New to the climbing scene, adidas Outdoor has recently made an interesting move to outfit climbing gym employees with adidas clothing and shoes. The first press release to this effect announced a partnership with the Brooklyn Boulders, the second a partnership with the new So iLL gym in St. Louis. The positioning in gyms indicates an interest in reaching a broad climbing audience and most likely the youth market, which seems to be the golden goose in the eyes of most companies. (Have you heard of any similar partnerships between gyms and adidas Outdoor or other outdoor-focused brands? I have not…)
If you’ve been following the trail of press releases you’ll know this is but one part in a larger adidas strategy to access a market dominated by brands like The North Face, Arc’Teryx, Patagonia, Columbia, etc. This is no doubt related to the fact that as the recession drags on, outdoor brands, with a focus on performance and durability rather than pure fashion, seem to be faring better than their “indoor” counterparts. Other marketing and outreach efforts from adidas include an iPad app: “With this app users can experience the fascinating stories of alpinists, climbers, kayakers, paraglider pilots and base-jumpers going ‘all in’ in digital form with plenty of exciting extras.” Adidas has also picked up a handful of climbing athletes for its team, including Sasha DiGiulian and Thomas Huber. But perhaps the clearest sign of their dedication to the outdoor, and particularly climbing, markets is their acquisition of Five Ten.
Certainly, Adidas has the war chest and the brand recognition to carve out a spot for itself in the outdoor niche. The question is, how will the core climbing and other “adventure sport” communities respond? I remember ten-odd years ago when Fila attempted to enter the core climbing market with a line of rock shoes. They sponsored climbers like Boone Speed and, if I recall correctly, even approached gyms to form footwear and apparel partnerships. In the end, the sales were not enough to warrant continued interest, though last year Fila did pick up boulderer Alex Puccio as an athlete to rock their Skele-Toes toe shoes (not climbing shoes, per se).
On a related note, hard goods manufacturer Black Diamond Equipment has announced an interest in entering the apparel market, and La Sportiva has introduced a new line of performance skiwear. It would seem that the siren song of apparel’s big margins is too attractive to pass up.
I’d love to hear what you think on this direction in the climbing and outdoor industries. Do you welcome new brands to the climbing marketplace, even big ones like adidas? Do you plan to buy adidas jackets, pants, and approach shoes? Do you fear Adidas will water down Five Ten’s technical shoe offering, or will their deep pockets allow for more exciting new technologies? How do all of the developments in the climbing and outdoor industries mentioned above sit with you? Do you see the future as bright, grim, or pretty much the same?