Selling Lightweight: How Retailers Can Help Your Pack Weight

The interactions between retailer and consumer can have a dramatic influence on the gear carried and experience had by a consumer. We examine the tools both retailers and consumers can use in evaluating gear and determining the best lightweight options for individuals.

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by Brad Groves | 2009-06-09 00:00:00-06

Selling Lightweight: How Retailers Can Help Your Pack Weight

Introduction

At some point, when people decide they'd like to give backpacking a try, they generally head to their local shop to get outfitted. Because specialty outdoor retailers are the front line in consumer education, it makes sense that retailers first need to fully understand ultralight philosophies themselves for the greater public to develop an ultralight consciousness.

Regular visitors to Backpacking Light know precisely the type of gear and base pack weights that tend to come out of outfitting sessions at most retailers: heavy! Start out with seven-pound tents and six-pound packs... the rest of the gear adds up quickly, and don't forget all those quick-dry, wicking, multiple layering pieces! To some degree, this is a function of what manufacturers are making available. At the same time, product offerings are influenced by end-user purchases and sales figures - if "Tent X" sells a lot of units, then the likelihood is that you'll be seeing more like "X" in the future. I think that products ultimately sell based on what the sales staff likes - or what they find easy to sell. So it becomes vitally important for retail staff to understand how and why virtually everyone can benefit from some aspect of an ultralight philosophy.

Sales are based in no small part on familiarity. If we assume that a novice backpacker has a passing familiarity with traditional backpacking, then we know what kind of expectations they have when they go looking for gear. And frankly, most of them expect to be pack mules! I think it is important for retailers (and their consumers) to realize just how much impact a retailer can have on a person's limited vacation time. Proper guidance in gear selection can really help make or break someone's trip.

Selling Lightweight: How Retailers Can Help Your Pack Weight - 1

The UL Soft Sell

That's why I've found - and find with increasing frequency - the vital importance of retailers educating themselves to the point of truly understanding ultralight backpacking, along with more traditional approaches. With that understanding, they can apply ultralight philosophies to backpackers at any interest, age, or intensity level. It is important for retailers too (or especially) to understand that UL isn't about sawing toothbrushes in half. Toothbrush handles are pretty insignificant. Ultralight is about taking less gear and making significant weight changes in the gear you do select. Understanding UL can be a powerful tool for the business of specialty outdoor shops, sure. But it's also an important tool and educational component for each consumer who walks through the doors of an (ahem) enlightened shop.

There is no one who wouldn't benefit from carrying a (relatively) light pack, but many people dismiss UL altogether! Youngsters scoff and say they don't mind the extra pounds. Other people smile and say they think it's a bit ridiculous to cut the handle off toothbrushes (they may have a point). Still others say health problems prevent them from doing any backpacking. A packfitter might just accept these comments and sell them heavier gear or let people walk away. However, I think it's necessary for packfitters to call people's bluff, to show them in a respectful way how easy it is to lighten a pack, and to show them why and how it can benefit anyone.

People are a bit incredulous when I tell them it's a simple matter to have a base weight in the fifteen-pound range - and I point out that many book bags on campus weigh more than that. So I developed a straight-forward display that I use as a launching point for many of my outfitting interactions. Part of this is enthusiasm on my part that I hope translates to excitement on the part of my customers. Part of it, frankly, is the pleasure of seeing the proverbial lightbulb click on when people realize ultralight really is possible, easy, realistic - and simple to do comfortably without sacrificing safety.

Selling Lightweight: How Retailers Can Help Your Pack Weight - 2

For the Visual Learners

What I did in my shop was arrange a display on and alongside a shelving system. The shelves are floating and located under a window in hopes of accentuating the airiness of the system. I developed a basic three-season gear list suitable for cold and wet Michigan weather, then went through the shop and grabbed some of my lightest examples of each. I didn't always grab the lightest, though! I wanted a gear list that would not leave someone feeling as though they were compromising anything. I've found that the biggest source of resistance to UL is a perceived need for sacrifice, so I made it a point to grab a full length 1.5-inch thick self-inflating pad, a double-wall free-standing tent, an insulated mug, and other such "luxuries." All told, I still ended up with a base weight of only 13.16 pounds.

