that entire time I'd bet you also got pro deals and employee discounts during those 25 years. Fun? Come on? If i spend $5K in a few moments in your store (in person or via email) is going to be BIG fun for you as a climbing speciality store. Make me feel like I got a bargin...and many ways to make that happen...then you can make it fun for the customer as well.

Climbing isn't like selling cars. In a 5K dollar climbing gear order, a pair of $500 pair of boots was the big ticket item. There is a lot of room for some give and take in the other $4500 involved.

Smart retailers already know that.

ice.solo said...

hey dane,

im with you here. i climb mostly across asia and have gotta say - its a western thing.

everyone knows asian business people are eager business people, and this extends to gear.

they know straight out that if they dont do the deal the other guy will get it, so discounts, service, loyalty and effort come naturally.

want to see how it can be done, head over to hong kong. the deals fly thick and fast.
tokyo too - be polite, show em youll be back and business is on.

if you walk into a gear shop with $5k over here the staff will lay it on for you - they know what it means. they give a shit.
most staff seem to be climbers too so know what it means to save on gear to spend on airfares etc.

me, i dont buy squat over the net.
so much of what i want isnt on the shelves so needs to be ordered thru the catalogue, and i like the insights from the staff
i can fit my own boots and try on my own shit - but i need the staff to make the phone calls.
they like it too: when i walk in they know they can have a break from selling crocs and day packs to punters, and can mess about with the real gear for real cash.

service in the west is garbage compared to other places.
thats all it is.
staff and employers need to get their heads out of their asses if they want to survive in retail.

Thom Campbell said...

Contact Andrew at Rock and Snow in New Paltz., 845 255 1311. They have been my retailer of choice for all they carry for many years, and have always been very fair.

KneadEd said...


I'm guessing you haven't met me (or my teammates at the BOULDER REI.... 15% is easy, after that it may take a bit of work. What makes my store different is that half of the people climb AND have real jobs outside (we are middle aged folk that enjoying trading helping people get the most from the outdoors for health insurance, etc. I wish I could afford to not work for the 800 pound gorilla, but they understand how to take care of us, and, my store in particular, take care of your needs.
As to old SS crampon article: it was once told to me: you can chose the hardness:ductility ratio in given alloy- but you can't have both. You choose the alloy for toughness vs. cost. Granted, (quick) HT allows outside layer to be different than inside, but still bound by limits of alloy. Maybe at 10x the price a SS alloy can compete with good ol' 4130...

thanks for good info and good writing.