In 2012, Tyson Stellrecht started an outdoor gear shop specializing in used gear that he called Backcountry Pursuit, in Boise, Idaho. He chose the name specifically because “backcountry” evoked excitement; it was both descriptive and aspirational. A little bit of brainstorming resulted in the store’s full name and tagline—Backcountry Pursuits: Consignments. Advice. Adventure. For five years the store built a small following attracted to the idea of quality used gear, and Backcountry Pursuit grew, adding a second location and swelling the payroll to six employees. In 2017, Stellrecht decided to try to trademark the name, Backcountry Pursuit.
That’s when he first heard from Backcountry.com’s corporate office.
During a 30-day public comment period as part of the trademark application process, Backcountry.com filed an opposition to Stellrecht’s trademark claim. Suddenly, the small used gear company was up against the legal muscle of an online megastore.
“I was surprised,” Stellrecht says. Though he admits when he first decided to use the name Backcountry Pursuit he wondered for a moment if Backcountry.com would ever have an issue with the name, Stellrecht figured the word backcountry was pretty ubiquitous. Nor did he think Backcountry.com could possibly view his operation as real competition. “We were just a used gear store in Idaho with no web presence,” he explains. “Plus, I guarantee people were taking the money they were making selling their gear through us on consignment and spending it on new gear at Backcountry.com.”
But as the outdoor world has seen in recent weeks, Backcountry.com took notice of dozens of outdoor businesses that used backcountry as part of their name. Sometimes Backcountry.com went as far as suing those businesses, some of which weren’t retailers at all, but guide services, or enthusiast group organizations.
Those legal actions and protests with the US Patent and Trade Office drew a wave of criticism across the outdoor community, including social media campaigns urging a boycott of Backcountry.com with tens of thousands of followers. In the wake of the uproar, Backcountry.com fired the law firm that filed the suits, and CEO Jonathan Nielsen wrote a public letter apologizing for the lawsuits. Many outdoor enthusiasts felt Nielsen’s apology rang hollow. Going even further, Backcountry.com next dropped lawsuits and even began partnering with a few of the brands they’d targeted for trademark violation.
Which brings us back to Stellrecht. His company wasn’t sued by Backcountry, but his own lawyers advised him to find a new name. There was no way he’d be able to outmaneuver Backcountry.com or afford the legal fees it would take to mount a sufficient defense. So, he rebranded his business to Boise Gear Collective. It was painful. Stellrecht had to close a store he’d opened in nearby Eagle, Idaho, that he didn’t think could survive the rebrand. Customers thought Stellrecht had sold out to a different, perhaps bigger gear store. Every aspect of the business had to be changed, from the website and logos, to bank accounts, legal names, existing contracts with consignors—everything. It was hugely expensive. Stellrecht was upset, but he moved on.
Then, a phone call from Nielsen in recent weeks. Out of the blue. Nielsen personally called Stellrecht and said he wanted to chat. “He said he wanted to come up and meet with me,” Stellrecht says. “He came up the very next day.”
Stellrecht says he was immediately surprised by Nielsen’s demeanor. “He was genuinely sorry about how everything went down. Nielsen doesn’t strike me as a normal CEO,” he says.
To make up for the forced rebranding, the labor it took, the loss of revenue, and the stress Stellrecht experienced, Nielsen offered a fig leaf. Did Stellrecht want to partner with Backcountry.com to sell their used gear in his store? Nielsen wondered. Stellrecht did. Starting in the next few weeks, Stellrecht will make periodic trips to Backcountry.com’s HQ to pick up items customers have returned to be sold as used gear in his stores. Backcountry will sell the gear on consignment, just like anybody else.
“Nielsen clearly didn’t want to just cut me a check, to go out and throw money around to fix this,” Stellrecht says.
I asked Stellrecht if he’d rather that Nielsen and the Backcountry.com C-suite had just let him keep the name Backcountry Pursuit to begin with. But no, he’s quite happy with this arrangement.
“I like this option a lot better,” he says. “It’s way more than I expected them to do.”
This move from Backcountry is part of a broader plan to rebuild trust in a brand that badly burned bridges over these lawsuits. Backcountry.com also decided to partner with David Ollila, founder of Marquette Backcountry Ski, one of the most outspoken litigants in the trademark saga, a man who vowed to risk everything fighting for his brand. Backcountry.com will reportedly bring Ollila’s skis into their online space. Backcountry.com is also helping support Backcountry Babes, another organization they sued.
Stellrecht, for his part, is sanguine about the experience. “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 a small business owner.” He penned a letter to not only his customers but to the entire outdoor community in an uproar over the lawsuits. You can read that, here.