Is This The Future of Sport-Specific DTC Retail?

MetroRock and Mammut cross-brand collaboration takes specialty retail to new heights—literally.

By Lindsay Warner June 24, 2016

Brooklyn-based MetroRock Climbing Center, opening spring 2017, isn’t your father’s indoor climbing gym. Located in the Bushwick district, it’s purpose-built for climbing—not a warehouse that’s been retrofitted as a climbing gym—so it’s designed to accommodate 50-foot top-roping walls, a large bouldering area, locker rooms and a multipurpose fitness area for yoga and other activities. It has conference rooms you can book for business meetings, team-building sessions or your child’s birthday party, and shares a roof with several name-brand restaurants, including the uber-trendy Momofuku. In short, it’s a 15,000 square-foot mecca for urban climbers 

Just ask Pat Enright. In the 13 years prior to launching the MetroRock Brooklyn project, he opened three other MetroRock branches—two in Massachusetts, and one in Vermont. “Initially, it was all about trying to build a facility with heat in the winter and A.C. in the summer that had tall walls so you could train year-round for your outdoor goals,Enright says. “But it’s become an important part of the community, with people looking to the gym to fulfill both their fitness and social needs.” 

But say you get off the subway at the Jefferson Street station in Bushwick, walk one block to MetroRock (there’s no parking lot, but it’s easily accessible by public transit), and realize you’ve left your gym clothes at home—or, worse, your harness? No worries. MetroRock’s got you covered. 

Or rather, Mammut does. The Swiss-based alpine gear and apparel company partnered with MetroRock back in January to launch the concept of a 300-square-foot retail shop run by Mammut Sports Group North America. The retail footprint is small, but it’s filled with climbing gear, apparel, chalk bags and harnesses. And if you don’t feel like ponying up the cash to replace the gear you left at home, a healthy stash of rental equipment provided by Mammut will get you through your climb session.   

 This type of in-gym retail could be the next big opportunity for high-end climbing manufacturers such as Mammut, who have the potential to fill a retail niche in the rapidly growing sport of indoor climbing. But as Mammut North America CEO, Bill Supple, sees it, the real opportunity isn’t in the 300-square-foot store—but in the gym attached to it. 

There, you have the opportunity to try out, in real time, the new harness you just bought or to demo the Mammut-provided climbing ropes, harnesses and carabiners that are scattered throughout the gym. It’s a carefully curated brand experiencefrom the large-scale Mammut posters to the Mammut-branded chalk bags used during lessons—that underscore the brand’s investment in the space and give consumers an experience with Mammut that has nothing to do with buying product,” Supple says. “It’s a freer-flowing experience, but it’s one that gives us the opportunity to tell a truer brand story.” 

So, yes: There’s value in providing the canvas and paints when you want your consumers to help create your brand story. But the MetroRock/Mammut story also offers up an interesting model of cross-brand collaboration 

Learn more about cross-brand collaboration at this year’s Rendezvous in Denver, September 26-28 

Mammut isn’t a concessionaire tenant, nor is the shop a standard brick-and-mortar store. Enright and Supple are partners, not merely neighbors. The retail shop carries other brands’ climbing shoes. Enright and the MetroRock team—not Mammutwill manage the store’s staffing needs. MetroRock climbing instructors aren’t forced to use Mammut equipment; they’re merely encouraged to. And the store is small, mitigating Mammut’s risks and capital output. All of these things represent a new model for both brands. 

 Really, it’s a way to differentiate ourselves in the outdoor market while working with partners in the indoor gym space who have a similar approach and ethos,” Supple says. “At the same time, it functions almost as a pilot project, where we can consider experimenting with a direct-to-consumer model without doing it completely on our own.” 

Mammut already has a significant brick-and-mortar presence in Europe and across Asia—as well as established Mammut alpine schools and a climbing-gym presence—but MetroRock represents the most significant Mammut-branded experience in a U.S. gym to date. And sure, it’s great to be the primary vendor in a large urban climbing gym. But it’s equally important to Mammut to provide a positive and lasting brand experience for the urban climbers who use the space.  

“There’s a history and an emotional connection that’s forged when you first pick something up, and that connection can provide lasting value to the consumer,” notes Mammut Hardgoods Category Manager Dave Furman. “A lot of people remember their first good pair of skis or the first climbing rope they ever bought; providing an opportunity for consumers to use high-quality climbing gear can really influence the type of experience they have.” 

And while the partnership with MetroRock presents an opportunity to jump into a rapidly growing marketplace, the store’s product offering doesn’t “dumb down” the sport in any way. The core product offerings—harnesses, caribiners, ropes, chalk bags—remain the same, though Supple notes a stronger emphasis on commuter-ready bags with a more urban-focused aesthetic over alpine packs. Yet, as Furman notes, the product offering planned for the Brooklyn store doesn’t aim to transition these urban climbers from gym to crag.  

 “If you want to start indoor climbing and then go outside, we’ve got you covered,” he says. “But if you never go outside, who cares? We’ve tried to make more products that transition easily between climbing and lifestyle, but it doesn’t matter if you’re obsessing over a new crack climb, or the blue route at the gym—in our eyes, you’re still a climber.”