Climb X launches, generates swirl of confusion in the wake of announcement

A Climb X news release announcing Joe Garland’s new climbing company generates questions -- and SNEWS took the time to find answers. Not all is as it seems in the release when it comes to who is who and what is what in the changing worlds of Mad Rock and Climb X.
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When Joe Garland responded to a SNEWS® inquiry seeking more details behind his announced Jan. 11 departure from Mad Rock, he said, by email, “I will have a very good answer to everyone’s questions (not just yours) in two weeks. Thanks for contacting me. Sorry to be so cryptic. The reply is worth waiting for.” (Click here to read our Jan. 13, 2010, story, “Garland exits Mad Rock citing internal differences.”)

Although it took a bit more than two weeks, Garland revealed on Feb. 5 via a news release to the climbing media and, we were told, retailers, distributors and other select recipients, that he was launching a new climbing company called Climb X.

While the news itself was not so earthshaking, the manner in which it was presented certainly left more than a few industry readers confused. Based on the release, it appeared Climb X was taking over Mad Rock’s business operations. Naturally, the blogosphere, email churn and more began to go into overdrive, simply passing along the news and sometimes adding to it with potential misperceptions.

In an attempt to sort out the kernels of truth amid the possible hyperbole, rumor and speculation bantered about, SNEWS launched an investigation, including on the ground at Germany’s ispo show going on this week, as well as by phone, email and even fax (old school, we know). Here is what we uncovered:

It is an undisputed fact that Garland has launched a new climbing company with global distribution aspirations called Climb X. It is registered in Canada as Climb-X Sports Inc., and the company has two trademarks approved for ClimbX recently registered in both Canada and the United States. Plus, it was exhibiting at the ispo show in the Everest booth -- the same booth as Mad Rock.

Additionally, neither Garland nor the new Climb X company have any rights to anything owned by Mad Rock, including materials, designs, trademarks, patents, product, etc. Mad Rock’s parent company is Nelson Sports, a California-registered corporation owned by Young Chu.

As for the information in the release -- sent by the PR company Subrosa Group of Nurnberg, Germany, on behalf of Garland -- it contains numerous errors or statements that can easily be miscontrued according to our research.

>> The official Climb X news release began by stating: “Joseph Garland, a founding member of Mad Rock Climbing since its inception in 2002 who announced his departure from the company in early January has returned to the industry, and is now working for Mad Rock’s parent company and manufacturer.” 

However, that is not exactly true. Garland has never been an employee of Mad Rock, according to Chu. Even Garland acknowledged Nelson Sports owns Mad Rock in a Feb. 5 email to SNEWS where he stated, “The brand name Mad Rock has been and as far as I know owned by Young Chu and Nelson Sports.” So, Garland is not working for Mad Rock’s parent company at all.

And, while Garland may have been brought in as a contractor to oversee sales and marketing of the new Mad Rock brand around the time of its launch in 2002, calling himself a founding member does appear to be stretching the limits of the definition.

>> The news release continued: “Three of Mad Rock’s original partners: Alex Kim, Ken Kim and Joe Garland will continue the business under the new name ‘Climb X,’ with Joe Garland being named its new President. Original Mad Rock President and partner Young Chu will retain the Mad Rock name, but is no longer a member of this group.”

While Chu acknowledged to SNEWS in a phone interview that Alex Kim was, in fact, made a minority partner of the factory that Mad Rock set up in China, he was not and never has been a partner in the Mad Rock business or the Nelson Sports business. Though Chu did not know who Ken Kim was, Garland confirmed to SNEWS by email that he was Alex Kim’s brother. 

It is also important to point out that neither Garland nor the Kim brothers are continuing any business of Mad Rock. They are, as Chu has detailed to us, simply launching a new company: Climb X. And, of course, Chu is retaining the Mad Rock name -- since he owns the company.

>> According to the Climb X news release: “Climb X will assume the former Mad Rock operation, its distributors, most of its sales reps, international staff, warehouse, factory & production, and product development facility, as well as its Chinese and international warehouse facilities.”

