In mid-August outdoor retailer Mountain Designs announced it will soon be closing all 12 of its New Zealand stores, citing a slow economy and aggressive marketing by competitors.
But it’s not just the 70 staff soon be out of a job who are the losers here; the consumer also loses out when a player like Mountain Designs exits the market.
Granted, one less competitor won’t make much difference to prices, which is a major driver for New Zealand consumers. Thanks to the vertically integrated business models of the likes of Kathmandu and Macpac (and to a lesser extent Bivouac, R&R Sport and Mountain Designs itself), you can get some pretty good gear for a very good price – and some genuinely excellent gear for not much more.
But if you were in the market for some gear labelled something other than Kathmandu, Macpac or even Mountain Designs, like, for instance, a Berghaus pack, Mammut or Zamberlan boots, or a keen price on an MSR tent, you could go to Mountain Designs. With 12 bricks and mortar stores and an online shop, it was an accessible retailer selling a variety of top international brands – not just its own gear – at prices comparable to the fully vertically integrated brands. The outdoor industry in this country was stronger and more vibrant for it.
Hopefully no one is patting themselves on the back at the company’s demise. A weaker outdoor industry is the result and less brand choice is in no-one’s best interest. Without varied choice, prices will either gradually rise or, worse, other retailers, notably independent stores, will feel the pinch as more consumers will be forced to look overseas to buy their chosen brand, leaving those who buy within New Zealand the equivalent of choosing between a white coffee or black: a travesty of monochrome in the otherwise bright and colourful great outdoors.