Reviews publisher Gear Patrol is now selling its own branded products

Gear Patrol, a site best known for high-end product reviews, has built its brand by turning people on to other companies’ products. It’s now more interested in selling its own branded products.

Late last week, the Hearst Magazines-backed publisher announced it had partnered with the Swiss watchmaker Hamilton on an exclusive line of diving watches, which Gear Patrol will ship and fulfill itself. The watches amount to a small but potentially lucrative test — Gear Patrol is only selling 50 of them, at the cost of $745 apiece, and sharing revenue with Hamilton (Gear Patrol declined to offer specifics about how revenue was split). The test is part of a bigger plan to sell more products directly to its audience, from Gear Patrol-branded merch to other pricey product collaborations, including a $395 weekender bag or ski gloves that cost $118.

Consumer revenue currently accounts for 20 percent of the publisher’s revenue, according to Zach Mader, Gear Patrol’s vp of advertising and partnerships. The publisher wants to grow that percentage, partly through selling exclusive, pricey products.

To start, Gear Patrol will aim to take advantage of existing relationships with advertisers: Hamilton has been buying Gear Patrol’s ad inventory for years, and the publisher is exploring similar product collaborations with other established advertisers, Mader said. At the moment, its commerce and ad sales teams operate independently, but the expectation is that they will start to work together more.

“We want brands and marketers to feel like partners, and we want our readers to feel like members,” Mader said.

Gear Patrol has been around for more than a decade, and in that time, the site has built a brand that resonates with a small audience — it attracted 2.2 million unique users in October, according to Comscore. More than 56 percent of its desktop traffic comes from search, and more than a third of it is direct, according to SimilarWeb data.

In that time, Gear Patrol has begun to work more closely with advertisers. The publisher built up its first direct-sold sales team just three years ago, after relying solely on ad networks for monetization in years past. It found early success selling advertisers on everything from branded content to experiential activations (it was one of several publishers that launched a holiday pop-up shop in Soho last year, and it will launch another next Thursday, Dec. 13). Its five-person brand studio drives 20 percent of Gear Patrol’s revenue, Mader said, though it wants to be able to offer more than just sponsored posts, particularly as that format begins to lose its luster.

“The more traditional form of content marketing, particularly with commerce publishers, is starting to become less effective,” said Luke Droulez, CMO of bedding and linens brand Parachute. “We try to look for avenues that aren’t your traditional sponsored article.”

In April, Hearst acquired a minority stake in Gear Patrol, which said it would use some of the money to hire more staffers. In the last 12 months, the company has doubled its headcount to 46. Editorial remains the largest department, but commerce is positioned to grow the most; the publisher currently has just two people on the commerce team.

Mader said that the plan is to develop Gear Patrol into something that can provide not just media and content, but research and intelligence, as well as commerce opportunities. “We want to be a solutions center,” Mader said.

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