Opinion | An open letter to the outdoor industry from Grassroots Outdoor Alliance

Rich Hill, GOA president, responds to Walmart's push to sell premium outdoor gear.
Publish date:
Rich Hill, Grassroots Outdoor Alliance

Rich Hill, president of Grassroots Outdoor Alliance

As owners of local independent outdoor businesses and members of the national outdoor community, Grassroots Outdoor Alliance is committed to achieving the health and growth of the specialty outdoor industry by pursuing the high road of retail excellence.

For more than 30 years, we have succeeded in doing our part to help grow this $373 billion national economic driver. We have done it through our industry-wide commitment to community and quality, experience and environment. 

We have certainly enjoyed the benefits of our growth, and as such we continue to invest our time and profits in addressing our shared challenges—increasing diversity throughout the outdoor industry, protecting public lands nationwide, and engaging a digitally remote generation wherever they may be.

Of course, we know that we still have much work to do in these areas. But we also know that through communication and community, there is also much to be gained.

In our opinion, a recent editorial written by [Moosejaw CEO Eoin Comerford] was both cynical and inaccurate in its representation of the outdoor industry and its response to their premium platform experiment.

Why outdoor brands like Deuter, Black Diamond, and LEKI quickly changed their minds about selling through Walmart's new premium outdoor store, curated by Moosejaw

While those employees correctly heard our industry’s collective dismissal of their recent experiment in the category, they misunderstood the clear point—this isn’t about Walmart, it’s about us, and it’s about how the stability of long-term brand equity is more important to the outdoor industry than short-term profits.

To be clear, Grassroots Outdoor Alliance respects the legal and ethical choices that any business makes to keep the lights on. Retailers can approach brands, and brands can sell to whomever they choose.

As vested partners in the health and growth of the outdoor industry, however, our request is that significant events—like major distribution changes by our vendor partners—be openly communicated. After all, the big things that directly impact our businesses can also directly affect theirs. 

For many of the strongest brands in the outdoor industry, Grassroots Outdoor Alliance retailers are long-term partners who provide both value and sales at significant volume. We feel this qualifies us for respectful notification before our commitments are requested. We, too, are seeking only to make the best choices for our businesses, our industry and our local communities.

Without a doubt, Grassroots Outdoor Alliance retailers are a healthy brand’s number one advocate. A premium brand’s heritage, history and values are what differentiates product, what enables profitability, and a key part of what makes our stores special.

Looking back, we recognize the irony that premium brand equity is what massive online retailers crave most, as this earned value has been built in large part by those brands’ partnership with independent specialty outdoor retailers.

Looking forward, for more than 100 brands and 100 retail doors in the Grassroots Outdoor Alliance, there is only one future that supports our continued growth as an industry—a fair marketplace where vendors and retailers communicate openly, work together, and resist the easy temptations of short-term thinking. As vendors, as retailers, and as a community, this is our path to walk together.


Walmart everyday low price sign in toy aisle

Why brands quickly changed their minds about selling on Walmart.com

It’s safe to say American shoppers don’t go to Walmart looking for top-of-the line backpacks, winter expedition apparel, and mountaineering gear. But the big box discounter challenged that assumption with the launch of a premium outdoor store last week. “When’s the last time you ...read more

Rich Hill, Grassroots Outdoor Alliance

Grassroots Outdoor Alliance announces withdrawal from Utah

Grassroots Outdoor Alliance will not hold an event in Sandy, Utah in 2018 as planned, the organization has announced. Grassroots’ decision to withdraw is twofold, according to President Rich Hill. “Our membership is unanimous in opposing Utah’s public lands policy,” he said. ...read more

Three generations of Rock and Snow owners: Andrew Zalewski, Rich Gottlieb, and Dick Williams.

A year-end update from Grassroots Outdoor Alliance

We’ve heard the storyline countless times throughout the pandemic: Outdoor sales have been a bright spot as people seek refuge outside. And while this dominant refrain is largely true, the real story for independent shops is more nuanced. “You can’t paint all retailers with the ...read more

Farm to Feet seamless toe wool socks

Grassroots Outdoor Alliance adds four new vendors

Farm to Feet, KAVU, Rab, and Sierra Designs have joined Grassroots Outdoor Alliance's national vendor network, the group announced today. “Within Rab, we talk about surrounding ourselves with kindred spirits – those who relish the experience of a gritty and memorable mountain ...read more

Inge Perkins

Industry Buzz: Inge Perkins Scholarship, Rich Hill's letter, an airstream hotel near Yosemite, gear-lending library for kids, and more

Keep up by reading Industry Buzz. Here are today's top headlines: Have a news tip? Email us at snewsedit@aimmedia.com In honor of the climber who died last year in an avalanche on Imp Peak, Mystery Ranch established the Inge Perkins Scholarship to celebrate the life and ...read more

Rich Hill, Grassroots Outdoor Alliance

Meet GOA's new president, Rich Hill

Rich Hill now needs a flowchart to explain his work history, which has taken him to a number of well-known brands, from Kokatat to Kelty, Marmot, Patagonia, Ibex and prAna in roles he describes as “sphincter-like”: He has served as a channel through which everything passes. The ...read more

KNOX sign with Grassroots Connect logo

Find out who won Grassroots Outdoor Alliance awards

President Rich Hill kicked off the evening by explaining the Grassroots History Project, which was started a few years back to trace the arc of the group’s growth as a powerful collaboration of retailers and brands. Through hundreds of hours of interviews with members—both from ...read more

filing cabinet

Save the trees: Grassroots Outdoor Alliance shifts toward paper-free future

At the end of any given trade show, outdoor retailers are left with stacks and stacks of paper catalogues from various brands. They have to make the choice to either ship them home to their store, pack them in their luggage, or toss them out.  "The carbon footprint gets to be ...read more

Man in puffy onesie walking a dog

The end of elite

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 for a reported $51 million. Walmart was ready to put its investment to work. Walmart, as everyone knows, is the ...read more