SAN DIEGO, California - In the midst of national conversations surrounding gun control legislation and the NRA following the tragic school shooting in Parkland, Florida in February, several large retailers have cut ties with the NRA or partners that are associated with the NRA in response to consumer boycotts. Large retailers, including REI, MEC, and DICK’s Sporting Goods have received backlash from consumers for selling assault weapons and outdoor products from NRA-backed companies and are being pressured to stop carrying these products.
One company in particular, Vista Outdoor, a Utah-based company and supporter of the National Rifle Association that designs and manufactures several outdoor sports and recreation products, has been at the epicenter of this consumer boycott. Among their list of sporting ammunition and firearms brands and products, they also manufacture outdoor lifestyle and sporting goods through brands including Camelbak, Bell helmets, and Jimmy Styks paddle boards.
Consumer boycotts against Vista Outdoor are forcing retailers to publicly take a stance on these issues and rethink their corporate social responsibility. Protests, rallies, and calls for action have swept across the country and many people are looking at corporate America to take the lead in making these critically important changes. One of the first outdoor retailers to deliver a public response to these outcries was DICK’s Sporting Goods. In a letter from CEO Edward Stack on February 28, 2018, the sporting goods retailer announced that it will no longer sell assault-style weapons or sell firearms to anyone under the age of 21.
"We have heard you. The nation has heard you. . . Beginning today, DICK's Sporting Goods is committed to the follow: We will no longer sell assault-style rifles."
DICK’s was one of the first large companies to take action in response to the fatal mass shooting and consumer boycott pleas, and since then, several other retailers have followed their lead.
MEC, a Canadian outdoor equipment retailer, responded to consumer demands, specifically regarding their selling of Vista Outdoors products. In an open letter to MEC Members, CEO David Labistour announced MEC’s immediate suspension on future orders of all Vista products, including Jimmy Styks paddle boards. He did however add that current inventory of these products will stay on the shelves and that the company will continue to engage with Vista Outdoor’s brands and others in the outdoor industry.
West Marine, a popular outfitter of boating-related product, also sells Vista products, including Jimmy Styks. However, a West Marine representative commented that although there are still some Jimmy Styks products online and in select stores, the retailer stopped purchasing any products from Vista Outdoor in summer 2017.
Most recently, another major outdoor retailer and consumer co-op, REI, has taken a stand against the NRA lobby by discontinuing sales of Vista Outdoor products. Their response comes after thousands of REI members signed an online petition demanding REI drop Vista products because of Vista’s strong support of the NRA and manufacturing of assault weapons. On March 1, REI posted an online statement, explaining that until Vista Outdoor makes a clear statement on their plan of action, they are holding all future orders from Vista, which includes Camelbak and Bell products.
Although Vista Outdoor has failed to make a statement about the nationwide boycotts they are facing, Camelbak, one of their brands that has been receiving heavy backlash, issued a statement addressing customer concerns over their association to Vista Outdoor and the NRA. In the statement, it writes,
“A major concern for the boycott centers around the incorrect assumption that the purchase of any of our products may support a cause that does not fit the mission/values of our brand. That is not the case. Our brand falls within the Outdoor Products segment of our company, which operates separately from Vista Outdoor’s Shooting Sports segment.”
What seems clear more than ever from these recent boycotts is consumers’ increased interest in the money, politics, and values behind the products and brands they support. And even more, it is evident that consumers want the values of the brands they support to align with their own. With an abundance of different products and competing brands on the market, customers have the opportunity to affect change on a grand scale by selectively choosing the companies they give their dollars to.
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