By Chris Meehan | Feb 23, 2015
Salt Lake City, Utah
Salt Lake City, Utah (Crolles, France, is international headquarters)
Founded: Origins in 1968; brand started in 1973
Employees: 65 in U.S., about 700 worldwide
President Nazz Kurth is leading the climbing giant into new industries and markets in the Americas.
Founded by cave explorer Fernand Petzl in the 1970s, Petzl is one of the biggest names in verticality. When the French company looked for a location for its U.S. headquarters, it chose Utah.
"We chose Utah specifically for the abundant natural beauty that's here. It has amazing natural cliffs, canyons, where not only our customers recreate but also where our employees want to," says Kurth. He adds that Utah has a good business climate.
With a catalog spanning rock climbing, sport climbing, mountaineering, caving, and canyoneering tools, Petzl supplies several recreational markets. The broader industry is seeing changes, according to Kurth. On the sport side. "I think one thing that's driving climbing is that lots of people are introduced to climbing through gyms. There are a lot more rock climbing gyms than there used to be."
New technologies are coming into the market. This is evident in Petzl's Tikka headlamps, which is reactive to to the ambient lighting conditions. "It automatically dims down and changes the beams and output of distance depending on what you need," Kurth says.
Kurth says the company owns several factories in France and also works in other countries. "We have manufacturing in Malaysia, but like any global company we have lots of contractors all over the world."
North America is an important part of Petzl's business, but Kurth says the company sells into about 55 countries in all. "Petzl America is a wholly-owned subsidiary that covers the U.S. and Canada, parts of Latin America and a couple of other countries," he says.
Kurth has the autonomy to run Petzl in the Americas as he chooses. "Paul Petzl is very clear about that and it's great," he says. He recognizes that the U.S and Canada are not the same as Europe. We do things differently and he gives me and the team here freedom to do that."
Petzl established its U.S. headquarters in Clearfield, Utah, in 1999 but realized it needed more space and chose to buy land and build the new headquarters in Salt Lake City. "It had all the attributes we wanted," says Kurth, citing easy access to both UTA Trax and the interstates for shipping and commuting. "It all came together here. We're 10 minutes from the airport, 10 minutes from downtown -- it's a pretty great location."
The LEED Platinum-certified U.S. headquarters was completed in 2014. The state-of-the-art, 82,000-square-foot facility, includes a 40,000 square feet of office and collaboration space, 34,000 square feet of fully automated warehouse space, and an 8,000-square-foot technical training institute, including a 55-foot climbing wall.
"The climbing wall has two parts," Kurth says. "On one side it's a state-the-art competition, overhanging wall. The other is much more of a training platform. We're able to perform routes that demonstrate rescues as well as trainings."
The climbing wall is emblematic of Petzl's approach to verticality. While probably best known for its recreational gear, the company has a strong commitment to the professional side of verticality. This includes making gear for arborists, search and rescue personnel, firefighters, and tactical industries.
"Back in 2005, there was a flash-over event in New York City in the Bronx," Kurth explains. Firefighters were trapped on the fourth floor of a tenement and had to jump out the window; some died, others sustained massive injuries.
"The governor and mayor said in one year they wanted a personal escape device for every New York city firefighter," says Kurth. "In one year we came out with the EXO." It consists of a hook, a rope and a descender device, allowing firefighters to escape from a building when there are no other options.
The in-house training facility has a two-story EXO Tower, which has windows, piping, manholes, and other features to simulate firefighting and rescue operations using Petzl equipment.
Challenges: "There's always the challenge to make sure we've got the right product and the right amount and delivering it at the right time," Kurth says.
Opportunities: "Sport climbing is really growing and we're continuing to make sure we're on the leading edge," he adds. "We need to connect with those folks who are just being exposed to climbing. On the professional side, there's lots of usage for our products. We've got great relationships with fire and search and rescue teams,."
Needs: "Everybody wants and needs more sales," Kurth says. "Having folks recognize that climbing or working at height is inherently dangerous and being cognizant of that."