Franklin Climbing to stop manufacturing plastic climbing holds

Franklin Climbing Equipment (FCE), a division of Black Diamond, is jettisoning the product that founded the company -- plastic climbing holds -- effective July 31. Instead, the company will shift its sole focus to the development and production of outdoor bouldering equipment and accessories.
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Franklin Climbing Equipment (FCE), a division of Black Diamond, is jettisoning the product that founded the company -- plastic climbing holds -- effective July 31. Instead, the company will shift its sole focus to the development and production of outdoor bouldering equipment and accessories.

While this may come as a surprise to some, Peter Metcalf, president of Black Diamond, pointed out to SNEWS® that this was a business decision, pure and simple.

"Two things have happened since we acquired Franklin," Metcalf said. "Bouldering has taken off and become a very urban activity and youth-oriented sport that is outdoors, and not in the gym, and we have come to the realization that the gym business is not our forte as our business is not organized to effectively and efficiently tap into it."

Indeed, other companies SNEWS spoke to indicated even though larger retailers, such as REI, EMS, Mountain Gear and more want to carry holds, each typically want their own customized sets. Many gyms also want to have plastic holds customized to their particular specs. Customization and manufacturing efficiencies do not go hand-in-hand, according to Metcalf.

Metcalf also pointed out that as a manufacturer of plastic holds, there is little or no opportunity for branding.

"There are a great many excellent climbing hold manufacturers out there," said Metcalf. "But once the hold is bolted to a wall, very few can actually tell who the manufacturer of that hold is."

Couple the above with the fact that Metcalf told us the climbing hold manufacturing business did not contribute to the bottom line in any way, and it is easy to see why BD has decided to refocus Franklin on a more profitable venture -- bouldering.

"Bouldering is about brands and a vibe and it is more about product and we have done quite well with it," Metcalf told us. "This shift of focus also more closely ties in with our entire company as there is a natural connection between roped climbing and bouldering.

"Franklin will still be Franklin only a bit more edgy," Metcalf insisted. "We want to maintain a very distinct image that Franklin is Black Diamond's cool bouldering division."

SNEWS® View: This is a move that completely makes sense for BD, which rescued Franklin in 1999 by buying the company of its deathbed. There are two successful types of climbing hold manufacturers -- ones that are garage-based and are owner-operated, small and nimble, and ones that are part of a larger company that also manufactures climbing panels, walls and gym systems. Franklin was none of the above. And, as BD grew in size, the small division fell under the scrutiny of EPA and OSHA simply because it was part of BD, and the added paperwork and documentation for all the resins and chemicals used in the process were getting more than tiresome, we are sure. We've also heard that, since the manufacture of climbing holds isn't exactly a popular job -- unless you have visited one, you can't relate, but trust us here, any job the requires a respirator and protective gear can't be great -- turnover at BD in that part of the factory was high, we've heard. With a climbing hold company, size is no advantage to the engineering process. We'll bet the next announcement we hear is of BD selling the holds, molds, chemicals and machinery to an existing hold or wall manufacturer.

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