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How Coronavirus Changed Retail, and What I’ve Learned in the Past Six Months

Posted By Todd McCormick, Tuesday, October 6, 2020
Climbing Gym Retail

COVID-19 has required an incredible amount of flexibility and adaptation in all of our lives, inside of the climbing gym and out. Like many other industries, climbing gym retail has taken a hit this year, but it’s not all bad news.


Based on data from a convenience sample of three gyms that I work with, Sales (revenue generated from retail) are down, Margin (profit from retail, by percent) is about the same, and Dollars per Check-In (average revenue generated from retail per check-in) is up since gyms began cautiously re-opening. This was initially a surprise until I started thinking about who is using gyms most right now: members, who are also likely to spend more money in a well-stocked retail shop.


If your gym has a retail shop, you may have noticed a few changes in what people have been purchasing over the past few months. For example, training products were initially flying off the shelves, with people adapting to spending more time in their homes. That wave seems to have died out. Although we’re still in the middle of a pandemic, time hasn’t stood still. Trends continue to emerge, so keep up!


What Isn’t Selling

First, think about what likely isn’t selling well right now. With check-ins down, it should be no surprise that concessions are down. You are probably selling fewer sports drinks and energy bars so far this year compared to last. Plan for this by stocking fewer concession items. Those items also have a shorter shelf life than most of your other products, so avoid waste by slimming down your concessions until your check-ins pick up. Also, since a lot of your users right now are members, they probably have a chalk bag and they are through their first pair of climbing shoes. So, slimming out your selection of chalk bags and entry level shoes might be a good move right now as well.


What IS Selling

So, what are people buying? Given that your members are likely to have more outdoor climbing experience than day-pass users, they’re a lot more likely to be purchasing ropes, crash pads, guidebooks, harnesses, helmets, and other items so that they can go climb outside more during the pandemic. Stock a few extra ropes, a handful of guidebooks to your local crags, and a few helmets. Try some new things! See what works and have a plan for what doesn’t.


Next, keep in mind that your members are some of your most loyal customers. They like your brand and they’ll happily rep it out in the world! Keep a good stock of branded items on hand, especially ones that can be seen by other people (t-shirts, hats, water bottles). Steer clear of items like branded nail clippers and bottle openers, which tend to get tossed in a pack or a drawer and don’t help to get your brand out in the world. Be creative! Hit up your local printers or suppliers to see about branded face masks or neck gaiters. Talk to your customers, see what they want!


Expand Your Retail Reach

You’re seeing fewer people through your doors on a daily basis, so how else can you reach your customer base with retail items? One possibility is to build out a small retail shop with essentials online.


An online platform could help you move some retail products and gives your loyal customer base a way to support you without coming in. Focus on branded items, like your most popular logo tee or your most popular hat (or hoodie and beanie for the upcoming cold season). Lots of online retail platforms offer a free trial, which is a great way to try it for a month or two and see if it’s right for you and your business. But don’t take on this task lightly—it is a lot of work (even the setup for a free trial!). You’ll need to think through things like a return policy and a plan for efficiently shipping items (one way to simplify this a great deal is to do curb-side pickup only).


Lastly, don’t give up on programs or events that have historically been successful for you and your gym. Just be creative with how to do it now. For example, shoe demos typically result in big shoe sales, but some hesitation about holding an event to purposefully attract more people to your space is warranted. Try an outdoor shoe demo while the weather is still nice! Close off a few parking spaces on the night of the event, and mark off spots 6-feet apart leading up to the demo table as a visual cue to help people practice social distancing.


We all know it isn’t business as usual right now, and no one knows when it will be again. But one main theme for me this year has been to be creative. Let’s not just give up and wait for everything to “go back to normal.” Rather, let’s strive to reframe what we’re good at for the current environment. Don’t be afraid to try new ideas and keep pushing forward with what we all love.


Todd McCormickAbout the Author

Todd McCormick is the sole owner and operator of Keystone Climbing Consultants, helping gyms become more efficient in their retail operations. Todd holds degrees in Industrial Engineering from the University of Pittsburgh and in Math Education from the University of Kentucky. He has been an avid climber for 17 years and has been managing gyms, guiding new climbers, and working in outdoor recreation ever since.


Tags:  coronavirus  COVID-19  customer service  management  retail 

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5 Retail Items Your Gym Should Be Selling

Posted By Emma Walker, Wednesday, October 30, 2019
Climbing Gym Retail

Sell what people will use in your facility.


That’s the #1 piece of advice Todd McCormick, Director of Retail Operations at ASCEND, offers for maintaining a successful retail shop in your gym. The Pittsburgh gym has a relatively small retail space – 600 square feet of the facility’s 27,000 – but McCormick has gone to great lengths to make sure it’s being used effectively.


