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Gear designed by you, for you: Could this be the next big thing?

A new in-store kiosk concept gives specialty retailers a new (and fun!) tool in the toolbox.

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Picture this: You walk into your favorite local outdoor shop in search of the perfect new down puffy. You walk past all the racks of Patagonia, Marmot, Mountain Hardwear, and The North Face, and straight to a smart-looking kiosk in the center of the floor. Via a 42-inch touch screen monitor, you start to design your dream jacket: You choose the features, the down type and fill power, the sleeve length, the colors, the zipper, and the pocket layout. You can even add your name or a catch phrase to the sleeve or chest. A real-time price tracker keeps up with all your changes, so you can see how each choice impacts your final price.

You pull a sample out of a tube that lies behind the monitor. You check the fit, and try a few more. You find the perfect size and finalize the purchase of a jacket that is uniquely yours, designed by you, for you.

Your design specifications wiz through cyberspace to an Asian factory, where your one-in-a–million jacket is manufactured. And about 11 days later a package arrives with your name on it back at your favorite outdoor local retailer or on your doorstep.

It’s not the future. This scenario is taking place right now at two U.S. retailers: Ute Mountaineer in Aspen, Colorado, and Midwest Mountaineering in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

And if things go well, similar kiosks could sprout up all over the country in specialty outdoor retailers.

A new type of retail

This interactive custom jacket kiosk is the brainchild of New Normal Consulting. “About two years ago an Asian clothing manufacturer called us and said they had a working piece of software that would let people make custom apparel,” says Brad Werntz, partner at New Normal Consulting. “They wanted to know a) if it would work, and b) how to go about it.”

“We were really keen on the idea of giving specialty brick and mortar retail something competitive,” says Geoff O’Keeffe, New Normal’s founder and partner. “Our ultimate goal is to strengthen the tools specialty retailers have at their disposal to bolster and strengthen their own brands.”

Custom gear kiosk
James Kwon, apparel buyer at Midwest Mountaineering says that the kiosk has been a hot spot in the store: \”Customers are drawn to it.\”Chandler Inc.

New Normal went into launch mode. “We aren’t kiosk specialists by any means,” says O’Keeffe. “But we do know specialty outdoor retail as well as anyone.” They recruited a creative team, a fixture design and manufacturing company, a programmer, and a video production crew to help tell the story.

The kiosks—which consist of a 42-inch touchscreen monitor, a fabric swatch sample board, and rows of acrylic tubes that hold size samples— are pretty sleek.

 “Adults and kids like to play around with it, and people are drawn to that area because of the kiosk,” says James Kwon, apparel buyer at Midwest Mountaineering.

Next level customization

It’s not the first time we’ve seen a custom concept hit the outdoor market. Wild Things, a small Rhode Island company launched a custom jacket program in 2012. It was popular with customers until it was discontinued three years later so the company could focus on its military contracts.

Eddie Bauer offers a customization program for its popular Sandstone Soft Shell and Microtherm Stormdown jackets.

And Chaco also gives customers the option of designing their own sandals online.

But this in-store kiosk takes the concept to the next level.

“Being retail-based, rather than internet-based, it allows us to make the jacket in sizes that no retailer could ever stock,” says O’Keeffe. “We have the opportunity here to work in that uncharted territory between brick and mortar and online sales.”

custom gear kiosk
Janet Johnson, an employee of Midwest Mountaineering, makes her daily commute in her custom purple jacket and gives it a thumbs up for warmth, quality, and style.Courtesy

“Once a customer designs a jacket, they get an email link to a shopping cart,” explains Werntz. “They can tweak the design online and pay for it from any device. The shipping fee is baked into the price [jackets range from $250 to $370, depending on the design]. It never gets discounted, and the retailer doesn’t have to deal with any of the processing steps of the typical wholesale arrangement.”

The retailer and the manufacturer split the profits. It’s a good deal for retailers, who make the same amount of margin as they might with a comparable jacket, but without all the touchpoints required to buy, unpack, tag, stock, and sell a jacket. Essentially, it’s the same upside, without all the work and the risk of stocking products that may or may not sell at full MSRP.

“We’ve sold eight jackets since receiving the kiosk in early October,” says Maile Spung, softgoods buyer at Ute Mountaineer. “Considering that it’s our slowest period, we’re pretty psyched about the activity it has gotten.”

“For us, it was something special and new to offer our customers that no one’s seen before,” says Kwon. “That was a big benefit, as we want to be special to our customers. Plus, we all have had customers in the retail world that are hard to fit—that tiny or XXXXL person—so it’s nice to have an option for them [without having to go through the hoops of a special order].

Spung agrees. “With all of the changes in retail and vendors competing with aggressive direct-to-consumer campaigns, we’re really excited to have something customizable and fun that’s exclusively available in brick and mortar.”