Fans of outdoor industry drama will be happy to see the feud building between Walmart/Moosejaw and other industry retailers shows no signs of slowing. Rich Hill, president of the Grassroots Outdoor Alliance responded this week to an open letter from Moosejaw’s CEO with one of his own.\
Writing in the outdoor industry trade publication SNEWS, Hill took aim what he saw as deception on the part of MooseJaw’s CEO Eoin Comerford.
“In our opinion, a recent editorial written by [Moosejaw CEO Eoin Comerford] was both cynical and inaccurate in its representation of the outdoor industry and its response to their premium platform experiment,” Hill wrote.
Comerford had previously argued, in his own open letter posted from his LinkedIn account, that his company’s Walmart collaboration was an effort to bring more inclusivity to the outdoor industry. Hill suggests, in his piece, that the deal was less-than-transparent and perhaps overly focused on short-term profits.
He goes on to request “that significant events—like major distribution changes by our vendor partners—be openly communicated.”
To get a better sense of how this disagreement is reverberating around the wider world of outdoor retail, Unofficial reached out to longtime Backpacker gear editor and current SNEWS editor-in-chief Kristin Hostetter for her thoughts.
UN: Outdoor brands obviously bristle at associations with Walmart. Do you think that has more to do with its association with low-quality goods or a response to how the corporate giant has changed the retail landscape by forcing out smaller competitors?
KH: Well, first I think it should be clarified that not all outdoor brands bristle at the association, but I do think it’s a little bit of both. Most of us perceive Walmart brick and mortar superstores and the online Premium Outdoor Outlet at Walmart.com as the same…it’s all Walmart. And the customer experience is transactional. Premium outdoor brands are built on the notions of quality, performance, safety, community, and service and those are just not the first words that come to mind when you think of Walmart. (Their catchphrase, after all “Low prices. Everyday.”) Those things–that high-touch customer experience—is really only something that specialty brick and mortar retailers can provide.
UN: How would you describe the current state of the spat between Moosejaw/Walmart and other outdoor retailers? A misunderstanding? Cooling down? Or a committed resistance to the success of Walmart’s Premium Outdoor Outlet?
KH: It’s a really interesting time for the outdoor industry and retail in general. I think Moosejaw and Walmart will just keep doing what they do. Outdoor brands will continue to try to figure out who they want to be and what markets they want to serve. Specialty brick and mortar retailers will have to decide whether they want to work with brands who sell on Walmart or find new brands—ones that can help them grow and that they can help grow in brand equity. Because that’s what specialty retailers do—they help brands grow organically and authentically by building trust. I just don’t see Walmart being able to do that.
UN: Have you heard from additional brands (after the first wave) about not wanting to be included in Walmart’s Premium Outdoor Outlet? Any you’d be comfortable naming?
KH: I haven’t heard of any others besides what’s mentioned in this story.
UN: Do you predict a noticeable effect on the outdoor retail industry resulting from this situation? Or will it pale in comparison to online retailers’ (e.g. Amazon) effect on independent dealers?
KH: It has already had a noticeable effect—just through the conversations and reactions that have resulted. I think one thing we can count on is constant change. The best independent retailers are nimble, always adapting and course-correcting, and constantly coming up with new ways to create value and experiences for their customers. I know some people might think I’m naïve or idealistic or just plain crazy, but I believe that the retailers who continue to do that will not only survive this and future threats, they will grow. Those who just complain about all these other entities coming in and stealing their customers without adapting will continue to struggle and ultimately go away.