Dick’s Sporting Goods doubles down on gun-reduction messaging

by | Mar 26, 2019 | Analysis, Public Relations

After the Parkland High School shooting, Dick’s Sporting Goods made headlines by announcing the retailer would no longer stock and sell certain semiautomatic rifle models. The decision created both positive and negative PR for the brand. Some lauded the call and promised to give their business to Dick’s. Others lampooned or mocked the decisions, with certain competitors using the opportunity to steal some of the earned-media limelight.

In a follow up move, Dick’s raised the purchase age of all firearms in its stores to 21. Later, Dick’s pulled all guns and ammunition from 10 stores as part of a test to see how that move impacted sales. Now, Dick’s has doubled down on the earlier decision, promising to “stop selling guns and ammunition” at more than 100 locations where, reports say, firearms sales have not met expectations.

Almost immediately pundits and consumers on social media applauded or decried the decision, calling it a social or political statement

However, Dick’s CEO Edward Stack had a different message for analysts and consumers last week. Stack said the move was about making the most of retail space, not about politics or social issues. He said the company wanted to stock items that were better growth drivers than guns.

Stack also said the move would not be immediately implemented in every targeted store. “We look at this as a multi-year initiative… If it goes as well as expected, we would probably take another batch of stores next year.”

Dick’s Sporting Goods doubles down on gun-reduction messaging

But previous comments by Stack and messages from Dick’s have people questioning if this really isn’t a political statement after all

After the Parkland High School shooting, Stack learned that the killer purchased a shotgun at a Dick’s location. Speaking to CNN at the time, he said: “You know everybody talks about thoughts and prayers going out to them. That’s great. That doesn’t really do anything… We felt we needed to take a stand and do this… I don’t care what the financial implication is.”

Armed with these two seemingly contrary statements, consumers are left to speculate, as are pundits

And you can bet there will be much speculation. Opinions are already flying about this, and, whether they want to or not, Dick’s will likely have to speak directly to consumers about this issue if they want to maintain some control over the prevailing narrative about this issue.

Of course, if the company is comfortable with consumer assumption about their decisions, they may just sit back and allow people to keep talking about it. While they would cede control of the conversation, they may find their preferred message gets the most press after all.

Ronn Torossian
Ronn Torossian founded 5WPR, a leading PR agency..