What a long, strange few weeks it’s been. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect something like this to happen. But it has. The power of our outdoor community and their passion to make a positive change happen is a real thing.
My name is Tyson Stellrecht and my company was at the center of the backlash against the online retailer Backcountry.com that began on October 31st. I was asked (but didn’t really have a choice) to rebrand from Backcountry Pursuit to Boise Gear Collective back in late 2017/early 2018 and I was one of the first companies targeted during Backcountry.com’s campaign to enforce their trademark.
I have now spoken in person with Jonathan Nielsen, the CEO of Backcountry.com. It was a very human conversation and we are excited to announce a new partnership. For the TL;DR crowd, I can say with certainty that Backcountry.com is making changes that will make them a better company.
At Boise Gear Collective, we sell both new and used outdoor adventure gear. We want our focus to remain on selling awesome used gear, but we have also brought on some of the best names in the business to have new gear options. The name of the game in the used gear industry is to get the good stuff. We have a huge consignor base in the local community with over 7000 consignors. We get a ton of amazing clothing and soft goods on consignment, but we always wish we had more used hard goods and used gear.
We have now partnered with Backcountry.com on a multi year contract to begin selling a large chunk of their return items. I will be heading to Salt Lake City to pick up multiple pallets of gear in just a few weeks. We have given them a list of our most desired categories of gear and they are pulling together a huge load for us as we speak. The top of our list for winter is skis, ski boots, snowboards and snowshoes among others.
We will be focused on selling the items that were used once or twice and can no longer be sold as new on their website, but are still good as new. Just think of all the ski boots that probably got skied twice and then got returned because they just didn’t fit right. It’s going to be so much fun to open up those pallets and see all the good gear we are going to be able to offer our amazing customer base in Boise, ID.
Our deal is year round and we will be getting in summer goods come springtime as well.
We are beyond excited about this new partnership. There have been tons of calls across the internet for Backcountry.com to make companies like mine who were affected by these trademark issues to “be made whole” again. I can only speak to my experience, but I would say this is the case. While they are not writing me a check up front as many have called for, this deal is better than just a check and worth more to both of our companies in the long run.
I want to dive further into this issue by saying that Jonathan Nielsen does not, in fact, ski in jeans. He flew to Boise to meet with me and my GM Trevor Thornton in person last Friday, November 15th. He came alone and without lawyers. The experience we had was probably unlike nearly any other corporate screw up in history. Jonathan is serious about owning this misstep and making things right.
He was completely honest in our conversation and answered all of our questions about how this whole thing happened. He shared information with us that I am sure lawyers would cringe at. He was that honest.
Basically, it boils down to this. Backcountry.com is starting to make a ton of products with their own brand on it. When that happens trademark law gets super complicated. Being a CEO myself (albeit of a much smaller company), I can certainly understand how this was such a small slice of what was on his plate. Let’s cut him some slack and choose to believe that this was just simply mishandled. The important thing to focus on is all the good that comes of this moving forward.
In today’s day and age of corporate greed and corruption, this can become a shining example of a company realizing they made a huge mistake and are now doing everything in their power to rectify the problem and heal the relationship with the community they depend on to make a living. They are truly interested in doing more than tossing out a few apologies and throwing some money around. They want to use their size and power to actually help the folks they affected grow their businesses.
I would also like to state here that while it was a huge bummer to lose my name, the re-brand has actually been a good thing for my company. I know that is not the case for everyone this happened to. I also know I was very angry when all this was going on, but as time has gone on, it is just another thing I have overcome as small business owner.
When I started my business in 2012, it needed a name and a slogan. I knew that I wanted the word “Backcountry” in it because that word stirred up so much emotion and excitement in me, I knew it would with the outdoors community and my future customers as well. I also knew it needed another word to go along with it.
I remember sitting on my couch with my laptop browsing thesaurus websites and looking at all the possibilities. For some reason obsession kept jumping out at me. Backcountry Obsession. I liked it, but obsession has some negative connotations. As I did not have employees at the time and my doors had not yet opened for business, my family were the ones with whom I bounced ideas off of. I was on a three way call with my mom and my brother and asked them what they thought. They both agreed that obsession was too strong of a word.
Then my mom suggested, “How about Backcountry Pursuit?”
“Perfect!”, I thought.
Next my brother threw out of the blue, “Consignments. Advice. Adventure.”
Done. The store was now named and had a slogan. Backcountry Pursuit. Consignments. Advice. Adventure.
I built my brand for five years under this name. I grew from one location and two employees to two locations and six employees. My company became part of the community selling used gear on consignment. We were strictly a used gear shop in mid 2017 selling folks used gear and getting other folks into sports for the first time at an affordable price. We really carved out our niche in the local gear community.
In June 2017, Backcountry.com filed an opposition to my trademark application during the 30 day public comment period which is the last step of the trademark process. The discussions and negotiations began. I would like to note that they were all very professional and I never received any of the strong and threatening language in communications that were perpetuated during the virial expansion of this story. I was, however, under a tremendous amount of pressure facing a huge company with a lot of money.
