For decades, Dick’s Sporting Goods was a go-to retailer for hunters needing rifles and other related gear.
So when the retailer’s CEO, Ed Stack, announced last year—after the Parkland school shooting—that he was pulling assault-style rifles from all stores and raising the age to buy any gun to 21, many loyal shoppers were apoplectic. It didn’t help that Stack was the first Fortune 500 CEO to be so categorical about his stance. “Assault-style rifles should be banned,” he tells Fortune.
In a new autobiography, It’s How We Play The Game: Build A Business. Take A Stand. Make A Difference, Stack recounts how Dick’s being one of the four biggest U.S. sellers of firearms “made us part of the problem.” And given Washington’s gridlock, he wanted Dick’s to be part of the solution.
In 2018, the defection of customers to chains such as Cabela’s, Bass Pro, and countless local dealers cost Dick’s about $300 million in sales. Guns offer far slimmer margins than the rest of Dick’s assortment, but they generate store visits from hunters coming in to grab other items. Stack knows a big chunk of that business is gone for good.
“The ones that are mad at us, we’ve lost them,” Stack says.
Despite the lingering Sturm Und Drang, Dick’s, founded by Stack’s late father as a bait and tackle shop in Binghamton, N.Y., in 1948, has begun to rebound. In the first half of the year, comparable sales are up 1.7% and gathering speed.
And Stack is not looking back. Dick’s has removed guns altogether from 125 of its 727 namesake stores to see what could replace sales, and just sold eight of its 18 standalone hunting Field & Stream stores. In fact, the company’s entire hunting business, including guns, is up for “strategic review.”
To offset that business, Dick’s wants to aggressively pursue more serious athletes, not just the casual player, and the outdoor crowd that usually shops at REI or L.L. Bean. It’s also adding more experiential elements to its stores, including HitTrax baseball batting cages and indoor golf driving ranges to help shoppers find the right clubs.
It seems that just as CVS rejiggered its retail business after giving up tobacco products in 2014, Dick’s is building a post-gun future. “We sold that kid in Parkland a shotgun,” says Stack emotionally. (It wasn’t the weapon used in the 2018 Florida massacre.) “He should never have been able to buy a shotgun from us.” Given where Dick’s seems to be heading, a future shooter might not even have that option.