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Opinion Columns

Opinion: Backcountry.com is abusing its power and bullying smaller businesses. But this could make us stronger.

Crews prepare the booth for the Golden-based Icelantic skis at the Outdoor Retailer Snow Show at the Colorado Convention Center on Jan. 29, 2019. (Kathryn Scott, Special to The Colorado Sun)

I’ve seen it a million times: Bad decisions come to life despite good intentions. It’s part of business, it’s part of life, and hopefully, part of growing.   

As a fellow outdoor industry business owner, I was honestly and simply blown away as I read the news about the TSG/Backcountry.com suing spree.

Annelise Loevlie

The outdoor industry community has come a long way in the past couple years, banding together for causes involving climate change, protecting public lands and equality in the outdoors, to name few.   

Companies like Patagonia and Black Diamond have taken bold stances supporting the above causes, among others. Fourteen states have formed Outdoor Recreation Economy Offices with goals of elevating the industry’s voice to a level equal to that of tech or agriculture.  

I’m beyond proud of the progress we’ve made as an industry and a community, and I truly believe that this group of passionate, caring people, can and will be the change that the world needs.    

That is … if we keep working together.  

This move is essentially the antithesis of all of that, and my immediate reaction when I heard about this fiasco was, “Seriously, Backcountry?”

Of all the things that you could be spending your apparent abundance of resources on, THIS is how you choose to spend them? Interesting.

Let’s dissect this a bit and highlight some of what’s wrong with this situation. 

First: The idea that someone can “own” a word, let alone, a place, and on top of that, profit from it. Sure, I understand the idea of trademarking something that is unique to your business; my business has a couple of trademarks, (though I’ve always questioned that idea), but to stake claim to an entire eco-system, seems imperialist, to say the least.    

READ: Colorado Sun opinion columnists.

TSG is abusing its power, bullying smaller businesses, acting, as so many power entities do, from a place of fear, which is where bad decisions come from. 

In the little research I’ve done on TSG, I was encouraged to see that one of the things they are known for in the private-equity world is their 50/50 make-up of male and female employees.  

My sense, based on intuition and experience, is that in general, when there is an equal representation of women and men in an organization — especially in leadership roles, better, more equitable decisions are made. Which leads me to my next question: Who signed off on this idea?

It’s easy to place the blame on the big corporate parent company (TSG), and for Backcountry.com to claim victim — this was the immediate discussion in my office.  

Surely Backcountry.com didn’t sign off on this?

My response to this is: It doesn’t matter. Someone proposed the idea and someone signed off on it. Thousands of decisions are made every day in business, and ideally, the pieces are in place to guide those decisions in a direction that’s supportive of the company’s mission and values.    

I have a suspicion that there were plenty of people — both on the Backcountry.com side as well as TSG, that opposed this idea. The trick, however, is for those people to A: speak up, and B: be heard.  

The fact that this decision made its way to the top and out into the world suggests to me an imbalance of power in one or both of those organizations.  

If Jonathan Nielsen truly cared about the founding principles of Backcountry.com, and about the industry in which he exists, he wouldn’t have let this happen.   

Dude. Where you at? And I wonder, even though TSG claims 50/50 in their employee makeup, do they actually cultivate a culture in which diverse opinions and perspectives are heard and respected?   

It’s a question I have for so many organizations and a big one in general for the whole diversity and inclusion discussion. I digress.

Finally, if TSG claims, as their website says, to “help build brands people love,” well then, my friends, you’re doing it wrong.   

Bullying your way to glory and profits is not going to go far in this industry. We have an innate, immensely powerful moral compass and communal bond that will crush any entity that tries to rip us apart. 

We stand for something bigger than greed, bigger than fear. We are in this industry to be the best people we can be, and to give back to the people, places, and ideas that have given us our livelihoods.   

News like this can be discouraging, but I believe that these experiences only make us stronger. Let’s all take this as an opportunity to check in with our values. With what’s important. With why we’re doing what we do. And to ask ourselves, “How can I be an even better steward of this land, this community?”

As I write this, I ask myself the same questions.

Backcountry.com has been a great partner of Icelantic’s for years. I understand that bad decisions happen, and can only hope that the social backlash that’s come from this move is enough to wake the Powers That Be in both organizations to a new way of being that’s rooted in connection and love instead of competition and fear.

A rising tide floats all ships, and the more we can all do to support this idea, the better off we’ll all be. Here’s to checks and balances.

Annelise Loevlie is co-founder and C.E.O. of Icelantic and sits on the advisory council for Colorado’s Outdoor Recreation Industry office. She is passionate about building conscious communities and businesses.