I hung the sleeping bag and pack next to the shelves, then displayed the entirety of the gear list on the shelves. I made up a large print sign highlighting the complete pack weight, then printed off several smaller signs itemizing everything with corresponding weights. Cook gear, for example, is all displayed together on the shelf and has a sign over it with a description of each item, brand and model, and the weight. Okay, I admit, it looks a little train-wreckish, but people regularly stop and peruse the display. This area of the store is an important launching point for discussions about outfitting needs.

My favorite people to encounter are those who see backpacking as something they'll never be able to do again. They have back or knee problems, or they're too out of shape to carry a fifty-pound pack. When I tell them they can get everything they need for a solo trip - even a plush two-inch pad and a camp chair - for about fifteen pounds, they really perk up. The display allows me to show them exactly how it's done. It also seems to help people process the low pack weight as a tangible reality.

Comfort, Safety, and Cost

The thing is, you don't need to carry more to be more comfortable, and this is the point many folks miss. There's really not much you could add to my list to improve comfort. There's also no dangerous lack of safety margins. These points seem to escape a lot of people when you talk about lightweight backpacking in general; they assume you're doing without and bordering on dangerous. I try to reinforce the comfort and safety possible - and expected - within the framework of lightweight backpacking throughout my discussions with people.

It is important to meet individual needs, not to outfit people based solely upon your personal philosophies. In other words, someone might be doing longer trips with infrequent or non-existent resupplies, in which case a heavier framed pack might be their best option. Just because that person's using a heavier pack, though, doesn't mean all of their equipment could or should be heavier. On the contrary, it calls for more emphasis on cutting weight of the other items in their pack. As we discuss gear options, I make it a point to talk about the importance of cutting weight when adding weight in other areas, and the fact that adding a couple pounds here and there suddenly adds up to ten pounds.

It's also important to work within the real-world constraints of budget, desire, comfort, and priority. If someone already has a heavy pack but no tent, then the outfitter's priority needs to be finding a lightweight tent that fits the person's needs. A conscientious approach in doing so will help form consumer habits and experiences when it comes to their next gear list or upgrade.

Think of Ounces in Terms of Pounds

I take pains to reinforce the importance of ounces - save three ounces here, two ounces there, and you've saved yourself half a pound. Save only two ounces each on eight items in your pack, and you've saved a full pound. The stuff adds up quickly. Heavy hiking socks weigh nearly a quarter-pound. Within this framework, I address pack volume as a place to save ounces. This can be tricky footwork for both consumer and retailer. I explain that the same pack model in a smaller volume can save, say, a pound. However, if their gear doesn't all fit in the pack it won't carry as well (with gear strapped outside) and the weight benefits are lost. I then show people some demo stuff sacks displayed fully filled out so they can see exactly how much space difference there is between two models - for example, when referencing the difference between a 60- and 70-liter pack, I show them a roughly 10 liter stuff sack. I then explain that the 10-liter sack could easily represent the difference between a synthetic and down bag - reinforcing (a) the potential necessity for them to have a larger pack or (b) the potential importance and interconnectedness of choosing smaller and lighter gear in as many purchases as possible.

60 and 70 liter?! Yep. The reality is that people tend to start out with at least some kind of equipment, it's usually not the smallest or lightest, and it usually takes them a while to whittle down their kit. There's also the matter that many people might take trips with no resupply, unlike typical ultralight thru-hikers, and might need some more volume for chow. I still recommend 80- to 90-liter packs for some people who'll be doing longer trips and winter trips - you have to keep an open mind and fulfill a person's needs, not your biased interpretation of their needs. Back to those stuff sacks, I also show people how much difference in food volume there can be. For one week, I consume 10 to 15 liters of food. For about two weeks without resupply, I consume about 30 liters of (repackaged) food. Since many sleeping bags take up 15 liters in themselves (and let's face it, some bulkier synthetics push 30 liters), if you add two weeks of food with an average bag you've got 45 liters of pack volume between two key factors. You've still got to add shelter, clothes, cook gear, and more. This is why I say to base your recommendations on ultralight philosophy, but to not restrict yourself solely to that philosophy. Help a consumer make a reasonable transition to UL!

