Gunmakers Are Losing Retailers That Don’t Even Buy Guns

Vista Outdoor is the latest to be enveloped by the fury over firearms.
REI Takes Aim at Vista Outdoor

Outdoor retailers are cutting ties with gunmaker Vista Outdoor Inc., halting orders as part of a growing public revulsion to the Florida high school massacre and the gun lobby’s defensive response.

Vista, an outdoor-products conglomerate that sells everything from semi-automatic rifles to children’s bicycle helmets, owns dozens of brands, many of which are sold through retail chains. Shooting sports, a segment that includes guns and ammunition, accounted for about 54 percent of Vista’s $2.5 billion in total revenue for the fiscal year ended March 31, 2017.

Vista, known for its various ammunition brands, also owns Savage Arms, which makes rifles and shotguns. Its non-firearms-related outdoor items include Jimmy Styks surfboards and Cébé sunglasses. Since 2015, Vista has snapped up brands such as CamelBak, maker of hydration packs and water bottles, for $412.5 million. In 2016 it bought helmet labels Giro, Bell, and C-Preme, as well as Blackburn cycling products for $400 million.

Big retailers had existing relationships with some of those brands before they ended up under Vista, but Vista’s lack of response to last month’s shooting in Parkland, Florida, has caused some to head for the doors. While a significant drop in gun-related sales could pose a threat to the company’s financial stability, retailers that never sold guns are now backing away from its other products, too.

Recreational Equipment Inc., an outdoor-goods retailer that doesn’t sell guns, announced on Thursday that it halted all orders from Vista’s various brands. In a statement posted on its website, REI said it’s the responsibility of companies that sell firearms to seek out “common sense solutions” to prevent future mass shootings.

“We learned that Vista does not plan to make a public statement that outlines a clear plan of action,” REI said. “As a result, we have decided to place a hold on future orders of products that Vista sells through REI while we assess how Vista proceeds.” 

The Running Room, a Canadian chain that also doesn’t sell firearms, stopped all new orders of CamelBak-brand packs because of its parent’s gun-manufacturing operation. Mountain Equipment Co-operative, a Canadian retailer with more than 5 million members, also announced it would cut ties with Farmington, Utah-based Vista. Chief Executive Officer David Labistour wrote an open letter to his customers to tell them that, effective immediately, MEC would suspend all further orders with Vista’s brands. Thousands of members called for MEC to stop selling Vista’s products, he wrote, and the company had to respond. 

“On a very personal note, many of us come from parts of the world where we have witnessed the use and impact of guns first-hand,” wrote Labistour. “I include myself in that community. I have proudly served in the military and grew up in a rural area where hunting was commonplace. I can readily identify with our members who are on all sides of this debate.”

Shares of Vista have fallen almost 19 percent, to $15.91, since the Feb. 14 attack. Seventeen people were killed in the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Representatives for Vista didn’t immediately respond to an email or call seeking comment. In a regulatory filing, Vista said it owns three gun-related brands with top market share in their respective categories: Federal Premium in ammunition, Blackhawk in gun holsters, and Hoppe’s in gun-cleaning accessories. Domestic consumers, including law enforcement and military professionals, represent 80 percent of Vista’s total sales.

Vista is the latest gunmaker to be targeted in the furor that’s hit the entire industry. In recent weeks, America’s biggest sellers of outdoor goods have scaled back their small gun-selling operations. The nation’s largest retailer, Walmart Inc., and a unit of the largest supermarket chain, Kroger Co., each raised the minimum age to purchase a firearm to 21. So did L.L.Bean Inc., which sells guns out of its flagship store in Maine. Dick’s Sporting Goods Inc. said this week it would no longer sell assault-style rifles in its Field & Stream stores.

Gunmaker American Outdoor Brands Corp., formerly known as Smith & Wesson, said consumer demand is falling to “new, lower levels,” during a conference call on Thursday evening. “The next 12 to 18 months could deliver flattish revenues,” said American Outdoor CEO James Debney.

A Smith & Wesson Model 29 .44 Magnum revolver. 
Photographer: George Frey/Bloombw

It’s not just the big chains dropping away that have gunmakers worried. In the case of Vista, smaller, local stores are speaking out and vowing to drop its products. Numerous cycling shops, from Portland, Oregon, to Ann Arbor, Michigan, to Washington, D.C., have joined the chorus.

Even some of Vista’s own brands are trying to distance themselves from their parent company. In a message to customers posted on its website, Blackburn tried to assure shoppers that the cycling segment of Vista operates separately from the shooting-sports business—though it didn’t address gun violence in its statement. CamelBak and Giro have also sought to put some daylight between themselves and Vista.

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