Every year, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis adds up the dollar value of all the stuff we outdoorsy folk buy. In 2020 it came to $689 billion, which is a lot of cash and, by extension, a lot of stuff.
And if you think about it (or more to the point, even if you don’t) making all that stuff has a substantial impact on the places we hold dear.
My garage contains at least 150 pounds of polyethylene, in the shape of kayaks. And last month, while “organizing” said garage, I discovered that I own five sleeping bags, each responsible for various synthesized byproducts and the wonton defeathering of waterfowl.
All of that, and much more, for just one outdoor enthusiast who doesn’t get out nearly as much as he should.
The garages and gear sheds of America are brimming with perfectly good skis, bikes, packs and waterproof-breathable outfits for every activity. Much of that stuff will never leave the closet again, while the chemicals released in their manufacture are out there still, in the streams and forests we outdoor folks only visit.
One way to mitigate that impact is to get that still-serviceable gear into the hands of people who will use it, says Geartrade CEO Aaron Provine. In 2019 the former Backcountry executive re-launched the venerable website as a one-stop “re-commerce” venue by and for outdoor enthusiasts. In 2021 the company facilitated the resale of more than 45,000 pieces of used gear, and volume is tracking higher this year. The numbers signal “increasing awareness and acceptance of the UnNew marketplace among outdoor gear consumers, as well as Geartrade moving closer to its goal of a fully circular outdoor economy,” the company announced last week. We asked Provine how the online used gear market works, where it’s going, and what sells best.
Adventure Journal: What do your business school friends say when you tell them you’ve bet the farm on a business model predicated on people not buying new stuff?
Aaron Provine: All of them are intrigued and want to learn more. People recognize the consumption problems that we have as a society. Most every one of them wants to know how to partake and most importantly how to sell their gear. One of my classmates from my MBA class at the University of Utah has actually joined us as our head of Marketing. So, it’s an understatement when I say that people are intrigued by the problems we are trying to solve.
What gave you the idea to launch Geartrade?
I had a house filled with gear and struggled with where to sell it. I wanted something easy and painless where I didn’t have to do a ton of work listing each individual item. Essentially, I wanted someone to sell my gear for me, but I couldn’t find any options that had the technical expertise to deal with high-end equipment and apparel, or wanted to take my gear in the off-season.
I worked at Backcountry for 14 years, starting as an assistant buyer and finally departing as Vice President of Hardgoods Merchandising. So I felt pretty comfortable with how to assess gear, talk about gear, and assemble a team that was just as passionate as I am about gear and apparel.
The more I looked into the used gear market, the more I realized there was a big opportunity to solve some really interesting problems. Most gear in the outdoor industry is built really well. Unfortunately, our society is built on a consumption-based model where the incentive is to buy more. So there lies the opportunity: really well-built gear ready for a new home. I decided to jump in with both feet and started to build a frictionless model that takes the pain away from selling your gear and instills trust in the next user that what they are getting is going to be worth their time.
The garages and gear sheds of America are brimming with perfectly good skis, bikes, packs and waterproof-breathable outfits for every activity. Much of that stuff will never leave the closet again.
What are the most popular categories?
So, we just ran a press release on this. In essence, our model mirrors the overall outdoor industry, but to be more specific, in 2021 we helped keep over 45,000 items in circulation. Apparel represents just under 50 percent of the units, while cycling, ski, snowboard, camping, and climbing equipment make up sizeable portions of our business. All of these categories perform really well.
Are there certain items that always get top dollar?
We process so many items, but cult favorites are cult favorites. Anything Dana designs flies out the door. We have also received quite a bit of early Patagonia product that is always in demand. My favorite though was a pair of Original Shimano SPD M100 cycling shoes from 1990. They were still in the box and were a must-have nostalgic item.
What’s the advantage to buyers and sellers of using Geartrade over broader online sales forums like eBay, Craigslist or Facebook marketplace?
