There’s a special bond that forms between an adventurer and his or her gear. When rips, tears or other damage threaten to break that bond, consumers are likely to turn up at a specialty outdoor shop seeking help. Limited warranties or self fixes only go so far, so for many retailers it's time to call in the specialist, a gear repair company.
“People are really attached to their gear and they want to keep it functional for as long as possible,” said Penny Schwyn, owner of Specialty Outdoors (www.specialtyoutdoors.com), a gear repair company in Spokane, Wash.
Outdoor gear repair companies have been around for decades and Bob Upton, owner of Seattle, Wash.-based Rainy Pass Repair (www.rainypass.com), which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, said companies like his are good for outdoor retailers in order to offer a different aspect of customer service.
Working behind the scenes
Jordan Foster, manager at Canfield’s (www.canfields.com) outdoor store in Omaha, Neb., said gear repair companies have been good for his business. Once, a customer came in who wanted to reconstruct a set of aluminum tent poles. Canfield’s repairs fiberglass poles but has no experience with aluminum, so Foster sent the poles into Rainy Pass Repair and the customer was happy with the result. He remains a loyal Canfield’s customer.
“Most of the time if somebody comes in with a product – especially if it’s a nicer product that’s worth repairing – we absolutely recommend taking it to a couple small shops here in town,” Foster said. In the noted case, he sent it out to Rainy Pass Repair because the company has expertise on aluminum tent poles.
Foster said he sees benefits in sending his customers to repair shops, “The biggest thing, especially if it’s higher-end equipment, is if you can save a couple hundred dollars, that’s money you could spend toward other products or pieces of gear.”
Foster said customers who get a referral to repair gear generally come back to talk to Canfield’s employees about other things. Plus, Foster said, “We hate to see people just ditch gear because it’s ripped or has a broken zipper. If they can repair it, absolutely go for it.”
Matt Menely, owner of Mountain Soles (www.mtnsoles.com) in Portland, Ore., which is both a retailer and a repair shop that specializes in outdoor gear and footwear repair, said he’s never heard of another retailer who saw gear repair specialists as a threat to business.
“Anybody who is in the business of getting people into the outdoors should be somewhat thoughtful about consumption and the environment,” Menely said. “We try to get people to the outdoors and we wouldn’t have nature if we just consumed everything.”
Schwyn of Specialty Outdoors agreed. “I just think (repairing gear) keeps things out of landfills until the last possible minute,” Schwyn said. “Even when stuff is completely beyond help, some of the manufacturers are taking things back and repurposing the materials.”
And when gear has finally met its end, Schwyn said she'll refer customers back to the outdoor retailer to make replacement purchases. “I think it’s one of those mutually beneficial, symbiotic things,” she said.
Not all retailers use gear repair companies. Jim Campagna, sales associate and warranty guy for the Arcadian Shop (www.arcadian.com) in Lenox, Mass., said he deals with the manufacturers instead.
“I would prefer people to come in and go through us and deal with the companies rather than go through a third company,” Campagna said.
But service even through the manufacturer may involve gear repair companies. Rainy Pass, for example, is a warranty repair specialist for major outdoor brands such as Arc'Teryx, Helly Hansen, Ibex, Kelty and Cloudveil.
Not just gear repair
Kent Rudisill, owner of Outdoor Gear Repair (www.outdoorgearrepair.com) in Corvallis, Ore., said gear repair companies offer custom services as well, such as shortening ski pants that might be too long, or adding an extra pocket to a pack.
Rudisill told us that manufacturers actually help the repair business when they change their product lines for no real good reason and in the process add features customers just don't want or take away features customers did want.
Rainy Pass, which works with several REI stores and does warranty work for many companies including Gore-Tex, also offers custom services, Upton said. “A lot of people don’t know that that is an option,” Upton said. His company has added accessory pockets on packs and cutstom zippers on bivvy sacks, for example. Rainy Pass also offers down laundry services and down refill. Upton said he’s hoping to expand services within the next year and perhaps even open up a second operation on the East Coast.
Upton said he advises retailers to forge relationships with local gear repair shops to provide faster turnaround, and to post gear repair shop information in stores. Or, they can just call Rainy Pass, he said with a laugh.
For retailers who don't want to work with a gear repair company but are still interested in offering customers repair options – there’s always the option of carrying gear repair supplies in stores.
David Wiggs, vice president of marketing for McNett Corp. (www.mcnett.com), which specializes in gear repair supplies for outdoor and scuba gear, said stores can provide further customer service by teaching customers how to repair their own gear.
Chime in on the comment section below: Who/what is your store's or brand's go-to gear repair shop or option?