A SNEWS® Training Center article written by the editors of SNEWS®and brought to you by CAMP USA
[advertising_display billboard_name="|HTS_Harness|" number_to_display="|3|"]
• Know your customer and sell to their needs
• Comfort is king
• Women want women-specific product
• Ensure the proper fit before they leave the store
• Start selling with high-end features and move down
Customers' Top Three Concerns:
What is a harness?
You could be laughed out of a climbing shop for asking that question -- but you
[advertising_display billboard_name="|Out_HTS_TOC|" number_to_display="|1|"]
can also find outdoor sports shops where the salespeople could not give you a good answer. Quite simply a harness, shoes and belay device are all an interested buyer needs to really start climbing along with more experienced partners. A harness is made up of a waist loop, leg loops and some combination of systems that tighten and close the harness; are used to belay; and are often used to hold gear.
What does a harness need to do?
The main purpose of a harness is, of course, safety. It needs to hold a climber who falls and help a belayer do his or her job. But since climbers spend so much time in their harnesses, comfort is also a big factor when it comes to buying one. And all harnesses are not alike. Although there are jack-of-all-trades models, often the features and priorities of a harness depend upon the type of climbing a customer will be pursuing. When it comes to selling this most basic piece of equipment, it is vital to understand your customer.
Know your customer
One of the first responsibilities of a salesperson in an outdoor store is to size up the experience and aspirations of a customer -- this old axiom couldn't be any more true when it comes to climbers. Novices are apprehensive about the dangers of the sport and looking for a voice to trust, vets will sniff out a lack of authenticity and may never return. Understand the specific needs of a customer and it's far easier both to make an individual sale and to build loyalty, which in turn brings that customer back to the shop and creates credibility with the local climbing community. In general, you can break climbers looking to purchase a harness down into three segments: novices, occasional users and advanced experts.
Novices: People who have never bought a harness before are looking for a good value in a product that is easy to use, but most of all they will buy according to comfort -- what feels good, feels right. Quite often, they are interested in climbing at the local gym. They are often urban climbers or there is a local facility nearby -- a YMCA, ski area, military base, university -- where they can try the sport on a climbing wall. Or they may live near a popular crag and want to learn with friends who have experience. This segment tends to go one of two ways -- either they want to buy the most basic, price-point model they can find, or they have plans to invest a bit more in the future and want to buy a harness they can grow into. These customers will want the classic double-back buckles that help remove user error. For manufacturers, this segment also includes harnesses sold to groups and organizations that teach climbing, such as Outward Bound or a gym rental program.
Occasional users: This is a very large and varied segment. Occasional users have some experience climbing and are much more likely to be outside on the rock as opposed to clambering about the gym. However, they may train in the gym to as a workout program before heading out on intensive climbing vacations. Fit is a major factor for these customers. They know what it feels like to be on the rock and they know what feels right in a harness. They will want to try the harness on an in-store wall. There are a myriad of niches in this segment, too, from general mountaineers to ski mountaineers to rock climbers to ice climbers -- though there are also customers who want to try a bit of everything. So it is essential to determine just what type of climbing the customer will be doing. It's also extremely important to note that it is at this level that women will be looking for women-specific harnesses -- and often female salespeople.
Advanced experts: This segment includes high-end rock climbers and redpoint climbers as well as serious mountaineers and ski mountaineers. In general, they are less concerned with comfort and more interested in performance and light weight/low bulk products. There will be an even bigger break out between the genders here. Most distinctively, the climbers in this category are very activity specific, and will require equipment just for that specific activity. These users will want a harness made for and including specific features for trad climbing, or rando racing, or mountaineering. These customers often own several harnesses. Often they will want advanced features such as buckles that make it easy to slip out of a harness for the ice climbers and ski mountaineers. You can always start them with high-end features and then move down to determine what they need.
Selling points to keep in mind
- Fit first: Get customers in a harness and on a practice wall, if possible. Have them flip around. Don't just try the harness while sitting or climbing. Men tend to feel a harness more in the waist loops, women in the leg loops. Women should wear women-specific harnesses.
- Sell high: More expensive harnesses with better features are going to feel better and perform better. Don't be shy about starting even a novice with a high-end harness.
- Comfort, comfort, comfort: You can always upsell into a more comfortable harness. This is not just a sales ploy, either. Comfort creates a safer environment. If a climber is in pain, they will not feel safe.
- Know what women want: In general, women like the tactile experience of trying harnesses in a shop. Men are more likely to buy online. Every shop should have women-specific harnesses and female salespeople.
- Take it back: Often customers will want to return a harness if it is not comfortable in the field. Give them this opportunity.
- Experience: It matters when it comes to your salespeople. Novices and experts both want to buy a harness from someone who has spent significant time climbing, not just someone who has been well cliniced on the topic.
- Certifications: Harnesses should have the European CE certification at the bare minimum. UIA certification provides an even higher standard.
Big points on small niches
- Redpoint climbers: Sleek and light reigns here. The gear loops need to be as far forward as possible to make it quick and easy to access them.
- Trad climbers: Gear loops need to be stronger and carry more.
- Ice climbers: Look for the strength of a trad harness but also want buckles that open to remove the harness completely without removing crampons.
In the end
Simply listen to the customer and sell them a harness that fits their needs and feels good.