One Piece at a Time

Cookware and kitchen stuff can be a great place to examine the balance between UL and more traditional gear. One of the techniques I use with customers is a sort of ratio, typically between price:weight savings. In other words, if a difference of $40 can save you a pound in a cookset, but that same $40 saves you eight ounces in a sleeping pad, get the cookset. (Incidentally, when I want to emphasize the importance of ounces, I speak in terms of pounds. Instead of two ounces, for example, I might phrase it "an eighth of a pound.") I rarely sell anything other than titanium cookware. I suspect that's unusual for most retailers; I believe that many people simply sell less expensive product because (a) it's easier to sell and (b) that's all they think the consumer wants. Spending just a little time and effort to explain the benefits of Ti cookware usually helps people see why it's a better choice, resulting in a happier customer and shopowner.

Selling Lightweight: How Retailers Can Help Your Pack Weight - 3

On the other hand, alcohol stoves aren't for everybody, nor are canister stoves. The reality is that liquid fuel stoves are simply more versatile, functional options at times, despite their greater weight. If I have someone who wants to split their time between winter and three-season weather, I'll probably sell them a broad-bottomed Ti pot and a white gas stove, while explaining why I made those recommendations. I also then suggest considering an upright canister stove for lightweight summer use.

I steer clear of single-wall tents or tarps as primary shelter considerations. The vast majority of complaints I hear from people about any camping experience is that their tent leaked or they otherwise got soaked while in their tent. In fact, it's not uncommon for bad experiences in a tent to be a major reason people dislike traveling the backcountry. Many of these negative experiences are the result of condensation problems in single-wall tents... so I never sell them. Frankly, this is an area of major sacrifice for many folks that sometimes wouldn't make sense for them anyway. Not everyone wants to push the edge. Some people like being warm, dry, and comfortable without having to futz or fiddle. And in my area, with plenty of sustained storms and steroidal mosquitos, double-wall tents can significantly help maintain and retain one's sanity. We have far too much humidity here, too much weather and cold and bugs. In my neck of the woods, finding someone a lightweight double-wall tent is the name of the game.

No One is Always Right

We could talk about how retailers can best serve consumers all day long (which we might well do in the forums), but the last major point I'd like to make is price point. Some ultralight stuff is cheap, some quite expensive. Many retailers shy away from the more expensive products, perhaps afraid of being some sort of predatory horrible sales guy. Maybe they assume that people won't want to spend the extra money for a superior quality or lighter weight product. Let me just say that I've sold $400 sleeping bags to people who were trying to get by with $50 ones, and they were happy to be leaving with the much more expensive bag. Those same people regularly come in to thank me and tell me how much they've enjoyed the things I've sold them, or how happy they are they spent the extra money.

Selling Lightweight: How Retailers Can Help Your Pack Weight - 4

People are never disappointed to find out that they own a quality piece of gear that works as advertised. They'll invariably take a great deal of pleasure and pride in that piece of equipment. A truly warm, 20 F down sleeping bag that weighs about a pound and a half? And will last twenty years or more? Awesome! Price is often secondary. So: Sellers, buyers, don't back away from the bigger-ticket options. They can prove to be money well spent.

It is important to be upfront with customers about your opinions, beliefs, and approaches to equipment, and to realize that those are your opinions, not the one truth for all backpackers. Openly stating your biases as you work with someone is important both for their benefit and to remind you of the lens with which you view the backpacking world. I relate personal experiences. Let's be real. I didn't start out with a ten- to fifteen-pound base weight. No one really does. I started with well over a fifty-pound base weight, but I've learned. So I take people through pertinent parts of the journey. Your way won't work for everybody, but by lightening their pack, your ultralight knowledge can help people of all backgrounds and interests by making their time outside more enjoyable.


Citation

"Selling Lightweight: How Retailers Can Help Your Pack Weight," by Brad Groves. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/selling_ul.html, 2009-06-09 00:00:00-06.

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Selling Lightweight: How Retailers Can Help Your Pack Weight
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Brad Groves
(4quietwoods) - MLife

Locale: Michigan
Re: Selling Lightweight: How Retailers Can Help Your Pack Weight on 06/11/2009 10:00:45 MDT Print View

Thanks for the continued comments! A few responses and general thoughts...

James, along with the question "Why," I think, is the comment/question "Really?" as phrased on some SNL skits. Do I really need that?

Paul, key employees are, well, key. It's awesome to hear of a great shop guy like yourself who did it the right way. It's an admittedly small brotherhood. When I started, overall sleeping bag sales went from about 10-15% Western to over 50% Western... but I doubt sales will stay like that once I leave. I'm trying to train everyone around me, but who knows if that training will stick without the daily reminders...

