Dick’s Sporting Goods agreed to buy Moosejaw from Walmart in February in a move that expanded Dick’s portfolio of outdoor retail locations, which is led by Public Lands, the outdoor retail chain Dick’s launched in 2021.
Moosejaw, founded in Michigan in 1992, runs about a dozen brick-and-mortar locations in Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Michigan and Missouri. But it operates primarily as an e-commerce company.
The Daily sat down with CEO Eoin Comerford for a wide-ranging interview to discuss how the acquisition is progressing and the difference between this deal and the one the company made with Walmart. He also provided an update on overall business trends.
Acquisition by Dick’s
Since the acquisition only happened a couple of months ago, Comerford said so far, a lot of the conversations have been about assessing the business, putting together long-term plans, and seeing how everything works together.
“But it’s clear that there’s a desire (from Dick’s) to invest in outdoor,” he added.
The deal came about because Dick’s is great at brick-and-mortar retail and Moosejaw has the e-commerce model dialed in, according to Comerford.
Moosejaw’s stores typically range from 4,000 – 5,000 square feet. By comparison, Dick’s Public Lands stores are huge – about 40,000 to 60,000 square feet.
“From our perspective, this is great because we need to further develop our retail brick-and-mortar business, and Dick’s has that muscle,” Comerford said.
While Dick’s has a solid existing online model, Comerford sees Moosejaw’s role as helping to provide Dick’s with scale in the e-commerce space. Right now, the majority of Dick’s online sales are fulfilled at their stores.
“We come at it from an opposite perspective, which is we’ve used stores as an extension of our online. When we open a store in a market we see online sales double,” he added. “But there’s a happy medium there. That’s what we’re looking at. How do we leverage the online piece, but really build up the retail piece to be much more meaningful.”
When Moosejaw was acquired by Walmart in 2017, the initial plan was to help the mega-retailer with its e-commerce outdoor arm, which already existed.
For the first few years, Comerford was the CEO of Moosejaw and also the general manager of Walmart.com’s outdoor division.
He worked on changing the merchandise, the assortment, and the pricing, as well as improving the Ozark Trail private brand.
“Ultimately the decision was made in 2020 to merge e-commerce and the store together, which was the right thing to do, but it didn’t make sense for the Moosejaw team to be directly involved,” Comerford said.
A larger omnichannel team within Walmart would go on to run both.
At that point, Comerford started thinking about making Moosejaw a bigger part of the Walmart assortment. That led to the genesis of the “comfort camping” products Moosejaw is now offering.
“We said, ‘Where’s the whitespace in the industry?’” Comerford said.
On one hand, there are a lot of companies making high-quality gear for backpacking. A lot of those brands don’t have a tent bigger than a four-person, according to Comerford. If it’s that large, it might cost $700. A lot of the brands making products for comfort, or “car camping,” were more entry-level in terms of quality.
“There was this whitespace between where those brands sit and where those more specialty brands sit,” Comerford said.
Moosejaw extended that thinking to products beyond tents, including coolers and camp chairs. Beyond affordability, the brand is also offering more inclusive sizes and sustainable products.
From a category and size perspective, Comerford said Moosejaw is much better aligned with Dick’s than it was with Walmart.
Moosejaw hopes to leverage Dick’s private-label capabilities in addition to its technology capabilities.
“The big ‘unlock’ though, is on the store side,” Comerford said. “They’re just incredible operators. If you look at what has happened in the sporting goods retail landscape over the last 10 years, they are the champions. A lot of people have fallen away.”
He gave operational excellence and visual merchandising excellence as two reasons Dick’s has thrived.
“We want to learn from that,” Comerford said.
Despite the exciting acquisition, Moosejaw is not immune to the same downward trends the overall industry has faced.
“Business is definitely a little slower this year,” Comerford said. “There’s obviously the macro-economic issues that are affecting all of retail.”
A lot of retailers he’s spoken with are reporting that sales are down in the low single-digits to low double-digits from last year.
The area that has been hardest hit is the higher-ticket equipment that saw a surge during the pandemic, such as bikes and kayaks.
“Those categories have been the most impacted because of the price points and the consumer that’s under a little bit more pressure,” Comerford said.
Outerwear has performed better in certain areas of the country than others. For example, the Northeast, which didn’t get much snow this year, was soft. But the West with its record-setting snowfall was “incredible,” Comerford said.
In clothing, brands such as Vuori have performed well, while some other brands have not. Comerford said his team has done a great job managing inventory. Moosejaw was conservative in its sale projections for last year, correctly judging that the revenue in 2021 wasn’t sustainable for 2022 and beyond.
He also attributes some of the success to not having a large private label business, especially compared to other outdoor retailers. “That’s a product you can’t turn off, you can’t revise those orders,” Comerford said. “They’re coming in whether they work or not.”
Overall, Moosejaw feels like it’s in a strong position to succeed. Comerford declined to say what 2023 revenue might look like compared to 2022 because the company is publicly traded.
“We’re in a pretty good situation, but we’re hearing that our competition either overbought, or had issues with late delivery or supply chain systems,” he said.
That’s led to excess inventory that has in turn resulted in a lot of cancelled orders, which then puts more pressure on brands.
“It’s a cascading effect within the industry,” Comerford said. “There’s a lot of uncertainty about what will happen in the back half (of 2023).”
Bart Schaneman can be reached at email@example.com.