Backcountry.com did offer me a way to keep using my Backcountry Pursuit name. In Jonathan Nielsen’s apology that was so highly criticized, he did state that they tried to respectfully and amicably settle all disagreements and only resorted to legal action as a last resort. I would agree with this, at least in my case. I was treated as such. In the end however, the restrictions they wanted to put on me were too much and interfered with my ability to grow my business as I saw fit. They did not have to resort to legal action with me, because on the advice of my legal counsel, I gave up the name.
They gave me an adequate amount of time to comply with a name change and rebrand. They let me keep some historical references on my website to who we were when we started. Yes, it was a terribly emotional time to lose the identity of what we had created here. But as a small business owner, these are the things we deal with all the time. We are one of the most tenacious groups of people you will ever meet.
I pressed on.
As luck would have it, the opportunity to expand my downtown location came up right as all this was going on. We were able to double the size of our store from 3000 to 6000 square feet and we gained some incredibly valuable glass facing one of the busiest streets in all of Idaho. We had the opportunity to reinvent ourselves and expand from being “just” a used gear shop to add in an extensive selection of new retail items as well as build a bike and ski service department. If there ever was such a thing as a good time to rebrand, it was now.
On the down side of this, I did have a second location in Eagle, ID 9 miles away from the downtown store. It was the second one that I opened and it always just did OK. It was probably barely breaking even after about four years in. But hey, in small business that is a victory.
I knew that location would not withstand a re-brand and I didn’t want to dump more money and effort on it. I took a gamble and decided to close that location with time left on the lease. It is one of the few gambles that I have lost in my business ownership career and I paid a lot of money for an empty space before I could get it leased out. This was a direct cost to me from the actions of Backcountry.com.
Our company pressed on. We expanded the downtown location and closed the Eagle location. We gathered the best brands in the industry and began selling new retail items. We hired great talent and built a service shop. And we chose a new name to do it under. Boise Gear Collective.
Rebranding took hundreds of man hours. We had to change everything. New website, new contract with all consignors, legal name changes, banking changes. It was a ton of effort. But we did it because that is what we had to do. We are stronger because of it.
In the end, this may have been a positive thing for us. We got to pick a new name that really states who we are, what we do and what we believe in. We got to reinvent ourselves.
But we also lost some of the trust from our local community and there was a ton of confusion. Our customers thought we sold out to a bigger company and were no longer locally owned. It hurt my pride that people thought I was no longer the owner of the company that I had created from scratch. It has taken time, money and tons of emotional effort to move past all of this. I am grateful that this has all come out so that I can now fully share with our customers what actually happened.
I shared this entire story with Jonathan when he was here and I can tell that it affected him. He saw firsthand the consequences of the actions his company took. He apologized over and over and I knew it was from the heart.
I believe there is a place for large online retailers like Backcountry.com, Evo.com and hell, even Amazon.com. I get a ton of crap off of Amazon because it’s easy. I got a ton of stuff off of Backcountry.com before this whole thing happened. Local shops like mine don’t have the square footage to offer everything from every manufacturer like they do.
However, it is really important for the giants to remember that they can’t build the community as well as we do. They can’t offer the hands on experience we can when it comes to showing a customer several products in person. They can’t offer the knowledge and local beta for places to go and what conditions are like that we can. They can’t sell your used gear and clothing like we can. They can’t tune your bikes and skis like we can. We have our place and outdoors folks love their outdoors shops and the experiences they have here.
Of course I want to preach for y’all to shop local and support the other independently owned gear shops in your area. That’s how we all stay in business and become your hubs for knowledge and community.
I want all the shoppers out there to really take this to heart. You need to support your local shops with your actual dollars. Going to hang out at your favorite gear shop a few times a week and not spending any money isn’t actually supporting them. Going in to your local gear shop to pick the brains of the experts there and try stuff on only to make a purchase from somewhere online because it’s a few dollars cheaper certainly isn’t supporting them. Hint: most of us will probably price match even if we aren’t advertising it. I’d rather make 10-20% less and grow my relationship with that customer versus lose the entirety of the sale. You’d better make sure it’s the exact same make, model, color and size as the one you’re trying to price match though.
I think the real lesson here is that we all need to contribute to the community in the best way that we can. We don’t always have to be such tough competitors that we are constantly trying to put each other out of business. We all have our place. I just hope these events show that there can be proactive partnerships made between all of us that benefit everyone involved.
In the end, I am saying that Backcountry.com deserves a second chance. They do offer a huge selection and great prices. There are lots of reasons people might want to shop there. Maybe it’s the user experience. Maybe they are too far away from a gear shop. A likely scenario actually. They certainly have their niche just as we have ours.
Instead of spending all this energy fighting each other, let’s fight for something we all believe in; Protecting access to public lands and protecting our planet for future generations. While I feel that this was a worthy cause to take up defending the little guys from the big guys, let’s refocus our energy on protecting the environment so we still have places to go use all this awesome gear we sell.
As far as the past goes with all of this, water under the bridge in my book. I’m a businessman and this is a good deal for my business, my employees, our customers and our community. I am very much looking forward to building this relationship with Backcountry.com that will ensure we always have a ton of awesome gear in our store. I believe that they as a company are very happy about this relationship as well.
Stay tuned for more announcements as to when the first shipments of Backcountry.com’s returns will be hitting the sales floor at Boise Gear Collective. Good things are on the way.
Founder and owner of Boise Gear Collective since 2012. Formerly known as Backcountry Pursuit.