George, thanks. Your comment about brick and mortars leaving so much to chance strikes a chord with me, I'll expand on that in a bit.

Nick, you're right in many ways. However, I'll say that essentially none of the UL gear I have displayed requires any sort of special care--beyond, perhaps, not airing out the sleeping bag over a thorn bush. Much of the UL approach, especially as people are getting into this or for those whom UL isn't a form of religion, is more about making smart and limited choices than purely gossamer fabrics. I've actually tried to pick up 3 or 4 of the companies you mentioned, but it didn't work out with any of them. Part of the reason you won't find those companies in retail outlets is that they simply can't make enough to do it. There's also the fact that on their relatively limited production scale, they just don't have enough margin to sell things wholesale and still turn a reasonable profit for their efforts. All that said, I've updated the solo kit display and it comes in at 11 pounds even now, all with stuff easily available at a reasonably well-stocked shop.

Roy, I notice the same lack of interest in lightweight and UL here, too. I actually have a number of employees who don't like the Exos simply because it's "too light," never mind that it's incredibly comfortable to them. What I do, though, is talk about lightweight to everybody, regardless of whether it's something that they think they're interested in... because even if they're not interested in it, if I educate people consistently, they'll come to have at least a degree of appreciation for UL philosophy (or at the very least, won't mind carrying a lighter pack). Much like you did with your clinic (awesome job, by the way), but something I keep up with every day and nearly every interaction. Not in a pushy way, but matter of fact.

Ross, yup, those who do the least could almost benefit the most. Weird.

Roger, when you can make anything you want, I can see why going to a shop isn't a high priority for you... but there is still a bunch of new stuff in the shops to investigate and reverse engineer to some degree.

Nate, I guess it's a start, eh?

Steve, thanks for your appreciation. Come on, man, I'd be a good guy to run into even if you were walking into the store for a 100th time! 'Course, it'd be a mutual learning experience that might well devolve into a session at the local pub if you came into my shop... You're right, many shop employees aren't experienced. It's a shame. I have a philosophy about that...

Regarding poorly stocked stores and untrained sales staff, I think there's a bit of a problem stemming from online sales. Quite a bit, actually. In my region alone roughly 60% (?) of specialty outdoor shops have closed in the past 10-15 years. Why? They're not getting enough traffic through the doors, not generating enough sales. Why has traffic dropped so dramatically? Certainly not stock inadequacies... many great, very highly respected shops have closed. Not to get overly dramatic, but several of them were bastions of local society. Online sales have effectively closed those shops. The sad thing is, when you had those really good mom and pop-ish gear shops, they were frequently staffed with really knowledgable, passionate packfitters. I do some shopping online, too, but buy at local shops as often as remotely possible. If I can keep them open, I know I'll have and support a better resource right in town.

Cheers-
Brad

Steven Evans
(Steve_Evans) - MLife

Locale: Canada
Re: Selling Lightweight: How Retailers Can Help Your Pack Weight on 06/11/2009 10:43:09 MDT Print View

Come on, man, I'd be a good guy to run into even if you were walking into the store for a 100th time

Hey, that came out wrong! :) Of course you would be. I meant it more as I wish someone were there to set me straight years ago. Of course, I wanted to go lighter back then, I just didn't know how to go about it. I remember researching gear and thinking that the eureka moonshadow duo was the lightest tent around - I bought it, along with a vaude pack....where were you Brad?!? ;)

Years ago there was a smaller shop not far from here - great place. One of the staff there was actually the one who gave me this website. Back then I was normal and now I'm a freak (thanks guys).

Anyway, good job with educating people. Surely they appreciate it. I think it is also important to realize that most people do not want to go too light - this kind of catches on to why you don't recommend tarps to most and I tend to agree with that. If they are ready for a tarp, then they have probably done their research/experimented.
If people do ask me for advice, I tend to not really recommend everything that I use just because I know that I'm a little bit more on the lighter side then probably people would be comfortable with...and at the end of the day, the goal is to get them out there and have a good time!

Michigan, eh? Not too far from me...I'll have to stop by for that beer. :)

p.s. Nice gesture, supporting local business is VERY important. If they have what you want, definitely a good place to spend some money.

