As a specialty retailer laser-focused on climbing gear, Boulder store Rock and Resole has avoided the inventory overhang issue affecting the broader outdoor industry.
By providing hard-to-find gear and keeping orders tight, the retailer and cobbler saw steady growth and isn’t sitting on a pile of unsold product.
The winter period saw a slight increase in sales over the same period the year prior, according to Keiko Tanaka, general manager of Rock and Resole.
While sales numbers aren’t 30% higher year-over-year like they were in 2021, the store is doing slightly better than last year.
Sales in 2023 are up about 5% year-over-year, according to Tanaka.
While other big retailers are worried about how to offload excess product and are heavily discounting items across several segments, Tanaka’s main concern is turning over items such as climbing shoes from companies that consistently put out new shoes or update previous models before the store has moved through its inventory of current styles.
“That’s one of the hardest things to keep up with as a smaller retailer,” she said. “We don’t have a lot of space.”
Sally Gilman and Colby Rickard own the retail store that started in 2015. The cobbling shop upstairs was originally founded in 1989 by Eric Pauwels.
The 1,500-square-foot, niche store stocks general climbing gear, in addition to equipment such as crack gloves and ice climbing gear.
“We don’t sell any other outdoor equipment here, so we can really focus on climbing,” Tanaka said.
Shoe Ordering Still a Struggle
Tanaka has been trying to anticipate four to six months in advance if a shoe is going to change so she can manage her floor space accordingly.
Precise ordering remains a challenge, even after the pandemic has ended.
“We still see the struggles of not being able to get sizes and equipment that we need because it’s on backorder for months at a time,” Tanaka said.
Rock and Resole carries over a dozen brands of shoes and more than 80 models.
Popular shoes recently have been Tenaya’s Indalo, La Sportiva’s Katana and TC Pro. “Those are tried and true shoes that are always popular,” Tanaka said.
Scarpa’s Instinct sells well, which is why you see a handful of different models within that one line, according to Tanaka.
She also expects Scarpa’s Generator, which is replacing the Maestro, to perform strongly.
Other notable mentions include Mad Rock’s Drone and Shark, Evolv’s Yosemite Bum, Five Ten’s Grandstone, and Butora’s Acro and Altura.
Drawing Traffic to Rock and Resole
Shoes are a major category for the company not only because of the retail store, but because of the resole business.
Tanaka said it brings in foot traffic and helps customer awareness that the business also has a specialty store.
About two-thirds of the resole customers ship in their shoes, and another one-third bring them in.
Rock and Resole is the authorized resole company for several brands, including La Sportiva and Scarpa.
Another trend that’s adding to the store’s customer base: The rising popularity of indoor climbing gyms.
That doesn’t necessarily translate to sales of some of the more advanced equipment, but it does lead to customers looking for a beginner setup of shoes, a harness, a chalk bag, and a belay device.
The staff first directs new climbers to find a comfortable shoe, so they use their feet and don’t rely too much on their hands when on the wall.
A good price range for an entry-level shoe is $100-$140, Tanaka said.
Aside from climbing shoes, the store carries a few approach shoes that appeal to people in the Boulder area who want to climb features such as the Flatirons.
After a climber is outfitted with the basics, other items that are selling well for the store are:
- Rocky Talkie two-way radios, which can be used all year and for other sports such as skiing or mountain biking.
- Totem and Black Diamond cams for trad climbing.
- Chalk bags with designs on them that appeal to a climber’s personality.
- Harnesses, including lightweight alpine style and big wall harnesses, for aid climbing.
- Niche items such as aid climbing gear including pitons, ladder-style aiders and the Petzl Connect Adjust.
With these products, Tanaka estimates about half of the sales come from Rock and Resole’s online store, because “people can’t find them anywhere,” she said.
The Ice Coop, an indoor dry-tooling gym for ice climbing training, is next door, and those climbers often shop at Rock and Resole for their gear.
“Having the equipment that those climbers need to do those things is huge for our business,” Tanaka said.
Bart Schaneman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.