By David Clucas

The former Co-Owner of Gart Bros., which in 1992 sold the business that became part of the now-defunct Sports Authority portfolio, unleashed a harsh criticism and outlook for big-box sporting-goods retailers September 28, speaking at the annual Outdoor Industry Association Rendezvous event in Denver.

Ken Gart, who also went on to found Specialty Sports Venture, which sold to Vail Resorts Inc. in 2010, told attendees that Sports Authority failed for a variety of reasons, including the often-cited pressures from online retailer Amazon and the private-equity owner’s mistake of over-burdening the business with debt. But he reserved his most negative comments for the leadership’s abandonment of a “customer-first” focus.

“In the end, Sports Authority was meaningless to everyone,” he said. “It didn’t stand for anything. No one took care of the business, and the investors sucked it dry.”

He then warned that that the same fate could come down the line for others in the space, specifically calling out Dick’s Sporting Goods, Cabela’s and Bass Pro Shops.

“All big-box stores with large footprints are at risk,” he said. “If you don’t stand for something, you are dead.”

Gart’s industry critique wasn’t all negative. He pointed to outdoor retailer REI, online/brick-and-mortar-hybrid snow-sports retailer Evo and outdoor apparel brand/retailer Patagonia as examples of how retail is being done right. He also commended Vail Resorts for taking good care of Specialty Sport Venture’s collection of retailers.

What these brands have in common, Gart said, is that they are finding successful solutions to bringing the businesses vertical, while focusing on premium customer service and solid brand identity.

Photo By David Clucas