Edited by Steve_Evans on 06/11/2009 10:45:53 MDT.

Brad Groves
(4quietwoods) - MLife

Locale: Michigan
Re: Re: Selling Lightweight: How Retailers Can Help Your Pack Weight on 06/11/2009 11:25:13 MDT Print View

Hey, Steve-
Sorry, I couldn't resist! ;)

RE: "One of the staff there was actually the one who gave me this website. Back then I was normal and now I'm a freak (thanks guys)." Yup. I used to be normal, then some guy came into my shop and referred me to BPL. Sheesh.

Robert Wood
(rcwoodjr)
Scouter Discount on 06/11/2009 13:46:37 MDT Print View

Brad,
Can you give a breakdown by price of each item and what the total price for the equipment listed would be for a group of 10 Scouters and two adult leader's going to Philmont for two weeks? Do you have a volume discount? What would be the price for just one scouter or adult leader for the entire equipment list?
Thanks,
Institutional Program, Scouts, Assistant Scoutmaster,
Troop 326, Fort Worth, Texas.
Robert

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: Re: Selling Lightweight: How Retailers Can Help Your Pack Weight on 06/11/2009 13:55:35 MDT Print View

>> I've actually tried to pick up 3 or 4 of the companies you mentioned, but it didn't work out with any of them. Part of the reason you won't find those companies in retail outlets is that they simply can't make enough to do it. There's also the fact that on their relatively limited production scale, they just don't have enough margin to sell things wholesale and still turn a reasonable profit for their efforts.

Yep. And what usually happens is that they go offshore for production, lose control over product quality, and the products evolve into heavy gear.

I could go into an REI and put together the majority of what I need for around 10lbs. But I am sure no one there could help me do it. And the last one I went to didn't even have a scale. The other thing is that as Roger C mentioned, most of these stores are becoming clothing boutiques.

My hat is off to you Brad for providing options to you your customers. I would bet that a lot of people might want to try going lighter, but there is no one or few retailers out there to guide them. This is what customer satisfaction and customer loyalty is all about... outstanding product knowledge, and that is an ancient art in most retail businesses today.

Chris W
(simplespirit) - MLife

Locale: .
Re: Selling Lightweight: How Retailers Can Help Your Pack Weight on 06/11/2009 14:23:59 MDT Print View

Nick,

Funny you mention REI. This article actually prompted me to see what I could put together at REI that would be as light as possible while maintaining the comfort a traditional backpacker might want (full inflatable pad, double-wall tent, etc). I haven't finished yet but in case anyone is interested here's what I have so far:

REI Gear Spreadsheet


Nate,

That video is of Winton Porter who runs Mountain Crossings at Neel's Gap on the AT. He's a good guy and most of the staff are previous thru-hikers but I think they tend to refit people more on the light side than UL even though they do stock some UL gear like ULA packs and SMD tents. You should hear some of the stuff they've sent home for people like scuba gear, cast iron frying pans, weeks worth of canned beans and franks, etc. What makes the stuff even more ridiculous is the shop is the first you hit after you leave Springer (30-40 miles in). People were going to carry that stuff to Maine.

Edited by simplespirit on 06/11/2009 15:23:42 MDT.

Brad Groves
(4quietwoods) - MLife

Locale: Michigan
Re: Re: Selling Lightweight: How Retailers Can Help Your Pack Weight on 06/11/2009 15:10:35 MDT Print View

SCUBA gear??! Geez, I felt sheepish last time I brought my Ti French press... I'm just trying to imagine that night at the house, packing up for the AT: "Hmmm, you know, I might really be able to use some flippers out there. They can pull double duty as camp shoes."

Brad Groves
(4quietwoods) - MLife

Locale: Michigan
Re: Scouter Discount on 06/11/2009 15:16:41 MDT Print View

Robert, I can put together some kind of sample price list for you. We charge MSRP for everything; Scouts get 20% off MSRP. I would caution you that the equipment I gathered for this launching point won't work for everybody; your needs and troop needs might be different. For example, the list is set up for solo travel, so I have a solo tent, mini stove, solo pot... Going with a bigger group you'd want bigger tents, split the weight up between multiple people. If you used something like a Copper Spur 3, for example, you could squeeze three people into a 4.25# tent; split the 4.25# roughly 3 ways, and each person carries 1.4 pounds for shelter, instead of the 2 to 2.5 pounds of a solo shelter.

