By Michaela Cloud
Two companies that both began with outdoor climbing have partnered with a single, unified vision: build better climbing communities and get outdoors.
Momentum Indoor Climbing formed over 10 years ago next to a REI store in Sandy, Utah. Today, Momentum carries the state with three immense climbing gyms. This year, the indoor climbing brand will take its first large step of expansion into the Lone Star state alongside well-renowned outdoor retailer REI.
Momentum is in the midsts of opening two modern climbing facilities in the Houston area. Inside these gyms, REI is creating an entirely new concept, which they have branded REI Co-op Climb. REI Co-op Climb will be an actual full-service REI climbing pro-shop located within both of Momentum’s new gyms.
Although the shops are approximately 500 square feet, the company is utilizing every inch to give customers firsthand access to a wide array of equipment, yoga essentials, training gear, and more. The shop incorporates everything REI has to offer, including the REI membership program — dividends included — and the REI Outdoor School.
In late July, Momentum’s first Texas gym will open in Katy, 25 miles west of downtown Houston. Momentum Katy will be a fully equipped climbing gym with 36,000 square feet of climbing surface. Momentum Silver Street, the company’s second Texas location, will be an all-inclusive bouldering establishment. Located in the Washington Avenue Arts District near the heart of downtown Houston, Momentum Silver Street will amount to over 40,000 square feet of climbing terrain, making it one of the largest bouldering gyms in the world.
Momentum and REI will work together to give climbers the most complete experience possible. Not only will climbers have direct access to a high-end store, but they will also receive direct access to indoor and outdoor clinics, events, weekend camping and climbing trips to Austin, and more through the REI Outdoor School. Momentum Katy and Silver Street will be teaching selected indoor climbing clinics.
Closing the Outdoor Gap
Momentum CEO Jeff Pedersen says that over the years, his team has built a successful climbing school that focuses on creating all-around great climbers, indoors and out. But he still felt like there was something missing. “The thing that we don’t have a lot of bandwidth for is to really close the loop for new climbers by directly sharing our inspiration for this business—which is outdoor climbing,” Pederson told CBJ. Pedersen says the new partnership will allow the two companies to work closely together to create distinct, well-integrated outdoor offerings and at the same time, allow Momentum to keep doing what it has always done in the indoor space.
Pedersen, of course, believes that this partnership is good for his business, but also for the local community. “Partnering with REI and having a streamlined way to get folks outdoors is incredible for Houston customers to have access to,” Pederson explained.
The partnership has been in the works for years. Nearly four years ago, Momentum’s expansion team began researching the Houston market. Through internal conversations, it was known throughout the industry that Houston was up and coming, and as an underserved area, stood out as an appealing new-gym market to Momentum. Soon, an opportunity arose with a local Houston climber named Rees Williams.
Williams initially reached out to Momentum about building a facility of his own in the Houston metro area. Soon, the Momentum team began making trips to Houston and almost instantaneously, a bond formed.
“Our initial foray into the market was also the beginning of a great relationship with a local climber who has the requisite background and experience in management to take on, really, our biggest project yet, which is the Katy full-service gym opening in July,” Pederson said about Williams. This summer, Williams will head Momentum Katy as the gym’s general manager.
Finding the Perfect Partner
While Momentum was making its way into Houston, REI was waiting for the right move to get into the indoor climbing industry. It all depended on the perfect partner. Pedersen and REI CEO Jerry Stritzke met briefly at the Winter Outdoor Retailer show in Salt Lake City in 2016. Soon after, John Sheppard, REI’s Divisional Vice President of Experiential Programs & New Ventures, reached out to Pedersen and the two began discussing a potential partnership. Sheppard began making trips to Momentum’s facilities and met the rest of Momentum team.
Through these trips, Sheppard was able to fully grasp Momentum’s concept and vision, and believed the partnership with Momentum would be an excellent fit. “I think Jeff had the best insight into the industry. Their brand and values really lined up with ours so it struck up really good conversations about long-term, how we could work together,” Sheppard said.
Both Pedersen and Sheppard have an aligned strategy and vision for the partnership and where the climbing industry is headed. “John and I are the gray-haired guys of this thing,” Pederson said of the commonalities and instant connection between the two teams. “He’s got a young team, I’ve got a young team. It’s really been wonderful to see the way that our teams have hit it off on this thing as well. It’s a very natural fit, I think. This was felt from both sides as we started working together.”
The partnership is a long-term deal for the Katy and Silver Street gyms. Although it’s too early to make any concrete plans for the future, John Sheppard isn’t shy to talk about his aspirations for the two companies. He clarifies that although the Houston market was the initial plan, the transactional nature between the two companies has both teams thinking more.
“We were looking to partner with somebody who could have large expansion possibilities that mirror REI’s own footprint,” Sheppard said. “We were looking for companies who had the expertise, the business structure, and the financial backing to do that.”
While the companies are optimistic about future plans, both are hesitant to retrofit REI Co-op Climb into existing Momentum gyms. Pedersen’s reasoning is that the Katy and Silver Street gyms were specifically built and designed to house REI Co-op Climb, while the existing gyms in Utah are not.
Sheppard of REI explained that their idea for this partnership was not to “shoehorn” something into an existing model, meaning this partnership warranted a new entity, and a new brand. REI Co-op Climb even has its own distinct logo. While the Momentum gyms in Sandy, Millcreek, and Lehi are popular in the Salt Lake area, both Pedersen and Sheppard agree that the companies are more into “looking forward, not back.”
REI has partnered with climbing gyms across the nation before, but never to this extent. With the presence of REI Co-op Climb and Momentum’s facilities, the partnership will undoubtedly bring in novice and expert climbers alike.
“From an alignment standpoint, Momentum feels like REI’s going to help us reach a bunch of people we wouldn’t have otherwise reached more quickly,” Pedersen said, emphasizing the importance of this branded equilibrium. “This is a huge value and we will naturally bring people through our doors that may not have yet become REI members,” explains Pedersen. “Just being able to reach each other’s potential new customers and members very effectively and in an aligned way is the real power here to this deal.”
The Climbers Gym
The synergy within the two groups is paramount. When asking for REI’s reasoning to partner with Momentum, Sheppard explained, “We knew we wanted to enter a partnership with a very promising national-presence gym. The thing that drew us to Momentum more so than the others is that Momentum is a climber’s gym. It’s managed by climbers; there’s a passion for climbing there — it’s not purely a gym experience.”
REI believes that a life outside is a life well lived, and this mantra exemplifies the main goal of the partnership. Both Pedersen and Sheppard began their climbing careers outdoors, and although Momentum is an indoor climbing facility, Sheppard delineates the comparison between an outdoor company and an ‘indoor’ company. “We see the rise of popularity of climbing gyms, and we don’t think that indoor climbing is a contrary to outdoor climbing. It’s a compliment. For us, it is access to a large and expanding group of people who want to get outdoors, or be active in a sport that is a primarily outdoors.”
“To be able to share [climbing] with more and more people with the support of a company that has been around far longer than we have, and with the broad reach of REI, is just really exciting for us,” Pederson said.
Although there are many disciplines of the sport—indoor, outdoor, bouldering, etc., Pedersen proclaims Momentum’s true focus is fostering a love of climbing. “Now, having built and worked very hard on our model for a little over ten years, we’ve built what we think is a great climbing school that has naturally focused on how you do climbing, period.” The new REI partnership will only help to make that focus stronger.