Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Give retailers five for fighting: Small store says it's being bullied by chain

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On Dec. 27, the Winnipeg Free Press reported on a dispute between Ice Time and River City Sports Inc. surrounding the sale and supply of Jets gear.

Ice Time has since withdrawn the allegation that River City Sports Inc. has engaged in bullying tactics and accepts that River City Sports Inc. has adhered to legal business practice under the Competition Act in its dealings with Ice Time.

The Winnipeg Free Press apologizes to River City Sports Inc. for any misperception about its relationship with Ice Time or its business practices arising out of reporting on this dispute.

The original story follows below.

The owner of a West Kildonan sporting goods store feels he's being pushed around by one of the bigger players in town -- all because of the Winnipeg Jets.

Stuart Emms, owner of Ice Time Sports, says a number of local suppliers of Jets paraphernalia are refusing to sell their gear to his 3,000-square-foot store on Main Street because River City Sports has threatened to cut its much larger order if the suppliers continue to sell to Ice Time.

"It's not fair competition. We came into this business six months ago thinking that we'd get our stuff from our suppliers, put them at whatever price we can, and it will be fair competition. River City wants to corner the market," Emms said.

Emms went so far as to say his store is being "bullied."

"Every retailer should be able to get the product. Customers should be able to pick where they buy it and not only go to one store because they're the one that has it," he said.

A spokesman for River City Sports denied the accusations.

"That doesn't sound like anything we would do," said Zak Rubin, its regional general manager. "We're a reputable business and that's not how you do business generally. We have a reputation of selling a lot of product through our six stores. (Suppliers) are going to like us because we move their product and it makes everybody a lot of money," he said.

"If a (supplier) doesn't want to sell to a smaller retailer, that's their choice, not ours," Rubin said.

Rubin said it's very common in the industry for retailers to request exclusive products from suppliers, such as a particular shirt or hat. They're called an "SMU," or special make up.

"That's so customers can come to your store to get a specific style of item," he said.

Emms said he's still able to source goods emblazoned with the Jets logo, but he has to jump through a few hoops to get it.

"It costs us a little bit more because we have to buy it from this person who bought it from that person," he said.

One supplier, who asked that neither his name nor the name of his firm be used, said there are a lot of frayed nerves and tension among retailers selling Jets products.

"The licensed business has taken a lot of hits with the fake jerseys that are out there. The major accounts are being really aggressive at protecting what they think is theirs," he said.

The "keystone rule" when it comes to licensed sporting goods is they are to be marked up 100 per cent, versus "normal" sales margins of 30 to 40 per cent, say industry sources.

Emms said he looked into legal options but was told if there's no written proof of the "bullying," just anecdotal evidence, there's nothing he can do about it. And that's going to cost him at the till.

"Sure, it's costing us a ton of money, especially at this time of year and with the Jets being as popular as they are. It's hard for the little guy to survive when that happens," he said.

Philip Watts, a lawyer specializing in corporate and commercial law at Pitblado LLP, said he couldn't comment on the Ice Time situation specifically, but in general, there are provisions in the Competition Act that deal with the refusal to deal with retailers.

"There are a number of situations where a producer refusing to supply certain retailers with a good that they supplied to other retailers could be a matter that's considered anti-competitive," he said.

geoff.kirbyson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 27, 2011 A6

History

Updated on Wednesday, February 1, 2012 at 10:51 PM CST: Adds correction at top of story

February 2, 2012 at 10:52 AM: On Dec. 27, the Winnipeg Free Press reported on a dispute between Ice Time and River City Sports Inc. surrounding the sale and supply of Jets gear. Ice Time has since withdrawn the allegation that River City Sports Inc. has engaged in bullying tactics and accepts that River City Sports Inc. has adhered to legal business practice under the Competition Act in its dealings with Ice Time. The Winnipeg Free Press apologizes to River City Sports Inc. for any misperception about its relationship with Ice Time or its business practices arising out of reporting on this dispute.

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