We can work out some specifics for you and your troop needs, but I'd prefer to handle that within the PM system instead of the forums (I didn't intend for the article to be any kind of advertising, and don't want it to seem that way, ya know?) Since you don't have email set up yet, please feel free to contact me via my email. Thanks!

Brad

Chris W
(simplespirit) - MLife

Locale: .
RE: Scuba Gear on 06/11/2009 15:26:16 MDT Print View

Brad-

If I recall correctly the guy thought he would need it for the water crossings on the Northern section of the AT. Guess he wasn't informed about maildrops.

Bruce Tolley
(btolley) - M

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Selling Lighweight on 06/14/2009 00:23:12 MDT Print View

I do not understand all this trashing of outdoor retailers. Most the salespeople at my local REI are part timers. If you need real help at an REI, go in a work day when the professional staff is on duty. With careful shopping,an experienced backpacker who wants to go ligher can outfit himself with a lightweight kit at REI.

I too buy from MLD, GG, Oware, ULA etc but I also occasionally shop at REI and when on the East Coast, EMS. Every year the mainstream pack makers and tent makers come out with lighter gear, and I think we should give thanks to the innovation and examples that the cottage UL industry provides to the mainstream manufacturers.

GARY HEBERT
(garyhebert)

Locale: New England
The "SOFT SELL" to UL hiking on 06/15/2009 20:45:38 MDT Print View

A few points

1)I think we've all learned the hard way, it's hard to "convince" people with a quick sell (There's nothing like camping with somebody to show them it really CAN work. It's definitely a process - we all slowly convert and continue to tweak our gear)

2)Most gear stores, though well intentioned, have a conflicting agenda with UL hiking: selling STUFF - lots of it - is what matters. That's how they make $$$. UL hikers dont need much and rarely buy more "stuff". [Though even now its hard to resist all those "little" items that just seem like you need them. And it seems like they hardly weigh anything. ha ha]

3)Perhaps a video showing an actual camp setup in the store could help. (Or setup the actual camp.)

4)Most of what UL hikers do is NOT buy and NOT bring all that stuff you don't really need- but that's the hardest lesson to get across

5)I LOVE "Walmart" or other El Cheapo Gear Lists that I find online, showing how the Newbie really CAN go pretty light with relatively cheap stuff. THEN comes the soft "upsell" - spend a little more $$$ here and there and travel even lighter. (We all know the last ounces are the hardest to lose.) Getting Potential Converts down to the FEWEST basic items is at least half the battle. Thus Brad's approach to displaying just the basics in lightER stuff but not the LightEST makes a lot of sense.

6)Being a traditional boy scout for years (carrying backup gear for the backup gear) has made my still ongoing conversion even sweeter [where were you guys 25 years ago??!!]

Thus my advice to newbies: RESIST buying ANYTHING until you read read read
and join the UL Following

"FedEx"

Brett Tucker
(blister-free) - F

Locale: Puertecito ruins
Re: The "SOFT SELL" to UL hiking on 06/15/2009 22:20:50 MDT Print View

To an extent, the brick-and-mortar retail shop may be incurably dysfunctional when it comes to UL offerings and advice, for a number of reasons:

- Staff increasingly unknowledgeable because they don't actually do a lot of backpacking. It's difficult to advocate out of the box for that which you're both ignorant about and disinterested in.
- Core customer base (like the staff) consisting primarily of day hikers, car and frontcountry campers, recreational paddler and climbers, and other done-in-a-day activities where packweight and miles of walking aren't a major focus driving demand.
- Reduced focus on a holistic approach to outfitting the customer due to fewer and fewer eager newbie backpackers showing up to be outfitted (and more of the above types of customers instead). And it's the holistic approach to gear accumulation and synergy that makes the benefits of UL prima facia obvious.
- Internet-educated newbie and veteran backpackers alike, catered to be a panacea-style website such as BPL, and able to purchase virtually everything they need online, who are successfully transitioning to UL while bypassing the traditional brick-and-mortar experience. Ie, we were always a niche market, and the internet with its global reach tends to fare better with niche markets than an actual storefront ever could.

