Moosejaw, Wikipedia tells us, “…is an online and brick and mortar retailer specializing in outdoor recreation apparel and gear for snowboarding, rock climbing, hiking, and camping. The company was founded in 1992 by Robert Wolfe and David Jaffe, two longtime friends who chose to sell camping equipment instead of becoming wilderness guides.  Moosejaw is known for its nonsensical marketing called “Moosejaw Madness”.”
It’s got ten retail stores, most of which are in Michigan. It was acquired by Walmart for $51 million in February 2017. Previous investments had been made by some private equity firms.
Things got interesting about two weeks ago when Walmart opened a Moosejaw premium outdoor store on its website. When I first went to Walmart.com to check it out, it was prominently featured on the home page. Now, it’s gone though the Moosejaw web site can still be accessed from the bottom of Walmart’s home page along with the other brands it owns.
That’s not a complete surprise given the brouhaha that was stirred up when outdoor industry specialty brands that were being comfortably sold through Moosejaw found themselves featured on a Walmart related site and some of their specialty retail customers went through the roof and told Walmart and Moosejaw in no uncertain term that they didn’t want to carry brands that were part of it. That happened even though the products on the Walmart/Moosejaw site weren’t discounted.
Gee whiz, it turns out that some people think that distribution matters even when the profit margin remains the same. I think they’re right. That’s particularly true when your product can be easily replaced by a bunch of other branded product with generally equivalent features and pricing.
The perceived quality of your brand matters and some of the perception comes from scarcity, which is not exactly how you think about something that can bought through Walmart.
Moosejaw CEO Eoin Comerford published an open letter to the outdoor industry defending the decision to open the store on Walmart. You can read it here.
He said he had been surprised at the vehemence of the attack from certain retailers and said that, “…the industry remains predominantly male and remarkably white. If we’re going to grow this industry beyond its exclusionary, historical norms, we need to reach new audiences … younger, more female, more diverse.”
I think we may be into the third decade where I’ve pointed out that, “Every company will do what it perceives to be in its own best interest.” CEO Comerford probably won’t get a lot of push back from suggesting that we’d like/need a more diverse customer base. But I think he’s wrong to suggest that, as a result, “the industry” should support the Moosejaw store on Walmart.
“The industry” doesn’t make those kinds of decisions. Brands do.
Perhaps some brands can do well there. But others-not so much. It’s up to each brand to decide which side of that divide they fall on based on their competitive positioning and customer characteristics.
It sounds like brands were caught by surprise. I called up a friend after I saw his brand on the Moosejaw site on Walmart and he didn’t know anything about it. I’m wondering if Mr. Comerford, or at least somebody in his organization, didn’t reach out to at least some of the brands to find out what they thought about it before the site went live. I suspect they would have gotten an earful.
But Moosejaw, remember, is owned by Walmart. And for all the fatuous blather we get in press releases when one company buys another one about how the acquired company is going to be left alone to do what it does so well, etc., etc., etc., when you’re bought, you’re bought. I’m not completely sure Mr. Comerford had a lot of choice.
I see a number of pages of Moosejaw branded products on the Walmart web site. I wonder if that’s good for the brand. I’d also love to know just how much of which purchased brand was sold at the store on Walmart while it was open.
Moosejaw is barely a flea on the Walmart brontosaurus. But I hope Mr. Comerford drags some senior Walmart executives to some meetings with some of the retailers/brands who objected to the store. Everybody might learn some good stuff.
Uh, can I come to the meetings?