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Rocky Mountains

Show and tell: Neptune Mountaineering launches LAB to showcase crowd-funded products

The NeptuneLAB launches in August, when the first batch of products will get eight weeks in the retail spotlight.

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Projects on Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and other crowdfunding sites will come to life next month in a new startup showcase in Boulder’s Neptune Mountaineering.

The NeptuneLAB is the latest experiential concept for the iconic gear shop. Owners Shelley and Andrew Dunbar collaborated with Josh Simpson, their former employee as the Sea To Summit sales director, who founded Ignition Lab last year to facilitate creative projects with retailers and brands.

Neptune will display a rotating array of outdoor and outdoor-adjacent products for a maximum of eight weeks each in a dedicated area near the store’s cafe, where customers can touch, try, and buy from the limited quantity—and ultimately provide the up-and-coming brands with feedback.

“We’re always looking to delight and inspire our customers with something new,” Shelley Dunbar said. “Crowdfunding represents a growing share of the digital marketplace and it’s important, as a brick-and-mortar retailer, to find ways work with these digitally native brands. At Neptune we love to experiment, and yes, it’s a little risky, but it’s a fantastic way for everyone—our customers, ourselves, and the brands we’re partnering with—to try new things.”

Benefits for the brands and Neptune

Sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo have given rise to the non-traditional go-to-market and pre-order strategy of crowdfunding, and ever since its start, retail has struggled to connect their customers to those brands, Simpson said.

“There’s a lot of brands in that space who don’t want to necessarily be at retail in the traditional sense of the word,” he said. “They’re really focused on building a direct-to-consumer business. But we’re trying to figure out how to bridge that gap for an independent retailer like Neptune and these digitally-native brands.”

It isn’t Neptune’s plan to eventually shelf these products. The opportunity is presented to brands as a temporary, museum-like experience—complete with custom fixtures, signage, an an interactive digital feature where customers can explore more about the brands. Shoppers who might not be willing to invest in something they’ve only see online in pictures and videos might be more willing to buy after seeing products in person.

“We’re telling [the entrepreneurs], look at this like a marketing opportunity,” he said. “You’re able to present your product and your brand in your own context within a very technical store in a very technical market and get a lot of great feedback, not only from Neptune staff who you know are very technical themselves, but from within the Boulder market.”

Products in the first batch at NeptuneLAB include (clockwise from top left) Moft laptop stand, Monkii fitness kit, Cardamon Wallet, Firefly climbing device, Orbitkey key organizer, Zero Waste Kit, Boundary Supply pack, and Bristly dog dental chew toy.Courtesy

The hands-on benefit to the brands is obvious, whereas the gain for retailers is a little less so.

Some might consider it a risk. More than 160,000 projects have been fully funded on Kickstarter, but not all live up to expectations. “Poor delivery, poor quality, un-met promises, and just a plain lack of experience all lead to challenges,” said Rich Hill, presidents of Grassroots Outdoor Alliance.

But Hill also said that many startups are learning that selling direct-to-consumer can be limiting and are opening up to a multi-channel model, Cotopaxi being one example.

Neptune has been scouring crowdfunding platforms and hand-picking fully-funded projects, from packs and bags to more unique and unexpected items.

Wes Allen, owner of Wyoming’s Sunlight Sports and co-founder of creative marketing agency Argot, said physical retail’s greatest power is creating a discovery experience for consumers, therefore Neptune bringing in items from outside the core outdoor market is smart.

“Even if people don’t come in for that, one of the powerful pieces of any physical retail is to surprise and delight people when they walk through,” Allen said. “It’s the polar opposite of an Amazon shopping experience. It reminds you why you get out of your pajamas and put shoes on and actually go out to a physical store.”

Retailers interested in the idea as well as startups wanting a spot in Neptune can reach out to Josh Simpson at