Five times the expected Black Friday sales would normally be a bottom-line boon for most companies. Not so for Patagonia, but you still won't hear anyone there complaining. The brand surpassed its pre-holiday estimates with $10 million in sales on Black Friday, all of which it will be donating to grassroots environmental organizations through its 100% For the Planet initiative.
The unprecedented move was announced early last week, along with an expectation of raising $2 million, based on previous years' sales. Patagonia's plan was only the latest in the industry's pattern of Black Friday activism, following REI's second #OptOutside campaign, in which the retail chain closed all its stores.
The money will be donated to a collection of local groups working to protect the environment through 1% For the Planet, a coalition of businesses started in 2001 by Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard.
"The enormous love our customers showed to the planet on Black Friday enables us to give every penny to hundreds of grassroots environmental organizations working around the world," said Patagonia president and CEO Rose Marcario in a post on the company's blog. "Many of these environmental groups are underfunded and under the radar, and they are overwhelmed with your commitment."
Patagonia customers get on board
Customer feedback to Patagonia's plan online was overwhelmingly positive. Several representatives of environmental organizations the brand has supported in the past took to the comments of the announcement blog post to give thanks for the company's activism.
"Thank you from Atchafalaya Basinkeeper!!! We'll be posting and sending this great news to all of our members. We are thankful for all that you do to empower us to protect [Louisiana's Atchafalaya] Basin!" wrote one supporter.
A separate grant recipient wrote, "We could not be more thankful or more inspired and in awe of this incredible gesture towards grassroots environmental work. THANK YOU Patagonia for being a leader in the environmental movement and believing that real change can happen from the ground up!"
The reaction from specialty retail
However, not everyone was thrilled about Patagonia's efforts, including some specialty retailers who carry Patagonia merchandise. Todd Frank, of Missoula, Montana's The Trail Head initially felt overrun by the brand's one-day push for direct sales, but his fears ended up being unfounded. According to Frank, his shop's business was down approximately 35 percent this Black Friday, but Patagonia sales were down only 7 percent. "At the end of the day, our store did better with Patagonia than we did as a whole," he said.
In addition to Frank, SNEWS reached out to approximately 10 other Patagonia dealers across the country to gauge their opinions of Patagonia's efforts, and to see if it had an impact on their sales. According to all of them, it did not, and the vast majority of shops were entirely positive about the initiative, including Andrew Zalewski, a manager at New Paltz, New York's Rock & Snow. He called any effects on his store's Patagonia sales "unnoticeable" and added that he and his staff loved the company's efforts. "We were inspired to do something on our own," he said, adding Rock & Snow is considering following in Patagonia's footsteps and donating a portion of their sales to local environmental groups at some later date.
Even though it didn't impact his bottom line, Frank still asked for more transparency to the efforts and plans of manufacturers like Patagonia. "I would advocate that manufacturers, when they feel like they need to react or make a political statement, that they think about the impact it might have on retailers," he said.
"We remain humbled and grateful to Patagonia’s customers and our specialty outdoor retailers who contributed to this response," said Patagonia spokeswoman Corley Kenna. "As Patagonia’s voice grows louder in defense of our planet, we look forward to growing our existing dealer tithing program, that supports grassroots environmental groups in our dealers’ markets."