Answering a National Crisis, the Dick’s Sporting Goods Way

When a brand is involved in a national crisis, its CEO typically responds in one of two ways — by giving lip service with condolences, thoughts and prayers to those affected — or by taking action in real, bottom-line-affecting ways.

In response to the Parkland, Florida, school massacre on Feb. 14, Dick’s Sporting Goods CEO Ed Stack has chosen the latter. As of Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018, he says the retailer will no longer sell assault-style rifles and high-capacity magazines. It will also no longer sell firearms to anyone under the age of 21.

There’s no doubt that this was not a decision made lightly. Taking a stance like this will surely alienate some of Dick’s customer base. But this event hit too close to home for Stack, who disclosed this week that Nikolas Cruz, the perpetrator in the Florida shooting, purchased a shotgun at a Dick’s store in November of last year.

Some will say this was a PR stunt to get attention for the national retailer. It certainly dominated the news cycle and invited both positive and negative reactions on social media. The company’s name jumped 12,000 percent by midday of the announcement, according to social management platform Sprout Social. The reality is that Dick’s and other big-box retailers make up only a small fraction of gun sales — about 12 percent.

So why was the announcement so impactful? For starters:

  • They were first to take a real stand. This matters. Other retailers, including Walmart, quickly followed suit, but Dick’s was the first voice heard and the one that set the tone.
  • It felt genuine. Stack appeared on Good Morning America. He had his talking points, but what he said felt genuine and forthcoming.
  • The company broke its own news. The Parkland shooter bought a gun at a Dick’s store. Stack was quick to point out that it wasn’t the one used in the shooting, but he also emphasized that it could have been. Admitting this close connection and breaking this news before anyone else could means he controlled the narrative.
  • Dick’s didn’t back away from politics. Stack urged Congress to take action, encouraging mental health reform and background checks. He did not hold back or take the safe route.

Regardless of where you stand on the gun-control debate, Dick’s announcement was an incredibly bold move — one that many brands and CEOs could learn from.