The outfitter shop down the street increasingly makes less sense to us as we make less sense to them. From a certain perspective nothing may in fact be broken here, and therefore no fixing may be required. Unless perhaps the shops still hold enough sway over manufacturers to dictate (ie, dumb down) product lines to the detriment of UL. Or if perhaps UL as a missionary style enlightened movement still senses that the corner shop is an important recruitment center for bringing more UL/Wilderness/LNT advocates into the fold (since UL means greater enjoyment and perhaps greater exploration and kinship with nature).

Edited by blister-free on 06/15/2009 22:29:29 MDT.

Unknown abc
(edude) - F
"Selling Lightweight: How Retailers Can Help Your Pack Weight" on 06/16/2009 21:49:41 MDT Print View

A dedicated UL store! OMG where is it?!!!

Matt Lutz
(citystuckhiker) - F

Locale: Midwest
Re: "Selling Lightweight: How Retailers Can Help Your Pack Weight" on 06/17/2009 05:24:07 MDT Print View

Boozer's gear closet. Ben Tang's, too.

Rod Lawlor
(Rod_Lawlor) - MLife

Locale: Australia
Another vote for Boozer's on 06/17/2009 06:28:30 MDT Print View

I find both his prices and his service are excellent, and the range is hard to beat!!

Brian UL
(MAYNARD76)

Locale: New England
Re: Re: "Selling Lightweight: How Retailers Can Help Your Pack Weight" on 06/17/2009 07:05:30 MDT Print View

I never thought of sales people as being helpful. Im one of those people who hates salesmen. I avoid anywhere with aggressive salesman and always use the same line in any store like REI -"just browsing thanks". I always assume the sales people are trying to make sales not help. Thats why I always educate myself then go to the store. The first time I remember asking for advice and help at REI it was a bad experience and just confirmed my attitude twords sales people. I remember I just came back from my first real backpacking trip, solo 5 days in the Pemi wilderness with a 60 Lb pack. I did all the usual newbie mistakes but I had done some homework it just didn't help.
So I went to REI determined to lighten my pack because it was obvious it was too heavy. I had one problem though- my 20 deg synthetic was huge I was stuck with a big pack as long as I had it but everyone told me it wasn't safe to use down in New England and I needed a 20 deg bag. The old sales man treated me like I was an idiot. I wanted to know if I should get a smaller bag or pack but didn't know how it was possible, he seemed to hold me in contempt and I just started to ignore him. Then I saw a lone Golite pack made of silnyon the "speed" I believe and I was fascinated by it because it was so small and light- everything I wanted but was being told I couldn't shouldn't have. When the sales man saw me admiring it he said "thats not for you, thats for people with more experience" at that moment I realized that I was going to buy a new bag that would fit in a pack like that. I did my research and ended up with a GG Ozone from ebay and went back to REI determined to find an affordable compressible down bag. This time though a younger salesman actually had some helpfull things to say and he recommended a polarguard 30 deg bag that compressed down well and was affordable. So I was already kind light by my second trip.
But then 2 things took it to the next level. First was Backpacking Mags Aug 2003 article" Battle of the Flyweights" there was real advice and reviews of ULA, Lw gear, Kiskil outdoors, golite, GVP, GG virga, Nunatak, feathered freinds ect. it was eye opening. Then I read Jardines book and suddenly my 30 lbs of gear seemed ridiculous. Then I found this place and started obsessing over weight until I realized every decreasing returns and sorted out my priorities. Now I'm pretty satisfied as long as I'm 10 lbs or less and these days its easy to do even with gear off the shelf at REI.

Joe Clement
(skinewmexico) - MLife

Locale: Southwest
Selling Lightweight: How Retailers Can Help Your Pack Weight on 06/17/2009 08:14:47 MDT Print View

Haven't seen a good Boozer sale for a while, hope he's out hiking......

Tom Clark
(TomClark) - MLife

Locale: East Coast
Re: "Selling Lightweight: How Retailers Can Help Your Pack Weight" on 06/17/2009 11:34:48 MDT Print View

Brian Vargo has a physical store in north-central PA. I plan to stop in the next time I'm driving across I-80. You can check it out on his website.

http://www.vargooutdoors.com/

Brad Groves
(4quietwoods) - MLife

Locale: Michigan
Re: Re: The "SOFT SELL" to UL hiking on 06/18/2009 09:57:50 MDT Print View

Brett, you expressed a very powerful distaste for retail shops that, in fairness, I think was at times close-minded and expressed at the exclusion of many realities.

