Last Friday we reported that several local bike shops decided to stop selling products from CamelBak, Bell Sports, Giro, Blackburn, Raskullz and CoPilot following revelations that their parent company — Vista Outdoor Inc. — has close ties to the National Rifle Association (NRA) and also owns brands that sell gun products and ammunition.
A lot has happened since then.
“We have decided to place a hold on future orders of products that Vista sells through REI while we assess how Vista proceeds.”
— REI statement
Momentum to boycott brands tied to the NRA has led several of America’s largest outdoor equipment retailers to stop selling these brands. After Dick’s Sporting Goods, Walmart, and Kroger (owner of Fred Meyer) made moves on controlling the sale of guns in their stores, both REI and MEC (Mountain Equipment Co-op, Canada’s version of REI) have said they will stop selling all Vista-owned products. A Change.org petition calling on MEC to “stop selling products made by guns manufacturer Vista Outdoor!” has nearly 55,000 signatures.
In their statement released yesterday, REI said:
“This week, we have been in active discussions with Vista Outdoor, which has recently acquired several companies that are longtime partners of REI. These include Giro, Bell, Camelbak, Camp Chef and Blackburn. Vista also owns Savage Arms, which manufactures guns including “modern sporting rifles.”
This morning we learned that Vista does not plan to make a public statement that outlines a clear plan of action. 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.”
“As you may know, in the wake of the recent tragic shooting at a Florida school, there have been calls on social media for a boycott of Giro [Blackburn and Camelbak] products because of its association with Vista Outdoor, a company that also owns separate businesses in the shooting sports industry.
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.
We recognize, support and respect the right of every individual to decide for themselves what brands they will purchase based on whatever criteria they believe are important.”
“I can’t deny that it was a huge struggle of conscience at times to work there knowing who owned us.”
— Sophie Ballo, former Vista employee
One very respected and popular cycling website, Red Kite Prayer, added more details based on a question they asked CamelBak. Here’s more from RKP:
“What’s important to note here is how Vista Outdoor’s business divisions are siloed. Profits from the Outdoor Products division are not mixed in with profits from Vista Outdoor’s Shooting Sports division. They remain separate. That means that no matter what happens to the revenue of the Outdoor Products division, the funding that goes into lobbying on behalf of the Shooting Sports division doesn’t come from brands like Giro, Bell, Blackburn and CamelBak. Everyone could stop buying all CamelBak packs tomorrow and it wouldn’t change what Vista Outdoor spends on lobbying for its Shooting Sports division.
Another point worth clarifying is that while it’s been claimed that Vista Outdoor supports the NRA to the tune of $500K/yr., that’s not accurate. In 2017, they spent a total of $514K on all lobbying. The vast majority of that did not go to the NRA. Further, in looking at some of the legislation they lobbied for, like better gun education and training, some of their positions are pretty easy to endorse…
The bottom line is simple: Anyone who chooses not to do business with the bike brands owned by Vista Outdoor will really only serve to hurt those brands and the retailers invested in them.”
Another noteworthy part of this story are comments we received on Monday from Sophie Ballo, a former Bell/Giro/Blackburn employee who worked at their northern California (Santa Cruz) headquarters. She wrote that any boycott of of the brands, “Does imperceptible damage to Vista’s bottom line given their overall % of company earnings, or to harm the NRA, but it will harm a lot of good bike industry folks.” Ballo also said that she was well aware of Vista’s ties to the gun industy and that it weighed heavily on her conscience:
“I can’t speak for everyone in the building. But speaking only for myself, as someone who recently worked there, I know that it was very difficult for me to speak out in any way, not necessarily because I was afraid (though I’m sure if I spoke out I wouldn’t have been given a pat on the back), but because the Bay Area is a place where you can’t really rock the boat given how difficult it is to live there outside of tech. I can’t deny that it was a huge struggle of conscience at times to work there knowing who owned us, but there were also few alternatives in the Santa Cruz area that wouldn’t have totally upended my life if I had decided to look elsewhere, bike industry or otherwise. And that’s coming from someone who has no kids or other obligations. And more importantly, I loved the products we made and the people I worked with.
It begs to be said that the volatility and extreme high cost of the Bay Area makes it even more necessary for those with solid jobs AND financial obligations to keep their positions whatever it takes. Maybe if Bell or Giro were in a location with easier living costs, things would be different – but people there need those jobs to pay rent or mortgages or college or even just basic needs. It’s hard to take a risk or a stand when there’s others who depend on you that you need to think of as well.”
It’s interesting that REI isn’t dropping Vista brands. Their statement is careful to say they’re only putting orders on “hold” for the moment. This will make it easy for them to start selling the brands again after hearing more from Vista. It begs the question of what happens next. Given that CamelBak, Giro, Blackburn and the other brands caught up in this mess are only guilty by association, perhaps the best outcome is for Vista to sell them off. Pressure because of ties to the NRA has gotten us to this point. Pressure to sell off the brands might be the next goal post to aim for.
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