Every summer, we attend multiple retail shows around the world. These shows are in Friedrichshafen, Germany and Salt Lake City, Utah during the months of July and August. Each year, I learn more about our industry and continually look for inspiration. I am beginning to be fascinated by the world of outdoor retail. We are such a small company in this realm and feel like we are just now taking the first steps to service the retail community. For years we only serviced climbing gyms, distributors, and home climbing walls, but now that our product range is growing, we have products that are of interest to many retail stores.
As a company, we have been attending the US show for twelve years and the Germany show for four. Over the years, we have only attended these shows to meet and service our gym friends and showcase our latest gym-focused products. Things were different this year. We still met a ton of gyms, but our vision of growing into retail shops has started to become a reality, putting us in meetings with many stores and online retailers. The outdoor retail market is very different than our beloved climbing gyms. It is a learning experience with high demands and precise shipping schedules. Dealing with so many great gyms around the world, we have already had to plant our roots deep and develop office and production schedules in order to meet firm demands. Therefore, the retail market is not insanely foreign to us; it is simply very different. Retailing revolves around precise pre-season order timeframes, repping agencies, discounting programs, tight shipping schedules, and impressive inventory management. We are learning what the larger companies do to meet these demands and are constantly improving our own internal structure to service this new market. Every meeting with a buyer teaches us a little more, and we will eventually learn the ropes. One interesting part of the tradeshow is observing the big companies, seeing their booths, meeting their reps, and watching them do work in such a large marketplace. It is intriguing to say the least.
We met with over twenty of our international distributors in Germany. It is always very interesting to learn more about their markets and how they service their countries. It is also good to know their challenges and where we have fallen short or exceeded expectations. At the US show, we ran over sixty appointments in four days and handled a ton of walk-in meetings. I cannot tell you how much fun it is to show the world our new round of products that are arriving this Fall. Most companies are showing products for Spring '15 at the show. While we were doing the same, I wanted everything to be available in the Fall for ASAP shipments. It is important for us to stock products as well as possible (sometimes not fast enough, given the demand) so that our loyal crew can get goods when they want them. All of our new products will be available for Fall orders, and we plan to ship all of the pre-orders October 15th.
What I learned this Summer:
This sounds absurd, but I think our biggest challenge to both the retail and distributor market is the fact that we make a quality product. From all of the new holds made with unbreakable materials to the accuracy and precision of the new wood boards, the level of design and detail needed in manufacturing simply makes them more expensive. We focus extensively on design with our French and Swiss designers and then ensure that the manufacturing process is the best that it can be. We make nice products, period. In the past, we have looked at making products cheaper by using lower quality materials and pumping out commodity, instead of high design, products. This would make prices cheaper and allow us to move more volume like many of our competitors. However, we have decided not to go this direction. We simply want to make the best possible training tools and gear to service climbers and the outdoor industry as a whole. We do not want to compromise on quality to make a product cheap. We do not and will not make JUNK to offer as a cheap product for retail. Though this is a challenge, the retail market is opening up to the idea of a higher quality product as the climbing industry matures. While this is the case, many shops are used to carrying cheaper holds and gear for the last decade, so these ideas can sometimes feel a little foreign. Part of showing the products this Summer was to talk about the quality and why they are more expensive. It was also to explain that there is a market of people who care about buying something great that will last for years to come.
While it is a slow turn, gyms have discovered the importance of quality, and we believe that the retail market is also grasping this. Thank you for supporting So iLL and understanding the importance of a quality product. Our goods need to be the best so that you can have the greatest possible experience.
"The sting of low quality lingers on much after the thrill of low price is forgotten."