I think you made several assumptions that were misrepresented. (Forgive me, my philosophy and logic classes have been deeply ingrained!) In short, you feel brick and mortars (B & Ms) are incurably dysfunctional, their staff is ignorant and doesn't backpack, and their customers are ignorant because all they do is car camp and day hike. Further, you make the logical leaps that there's less holistic focus on outfitting, that shops are inherently unable to cater to UL, and that all UL is anathema to brick and mortar shops. When you broach the idea that perhaps shops could sway companies to lighten up gear, you express it as "dumbing down" gear to the detriment of UL.

Let's take a look at some of these ideas. First, I'd argue that shops and UL can easily go hand-in-hand. Instead of an increasing distance between UL and B & Ms, I'd say the two are drawing closer together. UL is becoming more, not less, mainstream. UL is making more sense to more people. The industry is growing in that direction. If products are made lighter, I'd say it's probably more the KISS method than "dumbing down." I've already mentioned the massive drag online shopping has had on B & Ms; if you buy things online, how can you expect shops to be overflowing with gear and options? Further, how can you expect them to hire the best staff when they don't have the cash flow to do it?You're supporting businesses other than theirs. If you make interested requests, many shops will notice trends and start stocking in response to those trends.

I also whole-heartedly disagree that there is an overall decline in newbie backpackers. I think there's at least as many new backpackers proportionately as there have been in recent years; I started working outdoor retail 14 years ago, so I do have some familiarity with the subject. Actually, I'd say there's more new backpackers coming into shops than there have been in recent years. I've spoken with 3 "newbies" just today, and lunch hour isn't even over! And sure, there are lifestyle shoppers at the stores. Always have been. But "real" end-users are still out there and coming in, too. I won't argue that some sales staff is woefully inadequate; however, I think there's a lot of really talented, really experienced sales staff out there. Especially in the mom and pop type shops. I think it's absurd to argue that the staff is increasingly unknowledgeable, ignorant and disinterested in our sport. Every experience I've had (in the shops I've worked in) has been quite the opposite. Now, sometimes you get people newly interested in the sport who are learning the ropes, sure. But overall, many of your local shops are home to people who are passionate about their outdoor endeavors... you don't work in a shop like that for the pay! Much of the time the owner is working in that shop, and you know they're not there just because it seemed like an easy way to make a buck. Lastly, I don't get the comment about less focus on holistic outfitting, because I think that's probably on the rise, too--quite possibly because of increased public awareness of ultralight and lightweight backpacking.

My two cents...

EDIT: Just for grins I kept a tally of newbie backpackers today: 6 of them came in one day. That's 6 people new to backpacking; in one shift, I'd say that it's pretty indicative of a trend with growing interest. Incidentally, there were also 2 or 3 people who came in with specific interest in changing over from traditional to UL gear... And in the past week I've outfitted about 4 people with at least three each of their "big" things, ie tent, bag, pack, cookgear, pad... people working toward a whole-system approach.

Cheers, and peace-
Brad

Edited by 4quietwoods on 06/19/2009 13:59:40 MDT.

Franco Darioli
(Franco) - M

Locale: Melbourne
Selling Lightweight: How Retailers Can Help Your Pack Weight on 06/19/2009 22:10:55 MDT Print View

Having worked in camera retail for 30 years in a street next to all of the major specialist outdoor shops here in Melbourne, I can tell yo that both kind of shops are staffed mostly by people that have as a hobby/part time work the trade they work in. By that I mean keen amateur or more often student or part time "pro" in my trade and keen outdoor sportsperson/part time guides/instructors for the camping shops. So in either case, most of the time you would be talking to someone that is using or is familiar with that stuff. The commonest problem now is not "uninformed" salespeople is customers coming in getting all of the info, playing with the goods and then buying on line.
And yes, it is a lot cheaper to run an Internet store than a specialist store in the City Center.
What some forget is that in both trades there are more goods available than ever, yet salespeople are supposed to know on a particular item more than we do after we have spent several hours researching that on the net.
The funny thing is that the shop that provably has the largest share of the market is not one of the above but the one that caters mostly for the new ones, occasional hikers and fashion victims. That one will employ anyone prepared to work on minimum wages.
How ?
Advertising, catalogues and promotions that the true specialists cannot afford.
Franco