In truth, Climb X is not assuming the former Mad Rock operations. Put simply, it is now manufacturing in the same factory in China that Mad Rock has used, Tianjin Hardstone Outdoor Co. Further, according to Chu, Mad Rock has already exited that facility in favor of a new factory that Chu had been setting up in Vietnam. Chu told us that the company was waiting to announce the new factory until it was fully operational, but the news from Garland forced him to go public sooner. The factory is already producing chalk bags, crash pads and other softgoods, Chu told us, and will soon be producing climbing shoes and other Mad Rock gear. International warehousing has already been moved as well.

In a Feb. 5 news release posted to its website, Mad Rock (www.madrockclimbing.com) officially announced the new factory for the first time: “Mad Rock Climbing is happy to announce that the move from China to Vietnam was a success. Even though the transition was difficult, it was a necessary move in the face of overwhelming price increases in China. We will be able to pass on savings to the dealers and consumers while maintaining quality and innovation, which has been the cornerstone of Mad Rock’s philosophy.”

Any statement about distributors and reps in the Climb X news release appears a bit premature. Of the five U.S. sales reps currently working for Mad Rock, all five have told SNEWS directly in interviews or by email that they were continuing as Mad Rock sales reps. In addition -- other than Everest, a German distributor with whom Garland apparently has a relationship -- Kenny Suh, international sales and marketing manager for Mad Rock, told us by phone and email from ispo, as well as in personal conversations at the German show, that a majority of the international distributors currently working with Mad Rock will continue to work with it.

Garland disputed that assertion -- so at this point, and since SNEWS has not personally spoken with a majority of the existing international distributors, the issue of which distributors are siding with which camp (Climb X or Mad Rock) remains unclear. However, it is worth noting what one international business expert familiar with all the players and many key retailers currently selling Mad Rock told SNEWS: “Even if a distributor is a big fan of Garland, shifting gears to jump on with a brand that consumers have no knowledge of or experience with in any market, especially in an economy that is still challenged in most countries, would be extremely risky. Mad Rock is a known entity and one that is trusted by retailers and consumers. Climb X, no matter how good it promises to be, is just a new brand with no sales or production track record. However, if Mad Rock stumbles for any reason in this next year, in deliveries or quality control from its new factory in Vietnam, the scenario could shift in favor of Climb X. Only time will tell on this issue.”

>> The Climb X news release also stated: “Garland, who was responsible for most of the newer products developed at Mad Rock, will be working out of offices in Portland, Oregon, with satellite offices in Munich, Germany and Beijing, China.”

Both Chu and Suh told SNEWS that the claim by Garland that he was responsible for many of Mad Rock’s product designs and development is simply not true.

In a follow-up email to SNEWS where we asked him to clarify his roles at Mad Rock prior to his departure, Garland said nothing about being involved with design and asserted that he managed worldwide sales and marketing for the company with “the Brothers Alex and Ken on the factory, production and financing side, (and) Young Chu (as) middle man and sometime designer.”

Whether or not Garland was involved in any aspect of design or production, this much is fact: Following an extensive search of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website for any known or pending patents for Mad Rock or, in fact, for any other climbing product design for any other company, Garland’s name does not appear. On the other hand, Chu holds four U.S. patents as an inventor. The first, for a climbing shoe with a concave sole for which the patent was applied on April 23, 2001 -- before Garland ever joined the company and before Mad Rock was even formed. Another patent for a safety buckle, filed on April 24, 2004, was granted Sept. 19, 2006, and another for a climbing shoe heel design was granted on March 14, 2006.

>> The release from Climb X also stated: “Climb X stock will be available in early March for dealers and distributors from a relocated distribution center in Las Vegas, Nevada. The logistics of relocating the offices and DC are geared for quicker access to the merchandise for North American dealers, and paves the way for a deeper pool of qualified candidates for office staff. The Las Vegas DC has the benefit of being one shipping day closer to eastern customers, while giving identical ship times to all western accounts as Mad Rock’s Orange County distribution center.”

In truth, the offices and distribution center are not being relocated, as Garland asserted. He is opening new offices and a distribution center in Las Vegas, as a result of supporting his new company launch -- which has nothing to do with Mad Rock.

As for quicker shipping times, a call to FedEx confirmed there really is no advantage as both Orange County, California, and Las Vegas serve all parts of the country equally well and within the same timetable, east or west.

--Michael Hodgson

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