Now in its sixth year, Klang Valley-based outdoor gear retailer Corezone is still the go-to store for top-quality gear and a crash course on gear education.
YOU can’t go wrong with an outdoor gear shop run by a bunch of adventure buffs.
When Corezone first opened in the bustling neighbourhood of SS2, Petaling Jaya in November 2005, the outdoor industry was abuzz with talks of the new kid on the block. Finally, we were getting salespeople who were clued in plugging RM500 stoves or backpacks that could enhance our outdoor adventures.
And boy, did the gear “perform”!
One of my best Corezone buys was a pair of hiking pants from Polish brand, Milo. Lightweight and versatile, the quick-dry yet tough Supplex fabric shielded my legs from thorny bushes and razor-sharp rocks. The cottony-soft pants are light enough for tropical climate and yet kept me cosy despite single digit temperatures in the Japanese Alps and the Himalayas. Granted, it was a tad pricey at RM295 a pop (I bought two pairs). But six years and a baby later, I was still wearing the Milo during a hike in Japan last November.
Outdoors enthusiast: Leong Dee Lu, managing director of COREZONE, has all her outdoor product knowledge at the tip of her fingers. — Pictures by Norafifi Ehsan and Carol Leong.
Fast forward to 2012, and Corezone is thriving. Recently it expanded its retail space to a roomy 418sqm. The specialist gear shop is the brainchild of outdoor junkie Leong Dee Lu.
“Primarily, our role is to equip you so that you don’t suffer when you go on an outbound adventure,” says Leong, a former kayak and climbing guide. “It’s pointless to splurge on a RM10,000 adventure tour package and go with the wrong gear. You’d be miserable, or you may ditch your trip half-way.”
The company caters to different needs and budgets, from mountaineering, backpacking and rock-climbing to kayaking and trail-running gear.
“Our philosophy is to provide gear that have been tested in the field, whether by the manufacturers, end users or gear reviewers,” adds Leong who holds an international business and marketing degree.
At Corezone, you can find the usual expedition-proven brands and critic-favourites like The North Face, MSR (Mountain Safety Research), La Sportiva, GoLite, Therm-a-Rest and Benchmade.
Corezone is known for its quality of service — well-trained staff, and outdoor enthusiasts could also advise customers on the appropriate gear.
Camping lovers will drool over the selection of stoves, titanium cookware, tents and hydration bags from US-based MSR or Sweden’s Trangia stoves and cookware. Candy-coloured kayaks from New Zealand-based Ocean Kayak line the wall. Racks of travel accessories: Sea to Summit travel organisers and microfibre towels, SealLine drybags and Platypus hydration bladders, take up half the floor space.
Travellers and backpackers are spoilt for choice with the plethora of backpacks and wheeled luggage from GoLite (a cult favourite amongst ultralight backpackers), Lafuma, Kelty, Mountainsmith and The North Face. On display is a huge assortment of the multi-function BUFF headgear from Spain (a headband made of micro-fibre fabric that can be worn as headscarf, facemask, balaclava, headband, etc).
La Sportiva climbing shoes, Edelweiss harness, quick draws, carabiners and ropes, and Petzl and Camp belay devices cater to the rock hounds. Other highlights include a gorgeous selection of Wild Roses jackets and tops. An Italian premium outdoor apparel brand, Wild Roses products are designed by women for women. Their sports bra is one of the most comfortable and well-fitted bras I’ve tried.
Spain’s Bestard hiking boots and Austria’s Komperdell trekking poles are relatively low-profile yet high quality and value-for-money brands. Too bad brands like Milo, Salewa and Vaude are no longer carried by the store.
“Unfortunately, we had to drop certain brands for various reasons,” Leong explains. “Sometimes the supply chain is broken or unreliable, or when the manufacturing plants relocate, the quality of their products are compromised.”
A selection of recreational kayaks from Ocean Kayak — a New Zealand-based store.
