Corporate activism and the consumer

Should your political views influence where you shop? For some people, the answer is yes. So, for example, some people who are members of the sporting goods co-op REI said it should not purchase goods from Vista Outdoors, a holding company. Vista sells CamelBak (backpacks that hold water for hiking, snowboarding, or whatever), Giro (alpine helmets) and Bell (bicycle helmets), and I’ve bought some of each of these products at REI. That’s because they do the job and come at an acceptable price.

But the co-op has said it has stopped buying from Vista. Is it because the products are defective? No. Made by slave laborers? Destroy the natural environment? Again, no. The problem, it seems, is that Vista owns a company that makes guns, a legal product in the United States, and REI management (and some of its members) thinks that company doesn’t do enough on the gun control front.

As a member of REI, I sent the following comment to REI:

Please. Just stop bowing to political pressure and return these useful brands to your shelves. I’ve used Camelbak hydration units as well as Giro helmets. Vista sells guns? Yeah, so what. They’re a legal product and like anything, can be used be used for good and bad purposes.

I buy products based on whether they are useful to me rather than whether the company shares my view of the world. Hence, I shop at REI and became a member of the co-op — even though its managers (or members) probably don’t share my views on politics or music or which way a roll of toilet paper should be hung.

When you decide which products to stock and which vendors to choose, the relevant questions should be “Is this a good product?” and “Can we make money selling this, thus sustaining our business model?” If your customers decide to stop buying Vista products, fine, then pull them from the shelves. But don’t succumb to other pressure.

I didn’t expect much of a response and was not disappointed: The person handling the email account responded with a link to a press release that, in essence, said, “we’re not changing our mind.”

Bother.

Does REI have the legal right to base its business decisions on ideological grounds? Yes, especially since it’s a co-op and thus not bound by the standard expectation of maximizing shareholder value that a publicly traded company would face. Is it OK to call for more regulations on the ownership of firearms or even outright prohibitions on the ownership of any and all firearms? Sure. That’s what the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is all about it. Go for it. Enter the political process. Make your voice heard. And I have no claim on any retailer to sell any particular piece of merchandise.

Still, I find it annoying. But in a free society, them’s the breaks.