Earlier this month, when Lindsey Davis announced the permanent closure of Wylder Goods, the online retailer she founded with Jainee Dial in 2016, she mused on the idea of success. "You have to measure your own success in life," she said. "It’s important to know when to fold and give yourself permission to do that." For Wylder Goods, "it was time."
It was a bittersweet moment for Davis, but softened by the news that she had a "fantastic job lined up in the industry." Today, she announced her new position. Davis will take over as VP of the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable, joining executive director Jessica Wahl and the rest of the organization at one of its most challenging and important moments, as it helps the industry navigate the hardships of the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting economic fallout.
We caught up with Davis to ask about her first days on the job, current projects, and her hopes for the coming months and years.
You officially started last week. What have the first few days on the job been like?
It's a really interesting time to be joining an organization because everybody is doing uncharacteristic work right now. It's far from business as usual. I'm meeting people in a phase of management that is unprecedented, meeting colleagues and peers on Zoom with babies in their laps—it's a vulnerable and humanizing time to be meeting everybody.
My first job was applying for the Paycheck Protection Program and jumping into the CARES Act. I would say that's a pretty unique way to start a job. But now I'm working on a long-term survey project with all of the association members that will serve as a tool for tracking changes in the industry as the pandemic unfolds. It will give us the data we need to do advocacy work and make sure outdoor recreation is prioritized in all these funding packages that are being discussed.
Can you talk more about this survey?
We're working with Lee Davis, the executive director of the Outdoor Economy Initiative at Oregon State University, to build it. Right now it looks like a survey, but eventually it's going to exist as a dashboard that will help us measure the impact of the pandemic—specifically the differences between the various recreation sectors. It's going to be interesting to look at when it's all done. Some of the industry's sectors are actually benefiting from people being home. Others are obviously suffering.
Has anything surprised you about the role so far?
On my third day, I was on a call with the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. We were talking about deferring the payment of excise taxes that are collected from archery and fishing organizations, which has never happened before. It's an unprecedented advocacy moment. ORR is asking for relief for those businesses so they don't get hit with a bill during this difficult time. These are landmark moments for the industry. Also, just to be on a call with the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was a novel experience! The level at which ORR operates is really impressive.
How does your new role compare to running a startup?
What's immediately different is knowing that I have the backing of decades of wisdom and support—both from the board and the member organizations of ORR. It feels like I have access to expertise in a way that I didn't have with Wylder. That's a really good feeling. I was hungry for that after running a company for so long. In the startup world, there's often nobody to give you course corrections, or mentor you, or give you guidance from an objective standpoint. That sort of institutional wisdom is something I'm grateful for at ORR. On the other hand, parts of the job feel familiar because ORR is a very lean, small team. I'm comforted by that part. It's a small but mighty organization, just like Wylder was.
Beyond the immediate crisis, what challenges do you see coming down the road?
This is a little bittersweet, coming from the retailer background, but the industry has changed so much over the last decade. That presents some real challenges. When we started Wylder, "ecommerce only" was still kind of a dirty phrase. Now there's so much talk about ecommerce among brick-and-mortar shop owners who are struggling to adapt to modern sales strategies. In a way, the pandemic has forced the industry to evolve—to meet the demands of modern consumer expectations. But that's bittersweet, right? Because we want those mom-and-pop shops to survive. I think we will be a more informed and strengthened industry on the other side of this crisis, but it's going to be a painful process to get there.
Anything else you'd like to add?
Maybe just a strong sentiment of gratitude. I'm coming into this at a time when so many organizations are cutting employees and furloughing others, having to make difficult decisions about staffing. The demand for advocacy on behalf of the industry has never been greater. I'm incredibly honored to be starting at a time when advocacy expertise is needed in such a strong way.