Monday, March 5, 2018

Boycott CamelBak, Giro, and Bell?

In the aftermath of the Parkland school shooting there's been the typical flurry of talk about gun control and the flaccid, uninspired, and insincere pledges of "prayers and thoughts for the victims and their families" by the Republican lawmakers who will simply wait for the furor to die down and be replaced by the next awful political story du jour (it seems like it's been done with the inexplicable demand for higher steel and aluminum tariffs that will likely result in the inflation that the bad tax bill was supposed to prevent??!).  But for a coupla reasons, this time the conversation seemed to have some good traction, partly due to otherwise-average high school kids becoming incredibly inspiring and impassioned and leading the conversation, with even Trump telling lawmakers they were afraid of the NRA (even after he has lunch with the NRA leadership and claims that they are ok with reforms that they definitely are not?!?).  And Dick's Sporting Goods - a big gun dealer - joined WalMart in announcing new limitations on gun sales.  

The last week I got this article calling for a boycott of Bell and Giro bike helmet/accessory brands and CamelBak, because they are owned by Vista Outdoor, an Ogden, UT-based company that owns A LOT of other companies, including Serengeti (sunglasses), Bushnell (binocs and such), Blackburn (bike accessories), Camp Chef, and a bunch of brands I've never heard of before because they are hunting and tactical brands, including one that is an automatic rifle maker.  Calling for a boycott of those non-gun brands on went semi-viral on social media, and last week REI announced that they were halting all orders from those brands.

Now, I'm as nutcake left wing liberal as they come, and even though I grew up with a fancy gun case full of rifles owned in our living room owned by my NRA-member father, I am not a fan of guns at all and love to remind people that guns cause over 13,000 deaths annually in the US and relative to most of the rest of the world (except Latin America) our deaths per 100,000 people the US is awful, esp as compared to most other countries of similar economic status.  And anything that can be done to limit 'mericans' ridiculously-easy ability to buy all sorts of guns is  - in my mind - a good thing.

But boycotting such "wholesome" (my term) brands as Giro, Bell, and CamelBak because they are part of a portfolio of a really big company?  That seems like a stretch.  Though I have worked with CamelBak in the past and have friends who have worked for/with Giro and Bell I don't know any details of their relationship with their parent company, but typically the many outdoor brands that are owned by big conglomerates (and there are many) basically "rely" on their parents for very little besides capital and maybe distribution help.  The companies that are acquired are typically run completely independently from their parents, who wisely know that they are buying a good asset that doesn't need a lot of mucking with.   Apparently REI's announcement "caused" Vista's stock to the same week that the entire stock market dropped.

For sure, this is a huge deal for those brands; I have long decried the fact that REI has way too much influence over the industry and has singlehandedly stymied a lot of innovation, but for better or worse they can make or break brands' success or failure.  Therefore, a quarters-worth of halted orders by REI can bring a company to its knees.  And perhaps that's what consumers want:  CamelBak, Giro, and Bell hurt so badly that Vista actually "cares" and changes its tack on its tactical brands and congressional lobbying. But what about the brands themselves?  Will righteous mountain bikers be stoked when they find out that CamelBak or Bell/Giro is laying off 20% of its workforce?   Those are people who likely feel just as strongly about gun control as you and I do, and they would/will be losing their jobs in sort of funky economic areas for something that is far, far beyond their control. 

After 9/11 my 80-odd year old step dad put an American flag sticker he bought for $1.98 at a 7-11 on the bumper of his Subaru.  I asked him why, and he said "Well hell, it's the least I can do!"  And I had to agree:  there was literally nothing he could do that would have less of an effect on anything than putting a sticker on his car.  So if you are in the market for a new helmet or hydration pack and buy yourself a Poc or an Osprey in deliberate accordance with boycotting Giro/Bell or CamelBak that's fine (those are good brands/products too) but don't gag too hard in the smug cloud that has formed over your head; you aren't saving any kids from the next mass shooting, and in fact you are hurting some companies that have been dedicated enough to the industry that they are hands-down the leaders in their categories despite being owned by big conglomerates, not because of them.  And if you feel really good about your politically-correct purchase, keep in mind that many other brands in the outdoor sphere quietly make significant chunks of their income by selling products to the over-funded US military, which has historically put a lot of effort into the business of killing people. 

There is no doubt that the proletariat can make waves with protests and boycotts. But these days the way to really affect some change is twofold:  vote for candidates you like, and support them financially.  If you do indeed feel strongly about changing our gun control laws, spend a little less time deciding between Osprey and Salomon packs and a bit more time writing your congressman or woman and tell them that if they don't support more gun control laws (for example:  reinstating the assault weapons ban that was in place from 1994 to 2004) they will NOT get your vote or your $$.