How Dick’s Sporting Goods Is About to Challenge Outdoor Rival REI for Market Share

Dick’s Sporting Goods revealed in late November that it was launching Public Lands, a new outdoor concept, with the first stores opening in 2021. News of the venture created a stir among adventurers and industry insiders alike.

Late last week, the excitement intensified when an internal DSG memo stated the company was hiring Todd Spaletto to lead the Public Lands business. (On Spaletto’s LinkedIn, his title is listed as president of Public Lands and SVP of Dick’s Sporting Goods.)

“They have somebody there who knows the entire industry really well, and I think it was a good hire. It tells me that they’re taking this really seriously and there could be a lot more than two doors down the road,” Susquehanna Financial Group analyst Sam Poser told FN.

Spaletto, who last served as president of Wolverine Michigan Group, also held several leadership roles over a 14-year period at The North Face, ending his tenure at the company as its global president in 2017.

“Todd is an extremely capable merchant and an excellent marketer, so I think he really can create the vision for what Public Lands will be and and to execute that vision,” explained Matt Powell, senior sports industry adviser at The NPD Group.

Todd Spaletto
Todd Spaletto.
CREDIT: Joshua Scott

During a Nov. 24 earnings call, Dick’s Sporting Goods executive chairman and CEO Edward Stack stated the Public Lands concept has been in the works for a couple of years, and provides the retail giant with its biggest opportunity in the outdoor market as exits the Field & Stream and firearm business.

Stack also said that Public Lands will be different from what Dick’s Sporting Goods is doing today in the outdoor space, describing the equipment, apparel, footwear, brands and service as “elevated.” Also, Stack stated the product overlap would only be roughly 20%.

To start, the executive stated two stores will open in 2021, with one debuting in August and the other in October, taking over Field & Stream locations in Pittsburgh and Columbus, Ohio.

Powell sees Public Lands as DSG further distancing itself from the guns and fishing consumer it had long been acquainted with to more bike and hike-oriented shoppers, which has been on the rise as the coronavirus pandemic swept the country.

“We’re really learning under this pandemic that people are feeling safer outside than they do inside,” Powell said. “People are seeking outside ventures to calm things down, calm themselves down, to try to bring some peace to this crazy time we’re in. I think this sets [DSG] up really well to move into what’s essentially a new kind of business for them.”

Because of this consumer group that is newly-acquainted with the outdoors, Poser believes the timing is better than ever for DSG to target multiple types consumers under one banner.

“What they’re going to end up doing is try to hit a broader swath of people. There’s a lot of people that have discovered the outdoors and can now be brought to it,” Poser said. “Dick’s is going to try to hit that hardcore outdoor person as well as a casual outdoor enthusiast, and my guess is it’s going to be quite experiential.”

During the Nov. 24 call, Stack said Public Lands “will be different than what you would see with REI and carve out a different niche” and stated “there’s a real opportunity in the marketplace.”

As of today, REI has 165 locations across the country with more to come in 2021, including its first-ever store in Wyoming in summer 2021, which will be featured in the Powderhorn Mall in the city of Jackson. The retailer has long been a one-stop shop for all things outdoor, stocking footwear and apparel alongside its broad selection of equipment.

The bike shop inside the REI flagship in Washington D.C.
CREDIT: Courtesy of REI

Speaking with FN, Powell believes the greatest opportunity for DSG is keeping Public Lands apparel and footwear focused with “enough equipment to give it authenticity.”

“[REI Is] a true outdoor store in that they are very focused on the equipment side of things, and as most specialty retailers are, they’re focused on the more technical consumer as opposed to the casual or entry level consumer,” Powell explained. “You can clearly carve out points of differentiation there, and I think the opportunity here is in sportswear. That’s that’s where the business is really gone and Dick’s has shown with some of their private label brands like Calia and DSG as two examples that they can create product and be extremely successful and it really sets them apart from from other retailers.”

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