Metolius is launching the company's own brand of climbing rope -- Monster Ropes -- to replace the brand of ropes the company used to distribute, Mammut.
Although Metolius had a good 10-year history with Mammut, when Mammut purchased Climb High, and began hiring sales reps, it placed Metolius in the position of competing directly against Mammut -- a situation that simply wasn't going to work.
Without a rope line, company president Doug Phillips began a search, and turned to Lanex, a Czech company operated by Austrians who are ex Edelweiss guys.
While Lanex had some challenges with discount distribution here in the United States according to some retailers and other veteran climbers familiar with the brand, the company is very solid internationally. In fact, in the "About Us" statement on its website -- www.lanex.cz/en/company/ -- the company reports that 2001 sales reached 28 million EUR and the company's assets were worth more than 18 million EUR.
Of course, it is not a Lanex branded rope that Metolius is distributing. Metolius is opting to establish and distribute a brand name unique to Metolius -- Monster Rope -- manufactured by Lanex. Part of the reason is that Metolius wanted to be sure to distance itself from the discount sales that are still in existence. The other, and more important reason, is Phillips wanted to establish a brand his company could realize a little equity in.
But it is equity that will take time to earn. Phillips acknowledges that gaining climbers as rope consumers is a challenge that will take months, perhaps even years.
"Ropes are so technical that even I can't tell just by looking at a rope how good it is," Phillips said. "The only way I can really judge a rope is to go out and use it, and even then it takes me three months to find out if I like it.
"When I look at a rope, I want to know how it handles, how it feels and wears, and to be sure that there is nothing fatally wrong with it such as kinking or bunching -- though so few ropes do bad things anymore."
Needless to say, Phillips was so impressed when he used the ropes, he knew Metolius had found the rope his company needed.
But he didn't just want to replicate the distributor model again -- been there, done that.
"We've had a 20-year history of being a distributor for so many Euro brands, and that doesn't always work so well," Phillips told us. "We don't have equity in the brand, so there is less incentive to really get behind it financially when you are just distributing, and the company you are distributing for always thinks you should be selling more.
"So, we worked with Lanex to create a different business model where we control the brand and they control the manufacturing," Phillips said. "Hopefully, that will give us a more balanced and even-footed relationship to the point that we can have input into the system that is meaningful, and they retain a strong position too as the manufacturer."
In the first year, Metolius is producing just two ropes, a 9.8 mm and a10.2 mm, both dynamic and both targeted at climbers, not the mountaineering market.
"We want to have a program that our dealers can buy into that is simple, clean and easy. In the future we may start offering twins, doubles or alpine ropes, but not now."
Climbers and retailers we have spoken with tell SNEWS that while it is likely retailers will give Metolius ropes a shot simply because they are by Metolius, the company's first major hurdle will be to get climbers using and then buying the rope.
And that is not lost on Phillips.
"We need to get out there with the strongest product we have and get climbers using our ropes and hope from there we get some kind of following," Phillips added.
SNEWS View: While we haven't seen any of the ropes yet, they are probably a very good quality, but that's not going to make the rope stand out amid loads of competition. Since the ropes aren't cheap, a Metolius tag alone, while helpful, won't drive sales to the point they become an overnight success -- climbers will have to use and talk about the rope for it to gain momentum. Metolius has to know that there are plenty of good Euro ropes that don't sell well here (Edelrid, Edelweiss, Roca, Cousin) and that was before the Euro crushed the dollar. With four strong U.S.-made brands, and Black Diamond pushing Beal, retailers and their customers will need a real reason to choose a Monster rope over one they're already used to. Is the quality of the rope and packaging it with a Ropemaster reason enough? Only time will tell.