The end of elite

Man in puffy onesie walking a dog

Casually walking the dog.

Walmart was going to disrupt the outdoors. It was late August, 2018, a year and a half after the retail leviathan purchased the online outdoor retailer Moosejaw[1] for a reported $51 million. Walmart was ready to put its investment to work.

Walmart, as everyone knows, is the largest retailer on the planet. It sells everything from tire chains to whey protein at bargain-basement prices, but its focus in the outdoor space has always been more about car camping and hunting. Moosejaw, on the other hand, has sold high-end outdoor gear on its website for 27 years, growing its business from online only to 10 brick-and-mortar stores in the process. And now, with Walmart, it was poised to deliver on the industry’s long-held dream: to tap a staggeringly wider audience.

On March 10, 2018, Moosejaw CEO Eoin Comerford told the Grand Rapids News that he was “very excited about the idea that [Moosejaw] can introduce high-end, premium outdoor products to people who perhaps have thought about getting into the outdoors, but haven’t been exposed to this product before.” Walmart spokeswoman Jaeme Laczkowski said at the time that reached about 100 million unique visitors each month—a potential gold mine. It seemed like exclusive brands would finally go all the way mainstream, picking up millions of new customers and welcoming them to the party of those who live for and love playing outside.

That’s not what happened. On August 27, Walmart launched a “Premium Outdoor Store Curated by Moosejaw”[2] on its website. Brands who’d agreed to be sold through the store included industry heavyweights like Deuter USA[3], Katadyn, LEKI[4], and Therm-a-Rest among 50 other outdoor companies. But on launch day, one brand balked.

When the store went live, it advertised several Black Diamond[5] products, including climbing slings, carabiners, ATC belay devices, and a harness. Within hours Black Diamond distributed a press release stating that it had directed Walmart to “cease and desist”[6] use of the Black Diamond® and diamond logo trademarks because the store’s use of them was “likely to confuse consumers into believing that Walmart is an authorized dealer of Black Diamond.” Shortly thereafter, those four other high-end outdoor brands all pulled their products from the site, too.

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