How the Clymb is Changing the Rugged Outdoor Gear Market

Portland's breakout online fitness and adventure retailer offers top gear at huge discounts.

By Benjamin Tepler July 20, 2015 Published in the August 2015 issue of Portland Monthly

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A black Mercedes-Benz sprinter stands parked outside the Clymb’s headquarters on NW Overton Street: a 20-foot-long beast outfitted with floodlights, cinched with surfboards, and mounted front-to-back with mountain bikes.

This muscular ride, which Clymb employees use on company cyclocross races and backcountry photo shoots, says a lot about the bond between the six-year-old outdoor gear retailer and its rugged market. The company’s website carries unsold stock from leading outdoors brands—from slick Black Diamond to gristly Filson—at huge discounts to registered members. Cec Annett (far left) and Kelly Dachtler (right), two outdoor-industry vets, hit upon this strategy in 2009, with e-commerce successes like Vente-Privee and Gilt Groupe as models. Their company now reaches an audience of some 4.5 million and employs about 60.

Lots of businesses sell discount outdoor gear. Sites like Backcountry and Moosejaw tap a similar customer base of hikers and recreationalists, and the brick-and-mortar trade is large and chaotic. “At closeout shops all around the country, outdoors gear is just strewn between kids’ pajamas and curling irons,” says Annett, a former Adidas VP. “It’s not a great presentation.”

Presentation, on the other hand, is the Clymb’s secret weapon: lush photographs, clever branding, in-depth stories, and intrepid travel opportunities. It sells knives and hatchets under the slogan “Survive the Zombie Apocalypse.” Its beautiful product photographs and well-written descriptions are more alluring than anything the actual manufacturers provide.

In 2013, the Clymb launched a travel service, organizing everything from Everest Base Camp expeditions to survival clinics—“so people can actually use the gear that we sell,” Dachtler explains. Clymb staffers vet each trip to appeal to the site’s core clientele. “It’s more zip trekking and less wine tasting,” says Annett.

Meanwhile, the site plays to office-bound outdoors enthusiasts with sleek, mixed-media feature stories—free-solo rock climbing on Majorca, recently—and geeky gear guides. Annett and Dachtler have held local events, like a workshop with Chris Burkard, one of the world’s foremost outdoor photographers, and warehouse sales prompting block-long lines.

The Clymb’s ascent continues with forthcoming new releases and niche products. As for a full-fledged retail shop in Portland: “It’s something we have lots of ideas about,” says a reserved Dachtler. “I certainly wouldn’t rule it out.”

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