Mike Sobol, Director of Retail at El Cap (which owns Earth Treks and Planet Granite facilities across the country), agrees. “The size of the retail shop varies greatly [among our gyms],” Sobol says. “But retail is a necessary component to provide for our members’ needs. We try to ensure we’re carrying the items that community has shown an affinity for.”


Still, product isn’t everything, says Ground Up Operations Director Rick Willison: almost as important as what you’re selling is the way you sell it. “The better organized your stock is, the easier it is for customers to find what they need, and the more you’ll sell,” he advises. “Bring brighter colors to the front, arrange stock in blocks, alternate bright and dark colors, and generally keep things tidy.”


Even if your facility doesn’t rely on retail to keep the doors open, Sobol points out that it’s also a great way to make life easier for members – and, hopefully, create lifelong climbers. Ready to step up your retail game? Here’s what the experts say you should have in stock.


The Sundries Everyone Forgets

How often do customers pull up to the gym for an after-work session, then realize they’re down to the last few crumbs of chalk, or that they’re out of tape? This is a universal phenomenon – Willison says his facility can hardly keep chalk and tape on the shelves.


At ASCEND, around 46% of retail sales in an average month are from what McCormick calls “bouldering essentials”: shoes, chalk, chalk bags, tape, and brushes. ASCEND also does a brisk business in branded Nalgenes. (Who hasn’t forgotten their water bottle at home?)


To sell more of those often-neglected sundries, McCormick suggests keeping a variety in stock to appeal to all your members. “I like to use a ‘good, better, best’ model, so I always have three options available to choose from,” he explains, “and I make sure they’re at three different price points.”


A Better Selection of Shoes

“As a climbing shop, I prioritize the idea of creating lifelong climbers,” says Sobol. “We should not just be selling them a shoe. We should be focused on getting them into the right shoe. Ultimately, this will lead to a better climbing experience.”


That’s tough to do if you’ve only got a handful of shoes in stock. Again, McCormick’s advice rings true – stock what people will use in your facility.


For a gym like ASCEND, which is about 75% bouldering, a larger selection of more aggressive shoes will likely do better than multiple iterations of softer beginner-friendly shoes. That’s one of the things McCormick hopes to add to his gym’s retail shop in the future; right now, ASCEND carries four shoe brands and hopes to add two more.


Branded Merchandise

Climbers love to let the world know they’re climbers, and there’s no better way to show that you’re in the know by repping the local gym. “We move a consistent amount of our own branded merchandise,” says Willison. T-shirts, hoodies, and tank tops do well at all three experts’ shops, though there’s some nuance there.


“We tried a run of coffee travel mugs with our logo on them, and they have not sold well, but maybe that’s because we’re not a coffee shop,” McCormick says. “Members are probably more likely to rep our brand with a product they can also use in our gym – maybe they came from work and forgot a shirt to climb in, so they’ll gladly buy an ASCEND shirt to use for the day, and then they’ll have it to rep our brand in the world.”


Fuel, Preferably Local

It’s tough to get the most out of a workout if you’re hungry, which is why lots of facilities’ retail spaces have begun offering snacks and drinks. Of course, members are likelier to buy snacks that look appealing, so stale protein bars won’t cut it.


McCormick can’t believe how quickly his facility goes through Yerba Mate – the delivery driver restocks their dedicated fridge once a week.


The best-selling snacks at ASCEND, though, are from right down the road. They carry a specific brand of honey water, cold brew, and kombucha (all local), and coordinate with a couple of local bakeries to get deliveries of freshly made sweet and savory snacks several times a week.


“Our customers (and staff) appreciate the wider selection, and that stuff was made that day,” says McCormick. “The selection isn’t just pre-wrapped protein bars and Gatorade.”


Climbing-Centric Gifts

A solid gym shop will have the perfect gift for the climbers in your life. All three of the retailers we talked to sell local guidebooks in their shop – Mountain Project is one thing, but it’s a nice treat to bring a handsome guidebook to the crag.


McCormick has kicked things up a notch with a surprising bestseller: clever climbing hold mugs.


“At first I thought they would be slow movers because of their price point (we retail them at $26.95 per mug),” he says, “but at comps and holidays, this is a product that always makes a good showing on the sales report.”


Emma Walker Head ShotAbout Emma Walker

Emma Walker is a freelance writer, editor, and an account manager with Golden, Colorado-based Bonfire Collective. Emma earned her M.S. in Outdoor and Environmental Education from Alaska Pacific University and has worked as an educator and guide at gyms, crags, and peaks around the American West.


Tags:  customer service  operations  retail 

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