A SNEWS® Training Center article written by the editors of
SNEWS®and brought to you by CAMP USA
- Know your customers’ needs and niche
- •Style matters
- •Fit sells
- •It’s more than a fashion statement
Customers’ Top Concerns:
Close the deal with… a mirror. Customers will be able to tell which helmet looks best on them.
What is a climbing helmet?
Quite simply, a climbing helmet is designed to protect your skull from impact from above. They are a necessary piece of safety gear for trad climbers, mountaineers, ski mountaineers, rand racers and others who risk injury from falling debris and other impacts. Climbing helmets are certified according to the European standards, measured by how much force the helmet allows to be transmitted to the body (most importantly, the neck) from a blow from above and from the sides tilted at a 60-degree angle. A CE (European Community) certified helmet will allow no more than 10 kilonewtons to be transmitted; a UIAA (Union Internationale des Associations d’Alpinisme) certified helmet will allow no more than 8 kN. There is as of yet no North American certification standard.
Climbing helmets are not sexy. There is a certain kook factor to wearing one, and many climbers rationalize excuses so that they don’t have to crimp their coifs. But, if you look at reports on climbing accidents, the case for a helmet is pretty solid, especially when it comes to categories of the sport (ice, trad, mountaineering) that expose a climber to falling debris. These concerns will bring a customer shopping for a brain bucket, but safety alone won’t sell a helmet. More often than not, you need to appeal to a customer’s sense of style. That’s not to say that there are not other important selling points to a helmet, but studies show that customers still rank style No. 1.
Know the niche
Unlike climbing essentials like harnesses, shoes, protection, etc., when it comes to buying a piece of safety gear like a helmet, all ability levels are pretty much the same. After all, anyone is vulnerable to falling debris. What really matters is the type of climbing the customer will be doing. Helmets are built to survive different impacts. For example, a basic trad lid is built to be lighter and with less side-and-ear protection as an ice climbing or ski mountaineering helmet. There is a bit of crossover. For example, though you can’t ski in a climbing helmet, you can climb in a ski helmet — but in general sticking to the type of climbing the helmet was designed for is better fashion. In general, helmets for the different niches of climbing feature these aspects:
- Trad climbing: Trad climbers are concerned with weight and comfort. How will the helmet feel after six hours on a multi-pitch route? How heavy will it be on my neck? Adjustability and venting are features that should interest these users.
- Alpinist/mountaineering: Mountaineers will also be wearing a helmet for extended periods of time and be concerned about weight, comfort and venting. They may also be engaging in several disciplines — climbing rock and ice and maybe even skiing — so they may want a more comprehensive helmet. Lighter Styrofoam helmets will be more attractive over hard shells. Clips for headlamps are very important.
- Ice climbing: Since ice climbers are almost sure to see some falling debris, they want the most coverage and protection out of a helmet. They will want protection for the side of the head and ears. They may want a shield for eye and face protection. And since belays can be extremely cold, they will want a helmet that’s adjustable or able to fit a beanie or hat underneath.
- Ski mountaineering/rando racing: Ski and snowboard helmets have a different CE certification than climbing helmets. But ski/snowboard mountaineers and certainly fast-moving rando racers will want lighter helmets than they wear at the resort. Full Styrofoam molded helmets are the norm here and many racers even want helmets with eye/face shields so they do not have to fuss with sunglasses or goggles.
Dialing the fit
Once you make sure that a customer likes the look of a helmet, you need to ensure that it fits correctly. A proper fit is not just fashionable (and a helmet that fits well should both feel and look good on a customer), it is an important aspect of the safety and function of a helmet. The helmet should fit with no wobble or loose spots. Likewise, it should not be too tight or pinch anywhere. It can often be a matter of making several adjustments, so know the helmets you carry and how to adjust them before you assist a customer.
On the inside
Hard shell helmets with suspension systems are built to survive as an everyday lid for five to 10 years, but they do not provide the same protection as full Styrofoam. Foam molded helmets (which can also have suspension systems) provide better protection and are usually much lighter. The one caveat is that they are only really built to survive one hit.
Selling points to keep in mind
- How does it look: Most customers want the helmet to look good if they are going to have to wear it. Get them in front of the mirror.
- Sell high: More experienced customers will usually already be willing to pay a premium for the right fit and comfort (perhaps because they have suffered through a cheap helmet), while beginners will be more price sensitive. However, a helmet that fits well should be an easy sell for any level.
- The fit sells the lid: Have customers try on a wide range of helmets and help them dial in a comfortable fit. The one that feels the best on their head is the one they are most likely to buy.
- Upsell to the niche: If you know what niche activity your customer will be pursuing, it will be easier to sell features such as clips for lights, superior venting and face shields.
- Take it back: Often customers will want to return a helmet 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 helmet from someone who has spent significant time climbing and also worn the helmets he or she is selling.
In the end
Ascertain what customers need out of a helmet and then have them try on several models to see which one looks right and fits best.