Dick’s Sporting Goods has announced it will scale back its gun business.
In an earnings call on March 13, CEO Edward Stack told investors that the sporting goods retailer would stop selling firearms at 125 locations — roughly 17 percent of its stores in the US. Dick’s will replace these firearm sections with other categories, like shoes and clothes, and will also test experiential retail concepts like in-store batting cages.
This significant step away from the gun business comes one year after Dick’s took swift action in response to the February 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 students and staff members dead. In a move that sparked both celebration from gun control activists to celebrate and protests from Second Amendment advocates, the company stopped selling guns to customers younger than 21, and pulled assault rifles and high-capacity magazines from all its Dick’s Sporting Goods Stores as well as from its sub-brand Field & Stream.
Stack made it clear that he felt his company needed to take a strong stance in America’s heated gun control debate.
“Thoughts and prayers are not enough,” he wrote in a widely shared statement after the Parkland shooting. “We have to help solve the problem that’s in front of us. Gun violence is an epidemic that’s taking the lives of too many people, including the brightest hope for the future of America — our kids.”
But thoughts and prayers are not enough. We have to help solve the problem that's in front of us. Gun violence is an epidemic that's taking the lives of too many people, including the brightest hope for the future of America - our kids. https://t.co/J4OcB6XJnu pic.twitter.com/6VoKwJe8tH— DICK'S Sporting Goods (@DICKS) February 28, 2018
He hired three lobbyists to push for gun control in Congress, and the company also announced it would destroy all the weapons it had stopped selling.
While Stack stated clearly that he is a supporter of the Second Amendment and a gun owner himself, the company’s actions angered the gun rights community. The National Rifle Association painted Dick’s as an enemy, tweeting that it was “punishing law-abiding citizens,” and the National Shooting Sports Foundation revoked the company’s membership.
.@DICKS decision isn’t focusing on the actual problem, what it is doing is punishing law-abiding citizens. What a waste, and what a strange business model. #DefendTheSecond #2A #NRA https://t.co/mUNmV6O1ot— NRA (@NRA) April 17, 2018
Many major gun companies have also since refused to do business with Dick’s. In one statement, O.F. Mossberg & Sons Inc., the parent company of Mossberg guns, urged shoppers to “visit one of the thousands of pro-Second Amendment firearm retailers to make their purchases.”
Dick’s has suffered financially; one shareholder last year even accused the company of “willfully giving up money.” As of November 2018, its sales were down almost 4 percent, and many gun rights advocates have pledged to stay away from its stores. In the investor call, Stack said that Dick’s continues “to see double-digit declines” in its gun business, and that the company “would expect that [sales] continue to be down.”
Now, though, the company is looking to pivot its business so that it won’t lean on firearms sales in areas where it isn’t welcome. As it shutters its gun business in 125 underperforming stores, Dick’s will instead focus on other categories, like shoes and fitness wear. Stack didn’t specify which stores will stop selling guns nor which locations will continue to do so (Vox reached out to Dick’s for comment and did not immediately hear back).
This is certainly on par with Dick’s branding, since it has clearly not sat well with Stack that the company works with Little League and school sports teams while simultaneously selling guns. As Paul Kemp, one of the board members of the group Gun Owners for Responsible Ownership, told me last year when Dick’s pulled assault-style weapons, “Dick’s market is oriented at America’s youth. This is a business decision that is good for their market. It’s a good message that they are sending to the large majority of their shoppers.”
Dick’s will likely further incense angry shoppers and gun rights advocates when it phases out these gun sections. But the company might also win over everyone else looking for kayaks, baseball gear, or sneakers. As Stack told one investor on the call, “We are really very, very confident and excited about our business.”
Want more stories from The Goods by Vox? Sign up for our newsletter here.