The Parkland, Florida, shooting. What can you say? That we allow this to persist in the face of empirical evidence that these shootings can be stopped has made us the laughingstock of the first world. And the second. Even people in the third world are scratching their heads.
But a bunch of high school kids are taking action and have caused millions others to mobilize. A boycott of every company supporting the National Rifle Association has gained traction. The number of gigantic corporations that have cut ties with the NRA is impressive:
Alamo Rent a Car
Allied Van Lines
Delta Air Lines
First National Bank of Omaha
North American Van Lines
One of the only remaining holdouts is FedEx. Given the progress the Sleeping Giants movement has made, I imagine that we are but days from an announcement that FedEx has pulled out.
So what’s next? Bike Portland and LA Streetsblog have suggested a boycott of bike companies that are owned by Vista Outdoor, whose primary business prior to those purchases was guns and ammunition. Vista’s bike holdings include:
To my mind the question isn’t so much whether or not to boycott. Boycotts work. We know that. The fact that the parent for Avis, Budget and Hertz pulled all three company’s support for the NRA is proof enough. To my eye, the real question is what we want to accomplish with a boycott. The goal, as I understand it, is to make supporting the NRA unpalatable, to dry up sources of income for them, to reduce their influence in politics and therefore, at some future point, goad our elected officials into passing some common-sense gun legislation. I’m down with that.
Vista Outdoor bought the companies above as a means to stabilize their income. It turns out that the gun market is volatile. I won’t go into the why; it doesn’t concern us.
Now let’s ask the question: What happens if we don’t buy any Giro shoes, Bell helmets or Camelbak bottles?
The first thing that happens is your local retailer ends up with stock they can’t move. If they pull it from the shelves to show their support for their customers, that’s dead money. Worse, because many retailers placed sizable preseason orders in order to secure the best pricing, they have more money already spoken for in the form of product that hasn’t even arrived yet. Bottom line: income falls for the retailer, and so many retailers are on the edge of profitability, this could easily send some of them over the edge.
Second, orders for products from Giro and the rest will fall because retailers who buy just a few pieces at a time will stop ordering stock they can’t move. Let’s say the boycott persists the rest of the year. Preseason orders for 2019 will shrink and cause Bell, et al, to tighten their belts because of the what we will assume has been a very noticeable decrease in revenue. The next step is that with less revenue, the CEOs of these companies will right-size their companies to their revenue. Good CEOs won’t just chop in one area; they’ll tighten the metaphorical belt across every sector. Some people will be laid off. People who may not even own guns and want to see the NRA shrink will pack up their desks. Also, development will be scaled back, meaning it may take longer to introduce a new, better helmet or cooler hydration pack. Marketing and advertising will shrink. That means that publishers like Bicycling, Mountain Bike Action and Peloton will suffer. Team sponsorship falls under marketing, so those great deals many clubs get on shoes and helmets will evaporate.
It’s impossible to guess how long it would take a boycott of these companies to result in their profitability dropping to the point that Vista Outdoor would sell them off, but it wouldn’t happen overnight. In the interim, there would be a lot of real-world suffering for people in the bike industry. By the time those companies were considered enough of a liability for Vista to conclude they needed to be sold, well, I don’t even want to imagine what kind of shape they’d be in. It would take them years to recover.
It’s a safe bet that the portion of profits from Camelbak and the other bike companies owned by Vista that are used to support the NRA is pretty tiny. Given that Vista owns 50 companies, the vast majority of which are either makers of guns or ammo, there’s not a scenario in which they don’t contribute to the NRA. They will always support the NRA. So shrinking one small part of what they send to the NRA won’t do much good.
There’s another approach we could take. Vista Outdoor is a public company sold on the New York Stock Exchange under VSTO. Write letters to all their institutional investors. If you have relationships with those institutional investors, cut ties and tell them why. Causing their stock price to drop will do them and the NRA way more harm than boycotting a few bike companies.