When it comes to groups of like-minded folks, few share a sense of passion quite like outdoor enthusiasts. An easy way to understand that collective passion — one seemingly divided by so many different user groups — is to see it unite against a perceived threat to its caretakers. Last year, online outdoor gear retailer Backcountry.com filed for trademarks in an attempt to protect the word “backcountry” from being used in other outdoor businesses, products and services, as reported by the Colorado Sun. Following this action, the retailer filed lawsuits suing several small business with the word “backcountry” in their names (even including an avalanche safety course called Backcountry Babes).
The legal actions mortified business owners, muscling many into a corner where they felt forced to change their names. According to the Sun, for example, successful Boulder, Colo.-based coffee company Backcountry Nitro received a cease-and-desist letter from Backcountry’s trademark attorneys. And though the coffee company had secured a trademark earlier in the year, it changed its name to Wild Barn Coffee in fear of an expensive and daunting lawsuit, the business suffering greatly during the rebranding process.
After Backcountry started expanding its branding into new lines of apparel and outdoor equipment, its trademark attorneys began targeting mostly single-owner operations of small businesses (avoiding businesses owned by other private-equity investors), reported by the Sun. But it was precisely instances like Backcountry Nitro where the larger community of outdoor enthusiasts began to take notice — and began to take action.
The outdoor industry accounted for 2.2% ($427.2 billion) of U.S. gross domestic product in 2017. And the huge numbers of customers fueling this sector of the economy, and catering to the rise of Backcountry.com, were not happy to hear about its strong arm. Outdoor fans mobilized and spoke out on social media: More than 22,000 people immediately joined a Boycott BackcountryDOTcom Facebook page, according the Washington Post.
Following this social media initiative, the chief executive of Backcountry.com, Jonathan Nielsen, sent out an apology letter stating, “We made a mistake … We only want what’s best for the whole community and we want every person and business in it to thrive. Backcountry has never been interested in owning the word “backcountry” or completely preventing anyone else from using it. But we clearly misjudged the impact of our actions.”
As reported by the Post, he also said that the company would embark on a cross-country tour to visit every business that the company had impacted in the past two years. On top of the visits, Neilsen has offered help on promotion and distribution to companies like Wild Barn Coffee—a noble token that will likely take much time to fulfill.
Acting on his word, Neilsen’s outreach to Idaho shop Backcountry Pursuit—forced by the litigation to rename and rebrand as Boise Gear Collective—is early evidence he’s acting on his word. According to Adventure Journal, Neilsen recently visited the Boise-based, used-gear retailer, allowing it to sell the online giant’s own used and returned items.
Maybe there’s hope the outdoor community’s collective action can result in two entities — big e-commerce, and brick and mortar mom-and-pop specialty retailers — coming together to help launch adventures on the local level.
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