As the official Malaysian distributor for US-based Cascade Designs (makers of MSR stoves, Therm-a-Rest self-inflating mattresses, SealLine dry bags and Platypus hydration packs), Leong and Corezone’s sales director, Sharon Tan, have had the opportunity to visit the company’s headquarters in Seattle to pick up repair skills from the technicians.
“We are trained to identify manufacturing defects and quick-fix their whole range of equipment. Whatever we cannot fix, we replace,” says Leong who also learned to repair kayaks at Ocean Kayak’s headquarters in New Zealand.
Leong and Tan regularly check out international outdoor trade shows in the US and Europe to source for the latest gear.
“Criteria we look for in a brand: ratings approval, consumer confidence, award-winning brands, expedition-tested, etc,” says Leong.
Some locals have commented on the hefty price tags of some of Corezone’s products. But in Malaysia, imported outdoor gear is slapped with taxes varying from 10% to 45%. Even so, the pricing is comparable or even cheaper than Europe’s, Japan’s or Australia’s.
“Our outdoor gear market has definitely grown but our purchasing power and income level are still relatively low,” says Leong. “Obviously, our volume has to increase if we want to a more competitive pricing.”
Apart from gear, Corezone hawks outdoor-related books and DVDs and is a great resource for inbound and outbound adventure travel info. Recently, they started Sunday Afternoon Tea @ Corezone where members and guests gather to share travel tips and adventure stories in Nepal and Tibet.
The next Tea session this March will touch on travelling to Mt Kilimanjaro and Africa with guest speaker Ahmad Fakri Abdul Samah of Kembara Outdoor Centre (Ahmad Fakri is the first Malaysian who completed the Seven Summits).
The Corezone diehards
“Over the years, Corezone’s customers have also ‘matured,’” Leong added.
“When we first opened our doors, our walk-in customers’ knowledge of gear was confined to the RM3 stove you buy at hardware store or cheap disposable rain ponchos.
“What’s interesting is, those who have ‘matured’ or become more discerning are spreading the word and educating their friends about quality gear,” says Leong.
Today, almost half of Corezone’s clients are attuned to gear technology and the latest in the market.
“Some are venturing to interesting places that we have not even heard of so we need to do our homework to keep up with them,” says Leong, laughing. “For example, we have customers coming to us saying, ‘I’m going to Antarctica, do you have anything suitable?’ Sometimes we have to go back to the manufacturers and ask them if their products are suitable for specific conditions.”
Not surprisingly, the store has amassed a loyal following.
“What makes the store stands out is their level of service – the staff knows what they are selling, offer sound advice and tries to cater to individual needs,” says Adele Cheah who is a regular.
A sports events manager, Cheah, 36, has been shopping at Corezone since it first opened. Though online shopping is hugely popular in recent years, she prefers the traditional brick-and-mortar shops.
“I need to try, touch and feel the products before I buy the gear,” says Cheah who does mountain biking, rock-climbing and scuba-diving.
A self-professed Corezone fan, Chong Eng Par finds online shopping a hassle.
“You need to take into account the shipping charges and custom inspections,” says Chong, 42, who used to shop for outdoor gear in Singapore before Corezone came along.
“I don’t mind paying a bit more for quality and lasting gear,” says the weekend warrior who kayaks, hikes and rock-climbs.
A pilot for a commercial airline, Zabil Ihram Zainol whizzes around the world for a living but his favourite gear store is still Corezone.
“Although I fly to Taiwan and US frequently, I find it’s more convenient to shop at Corezone,” says Zabil, 39, who rock-climbs and hikes regularly. “It’s cumbersome to lug back bulky gear from overseas.”
Corezone also entertains special orders from customers, like requests for high-performance gear that are not in demand here.
“I requested for a -29°C and -18°C-sleeping bags from Marmot; Corezone placed the orders, did all the work and got the bags for me,” adds Zabil who has also completed the Ironman Triathlon five times.
In the past five years, the outdoor gear market has grown, whether online retailing or brick-and-mortar stores. But as Chong says, “Corezone stands out because they are strong on consumer gear education - something the other shops aren’t doing.”
Perhaps others can take a leaf out of Corezone’s book.