As the country quickly shuts down in an unprecedented way, many big outdoor retailers like Patagonia, all VF brands, and REI are following suit. Most retailers who operate an online business, as well as brands that operate direct-to-consumer, are still selling product and shipping it to customers, and online sales are sure to spike at the expense of brick-and-mortar. (Patagonia is an exception: They halted all business until March 27.)

But for smaller, independent, brick-and-mortar retailers with one or a few doors, the decisions to shutter are more agonizing, and the consequences can be more devastating.

“It’s time like these that I’m so grateful to have close relationships with fellow retailers that I can call to discuss these matters with,” says Joe Butler, owner of Black Creek Outfitters and board chair of Grassroots Outdoor Alliance, the coalition of 70 specialty outdoor retailers.

For members of Grassroots, sharing ideas, best practices, challenges, and solutions is, well, the whole point. “We want all specialty outdoor retail to succeed,” says Butler. “Not just our members. The scenario we are facing as retailers and as an organization with COVID-19 is exceptional and full of unknowns. To that end Grassroots has an obligation to gather and share what we know about best practices to help you though these times.”

Grassroots offer these tips for all specialty retailers

  1. Call your top 10 vendors (sales and credit). Keep them in the loop on what is happening in your store. 
  2. Because some vendors are pushing out future orders early we recommend you place all preseason orders on a “call before ship” status
  3. Check your lease to see if you have a “Business Interruption Clause” in place. Several different types of coverage could be triggered. To maximize your protection, assess existing coverage and develop a plan for putting carriers on notice.
  4. Talk to your business insurance agent to find out what coverage you might have. Some Property and Casualty policies have clauses that could kick in.
  5. Investigate your state’s labor laws regarding furloughing employees.
  6. Events: With the best of intention, we are seeing many organizations doing their best to move ahead with business as usual, only to cancel at the last minute. Be realistic. Best practices in the event space seem to be evaluating postponement/cancellation of anything within the 8-week horizon.
  7. Read this letter from the Grassroots attorney containing guidelines around workplace and HR issues that might come out of COVID-19. LINK
  8. Read a strong example of some solid communication that Trail Creek Outfitters shared with their customers. LINK
  9. Review this list of cleaning protocols from the CDC adapted to an outdoor store by the Summit Hut. LINK
  10. Stay up to date on the latest information regarding the Connect buying show. Please know that the Grassroots staff is moving ahead with equal strategies of (1) holding Connect as planned and (2) working in partnership with key vendors to create a Digital Connect process. LINK

The silver lining

Consider that there may be some positives here, says Butler. "Social distancing, as well as major cancellations in industrial and international travel, will likely create some new opportunities to get people into non-crowded outdoor spaces, not to mention the reality that being outdoors is a great way to manage stress and anxiety. We are starting to hear this refrain from more and more retailers."


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