'Duck Dynasty's Walmart Line Is Massively Successful, So What's a Retailer To Do?

As fans shout out in anger against the suspension Phil Robertson from Duck Dynasty received for his homophobic remarks made in a recent interview with GQ, take a moment to let this fact sink in: The man is swimming in $400 million dollars of one year’s worth of merchandise sales, half of which are from the mega-retailer/master of the capitalist universe Walmart. Four. Hundred. Million. Dollars. And that’s just on merchandise. Quite a lot for a family of what Stephen Colbert referred to as, “Backwoods Luisiana bird-murderer[s].” They’re not just a dynasty, they are an empire.

So what’s a trillion-dollar corporation to do? Well, it’s going to be a sticky situation for Walmart, as well as Target and Kohl’s, who also sell exclusive Duck Dynasty merchandise. It could spell disaster if they choose to keep or pull the line from their stores. If they keep the line, it will send a message about their company’s political position on homosexuality and could incite customers and employees to ban against it. Most of us can’t disassociate Chick-fil-a from its outwardly religious-based opinions on homosexuality, and that sort of image is hard to shake. Then again, the chain surges forward.

If Walmart pulls the Duck Dynasty line, they will potentially lose hundreds of millions of dollars in sales. For them, it probably comes down to a risk assessment on which decision will have a deeper impact on their bottom line, but despite the fact that Walmart always seems to be in hot water with the public’s opinion, they continue on as the unstoppable retail force that they are.

However, this is not the first time controversy has caused a huge retailer to consider their responsibility in the matter at hand. Let’s take a look into the nature of celebrity, bad press, and sales.

Beyoncé

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Beyoncé’s status of power in the world of pop culture was brilliantly summed up in a short thread on Reddit. “Who does Beyoncé think she is?” asked one Redditior. “Beyoncé.” replied another, and that’s exactly the case. She released a full album with corresponding music videos secretly on iTunes at the stroke of midnight on Dec. 13. No press. No news. No retail endorsement. And though the album hits store shelves this week, it will not be available at Target, who carried an exclusive version of her last album 4.

As Jena McGregor at the Washington Post points out, Target's decision is indeed a risky move. The company will not only be missing out on the guaranteed huge sales of the CD in store, they will also miss out on sales of other items that many are bound to purchase when heading into a store to pick up the album. Target may be sending out a warning to other artists that if they follow in Beyonce’s footsteps, they will also be snubbed by Target, but at what expense?

Justin Timberlake’s The 20/20 Experience had a special endorsement with Target and it was the highest-selling album of 2013 in stores and online. However, in one week of online-only sales Beyoncé managed to have the second-highest selling album of the year. And though the company claimed, “While there are many aspects that contribute to our approach and we have appreciated partnering with Beyoncé in the past, we are primarily focused on offering CDs that will be available in a physical format at the same time as all other formats” — I can’t help but wonder if one of those aspects is the explicit nature of the album. Perhaps their decision was as political as it was business-related. In any case, she didn’t really need you that much in the end, Target.

Paula Deen

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2013 was the year that Paula Deen was disgraced for her vile and racist behavior. In case you were living under a rock since this summer, it was discovered that Deen is known to spout racial slurs at employees and had a “good old days” pre-Civil War era wedding for one of her sons. And when she apologized, it was quite clear she wasn’t actually sorry. She was swiftly dropped from the Food Network and lost many of her endorsement deals... but not all of them. Walmart did in fact remove her cookware and merchandise from their shelves, however, some of her products continue to be sold on their Web site.

Sears, Walgreens, Kmart, Target, QVC, and Home Depot among others also decided to phase out, discontinue, or “pause” selling Deen’s products.

Did she lose a lot? Yes. Millions. Is she still earning plenty and continues with other endorsements? She sure does. One of her continued partners is Kohl’s. So it won’t be hard to guess where they will land on the Duck Dynasty question. Which brings us to...

Duck Dynasty

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The A&E reality show has gone from niche viewing to a nationwide phenomenon. These bearded hunters and their families are raking it in with the sales of everything from t-shirts (which were Walmart’s top apparel sales in 2013) to a kids’ 4-wheeler ATV.

And like the Food Network to Paula Deen, A&E's response to Robertson was swift and clear, but the longer Walmart, Target and Kohl’s wait to make a decision about how to respond, if at all, will say something about their position on the controversy.