Once again, you will be able to find Camelbak, Camp Chef, Giro, Bell, and Blackburn products on REI shelves. The mega retailer announced on Monday that it will resume orders from those brands after nearly a year and a half, following news that their parent company, Vista Outdoor, has sold off semi-automatic rifle maker Savage Arms and gun company Stevens firearms for a combined $170 million.
In addition to outdoor brands like Camelbak and Camp Chef, and the two gun makers, Vista Outdoor owns ammunition companies like CCI and Federal. Last February, consumer frustrations mounted as information came out connecting Vista Outdoor with campaign donations to politicians who oppose gun regulation and public lands protection. Customers started a petition asking REI to stop selling brands owned by Vista Outdoor. Within three days, the petition had more than 8,000 signatures (by March second, the petition had grown to 19,000). A similar petition for Canadian retailer Mountain Equipment Co-op got 54,194 signatures. On March 1, MEC announced it was breaking ties with Vista Outdoor. REI announced its decision that evening.
“This week, we have been in active discussions with Vista Outdoor, which has recently acquired several companies that are longtime partners of REI,” REI said in a statement at the time. “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.”
REI’s decision came amid a growing movement among large sports and outdoor-gear retailers to revisit supply chains and policies in the wake of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. On February 28, Dick's Sporting Goods announced that it would stop selling assault-style rifles in its 35 field and stream stores (Dick’s had stopped carrying that style of gun in its other stores in 2012, after the Sandy Hook shooting). The sporting-goods giant also stopped selling guns to anyone under the age of 21, and stopped carrying high-capacity magazines altogether. That same day, Walmart announced that it, too, would institute the age limit for gun sales in its stores. (Walmart stopped selling AR-15s in 2015, claiming that it wasn't selling enough.)
In its March 1 statement, REI commended these other retailers for taking a stance in the debate over gun control. “We believe that it is the job of companies that manufacture and sell guns and ammunition to work towards common sense solutions that prevent the type of violence that happened in Florida last month,” the statement read. At the time, Vista remained silent on the topic of gun control and did not respond to Outside's request for comment.
The news of REI’s decision to stop Vista Outdoor orders was met largely with praise. Many took to social media with promises to make their next gear purchases at REI.
However, for others, REI’s statement didn’t go far enough. Nathan Bomey, a business reporter for USA Today, tweeted “REI, apparently now uncomfortable with its ties to gunmaker Vista Outdoor, says that Vista ‘recently acquired’ several brands it carries. I checked. Those deals were made in 2015 and 2016. ‘Recently’? No.”
With the sale of Savage Arms and Stevens firearms now complete, and REI’s quick decision to return to business as usual, it seems all the pressure from retailers and consumers was a success. Vista Outdoor cited business reasons when it first announced it was looking to sell its gun companies. “We believe future investment should focus on categories where Vista Outdoor can achieve sustainable growth, maximize operational efficiencies, deliver leadership economics, and drive shareholder value,” the company said in a May 1 quarterly report. In a press release announcing the sale, the company specified that the sale is part of its plan to consolidate and focus more on ammunition and shooting sports.
It’s also worthwhile to note that in 2018, Vista Outdoor’s political action committee (PAC) increased its political donations to Utah congressman Rob Bishop, a longtime opponent of federal control of public lands, and North Carolina congressman Richard Hudson, who in 2017 introduced legislation enabling people to carry their concealed weapons across state lines.
“REI does not sell guns or ammunition, and does not oppose hunting or the Second Amendment,” the company said in a press release on Monday, reiterating its earlier statement from March 2018. “But we believe companies that profit directly from the sale of guns have a civic responsibility to engage in the national discussion about gun safety, as Dick’s Sporting Goods, Walmart and others have done.” Over email, a company representative added that “Vista Outdoor has taken a clear action, and we are resuming orders.”
Whether the pressure from retailers and the swarm of media attention last year were responsible for Vista Outdoor’s decision to sell off its gun companies, it’s nearly impossible to say. The company did not respond to questions from Outside on Tuesday. According to Market Watch, the conglomerate’s stock has plummeted in the last year, due largely to decreasing gun and ammunition sales. So, there were other factors at play.
Still, it’s a reminder of the fact that those of us who buy and sell outdoor gear can have an influence far beyond the trails, summits, and rivers where we play.
This is an updated version of "REI to Halt Orders from Vista Outdoor," which was published on March 2, 2018