The end of elite

The backpedaling was fierce and unexplained[7]. Most brands gave canned answers that offered no insight into their thinking. Deuter USA President Bill Hartrampf said in a press release[8], “While we appreciate the concept of what Moosejaw is trying to accomplish with this new initiative, we have decided this is not the right time to participate.” It was all slightly strange, since when Moosejaw first introduced the premium store idea, at the Summer 2017 Outdoor Retailer show, several participating brands seemed excited. “The concept made sense,” Hartrampf told Outside. “We would be exposing our brand in a premium shop to a new, diverse group of consumers.”

But after Black Diamond’s response, Deuter USA, Katadyn, LEKI, and Therm-a-Rest stood firm in their resolve to steer clear of selling directly on walmart.com.

So what happened? It had nothing to do with Moosejaw’s relationship with those retailers—all of them still do business with the e-tailer. And it had nothing to do with discounts—all products were listed full price. The catch seemed to be that these high-end outdoor products would now be marketed under the Walmart banner, and that clashed with how the brands viewed themselves.

In his statement, CEO John Walbrecht wrote[9], “Black Diamond remains committed to its specialty retail partners,” which, in an August 31, 2018, column, Forbes analyst Chris Walton translated[10] to mean: Black Diamond wanting to maintain its cachet “on the principle of scarcity.”

The wider problem, Walton added, was that “Walmart can’t escape its brand connotations.” Walbrecht declined to comment for this story.

Comerford, Moosejaw’s CEO, evidently thought that the way the entire situation played out whiffed of elitism. In an “Open Letter to the Outdoor Industry”[11] published on his LinkedIn page, he argued that the Premium Outdoor Store was created “to grow the industry beyond its exclusionary, historical [white, male] audience” and echoed what has become a mantra in the outdoor industry: “If we’re going to grow this industry … we need to reach new audiences … younger, more female, more diverse.”

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