Let’s be honest: outdoor gear is expensive, and not everyone can score the coveted discounts that athletes and retailers get. Price can be a significant barrier for those trying to get into a new sport. This is where demo sales can be helpful. A demo is a piece of current-year gear, usually a big-ticket item like a bike or a pair of skis, that was rented out during peak season by weekend warriors or shoppers looking to try out the latest equipment. These products can range from barely touched to quite banged up, but at any good shop, they’ll have been well maintained. Most independent gear shops sell such items annually after tourists leave to make room for newer models. Harnessing the power of a demo sale can get you lightly used gear for heavily discounted prices. Here’s how to seize the moment to find a killer deal.
Know When a Sale Is Happening
Find shops in your area that have the gear you’re looking for, and get on their mailing list and follow them on social media. This will keep you in the loop for the next big sale. You’ll also be supporting local businesses, building a community, and finding out about other opportunities at such stores, like workshops on maintenance or skills.
Do Advance Research
“It always helps if you have an idea of what the customer wants so you can suggest the right gear,” says JT Greene, the co-owner of Wilderness Sports, in Dillon, Colorado. You’ll get much better assistance if you have a general grasp of your objectives and goals. Are you looking for a beginner pair of skis or an alpine-touring setup? Do you want to get into downhilling or cross-country biking? Doing some preliminary research will make the process that much smoother. Getting a general sense of pricing and knowing your budget beforehand is also a good idea. Are you looking to spend $500 or $1,500? Most gear shops post their demo prices ahead of time, and if you understandthe market-rate value of items, then you can be sure you’re getting the best deal.
Scope Out Gear Beforehand
Don’t be afraid to preshop. Head to the store before the sale to talk with the staff. You can get presized for a bike, check your ski-boot fit, or take demos out for a spin. Most shops will let you ride a bike around the parking lot, or you can pay a rental fee and take skis or bikes out for a longer expedition—either is a good way to see if the gear fits your needs. Then, on sale day, you’ll be in and out with your new ride in no time.
I’m not necessarily saying camp out, but it’s an option. “Our last sale, we had people there at midnight [the night before],” says Greene. Getting to the shop before it opens ensures that you can grab the gear you want before others clear it out. “On big demo sale days, it can be a madhouse in the shop,” says Lucy Hedrick, co-owner of Wilderness Sports. “We’ve sold over half our demo equipment within the first hour of the sale.”
Check Out the Soft Goods
While most people rush to demo sales for the hard—and much more expensive—goods, don’t ignore apparel. This is a great chance to grab a new and insanely cheap shell or set of bibs. “With demo sales, we’re trying to clear this season’s merchandise to make room for next year’s clothing, so there are a lot of great pricing options on soft goods,” says Hedrick. I’ve found clothing that I would have never been able to otherwise afford, and it’s a fun way to look forward to the upcoming season.
Develop a Relationship with Your Local Shop
Once you’ve gotten the deal, your relationship with the local gear shop shouldn’t stop there. “We love it when customers come back and tell us how their tour or ride went, and we’re always happy to help them fine-tune their bike or skis,” says Greene.