There are a couple advantages. First is that our platform protects both buyers and sellers and we make sure that both are on equal footing. We have a customer service team located in Salt Lake City that helps to support our customers in the sale process and is empowered to resolve complex transactions.
Second, we know that selling gear and apparel can be a time consuming and complex process. Through our consignment program, we have developed the capability to list our customers gear in an efficient and experience-oriented way. Every item that we process is inspected with a multi-point inspection process, receives full copy treatment, and receives professional photographs. We also manage all logistics, including warehousing and shipping without cost to the seller.
For sellers who chose to use our peer-to-peer marketplace we offer prepaid labels to ensure that shipping gear and apparel is as efficient as possible. By using Geartrade you don’t have to meet anyone in a parking lot, and we make sure payment is legitimately transferred between parties.
Third, we have created a truly unique buying experience for our customers. Not only are we assimilating inventory from multiple sellers, giving buyers a great selection of used gear, but in some cases, we are able to offer a full no questions asked return policy as well as the capability to check out with items from multiple sellers. We have really tried to approach the problem from a retail centric point of view.
Last but not least, we have implemented a loyalty program that gives both buyers and sellers more value as they do more business with Geartrade.
Have you figured out a filter yet for scammers and lowballers?
We take fraud and malicious activity seriously, but at the end of the day there is always going to be someone who values their gear and apparel differently than you do. We try to find the right match as quickly and efficiently as possible. If sellers want to allow for barters, and potentially lowball offers, we have the functionality to allow them to do that, but it is not a requirement and is ultimately up to the seller. We have many sellers that utilize the barter feature and many that do not. We also have a team that monitors our question functionality to ensure that spam and scammers are kept to a minimum.
What commission does Geartrade charge?
We have two models, our peer-to-peer model and our consignment model. The commission structure within our peer-to-peer model starts at 15 percent and decreases to 13 percent depending on how much gear and apparel you sell. This commission structure includes credit card processing and free shipping labels.
There are no added fees as we prefer to give our customers an all-in cost rather than charging listing fees, credit card processing fees, etc. Initially, this makes us look like we may be charging sellers more, but we are actually very competitive with the market when you include all the fees. Additionally, it’s always free to list an item with Geartrade and our commission rate does not apply to shipping costs or taxes.
Our consignment model takes everything out of the seller’s hands. The seller ships us the gear and we take care of the rest (product verification, copy, photos, premium marketing placement, logistics, warehousing). For this model our commission is based on the selling price of the item and ranges from 60 percent to 20 percent. Lower priced items will be on the higher end of the spectrum while higher priced items will earn more. The model is really designed around us being able to offer an incredible frictionless service for both buyers and sellers. You can find a breakdown of the consignment commissions here.
Most importantly we have designed our consignment listing model around the seller by giving them the ability to change the recommended price if they disagree with our price, and get their products back if they don’t like the service or if we reject an item due to it not achieving our standards. We also help facilitate the product donation process if a customer does not want their item back. For Buyers, we are able to provide a wider range of shipping options as well as a no questions asked return policy. And of course, because we process each item, buyers can trust that what they are getting is authentic and to our standards.
What’s the potential dollar value of the used gear market? In other words, how much dough could serial gear junkies get back, in aggregate, if they cleaned out their gear caves?
We haven’t sized the market. But we’re optimistic that there’s a huge amount of potential given the multi-billion-dollar market of new gear sold by the outdoor industry each year.
What’s the oldest, most used, abused and loved piece of gear you’ve ever sold, that is out there still choochin’?
Our customers are extremely adept at reusing, repairing, and keeping gear in the wild. Oftentimes its less about the age and more about how well the item was cared for. We have seen gear that is four decades old that is still useable. We have also seen gear from last season that was shredded.
I am not that old, so most of my gear is from the last twenty years. Regardless, I sold a pair of Dynastar Legend Pros, the orange ones that were race-room built and 97mm underfoot, a couple months ago. Those skis were probably 17 years old, but still charged.