Stores saw a surge in customers preparing for Hurricane Irma, but are prepared for some slow months ahead.

As if the devastation from Hurricane Harvey wasn’t enough, Hurricane Irma swooped through the Caribbean and Florida on Sunday wreaking havoc along the way. More than 6.7 million people in Florida are without power, and there’s flooding and damage throughout the state.

"We've got a little bit of cleaning up to do after Hurricane Irma passed through! Back in business very soon!" reads the post on Estero River Outfitter's Facebook page. The below video shows the scene outside their store.

Outdoor retail stores in Florida saw a boom in business as people anxiously prepared for the storm, and there’s no doubt they’ll be impacted as the dust continues to settle. Travel Country Outfitters owner Mike Plante first couldn’t even get to his Altamonte Springs store to survey the damage because of the enforced curfew in his county. Fortunately, there wasn’t structural damage when he did arrive, but there was no power.

“Even without the power, we’ll be open. We’ll use headlamps and lanterns, and we have a wifi-based credit card terminal,” says Plante, staying positive during a hectic time.

Plante says customers came into store before the storm hit on Sunday to load up on water filters, freeze dried foods, YETI coolers, and even Big Green Eggs and charcoal. “I’ve lived through a lot of storms here, and this was by far the most prepared people have ever been,” he says. “People were truly frightened.”

That preparation also brought customers in to Economy Tackle / Dolphin Paddle Sports in Sarasota as well. “We sold six kayaks on Friday – every one to folks looking to be able to get back to their island property,” owner Al Hurxthal explains. He rode out the storm inside his store.

Even stores that were fortunate enough not to see damage will still see effects from the storm. “People have more important things on their mind then buying gear right now,” says Joe Butler, owner of Black Creek Outfitters in Jacksonville. Butler boarded up his store during the storm but is dealing with debris on his property. The severe flooding in the city is bound to impact his business for several weeks.

Joe Butler evaluates the debris and damage to his Jacksonville store property, Black Creek Outfitters.

Joe Butler evaluates the debris and damage to his Jacksonville store property, Black Creek Outfitters.

But Butler remains positive remembering something his father-in-law always said: Every problem is just an opportunity in disguise. In this case, he believes it is the vendors that have an opportunity here.

“If I were a vendor, I’d look to make sure I can help stores in the area for the next six to eight months during the winter season,” says Joe Butler of Black Creek Outfitters.

His suggestion is to raise relief efforts and awareness of their brand by donating older products or selling them at an extreme discount to help those who were impacted by the storm.

Gary Secunda, owner of Go2 Outfitters in Lutz, was fortunate not to see any damage either. He also reports a surge in traffic leading up to the storm and customers stocking up on flashlights, lanterns, stoves and fuel, batteries, solar panels, and backup batteries, largely due, no doubt, to his proactive approach to connecting with customers.

Florida Bay Outfitters braces for the hurricane and regularly updates customers via Facebook.

Florida Bay Outfitters braces for the hurricane and regularly updates customers via Facebook.

“We engaged with our customers via our mailing list to let them know what was in stock and when replenishments were coming in,” he says.

The detailed e-mails included Gary’s personal cell phone number in case customers needed it. They also kept people up-to-date on Facebook sharing when they still had propane canisters, storm matches, and water purification tablets available. One customer shared their gratitude for keeping them in the loop by saying they earned his business for as long as he’s living in Florida. Another responded that the e-mails are a great example of why you should always support locally owned businesses.

"This hurts business because everyone traveled to get away from the storms. People are now going to be fixing their homes and getting their lives organized again," says Frank Woll, owner of Florida Bay Outfitters in Key Largo. He says that they are open for business, but that "It will take a while to get back into the groove of things." 

We tried to reach out to stores in the areas of strongest impact including, Backcountry Cowboy Outfitters in Islamorada, Naples Outfitters, Estero River Outfitters, and more but were unable to get through. We did see that some continue to keep in touch with customers via Facebook.

Rising from the waters

As far as relief efforts, many are still evaluating where to help and what to do. Plante says until they address who was hit the hardest, it’s hard to say what the needs are. But whatever those needs may be, he is confident the outdoor industry will step up.

“Our industry is so giving,” he says. “I can’t tell you how many texts I’ve already gotten from retailers and people in the industry offering to come down and help.”

Secunda agrees that the outdoor industry is ready to help in catastrophes. As for those who want to help, he suggests developing a mobile disaster relief truck to visit devastated areas. He says giving out camp stoves with fuel, tents, sleeping pads, solar powered lights, water containers, purifiers, and more can truly help those in need.

Here are the industry relief efforts we’ve heard of so far:

LuminAID set 3,000 solar phone chargers and lanterns to people impacted by the hurricane.

LuminAID set 3,000 solar phone chargers and lanterns to people impacted by the hurricane.

  • LuminAID sent more than 3,000 solar phone chargers and lanterns to those affected by Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Harvey. Its partner Toyota is matching their support and donating 3,000 PackLite Max 2-in-1 Phone Chargers and 740 solar lanterns. LuminAID is also working with DayOne Response, Inc. to provide clean water, safe light, and phone charging for communities impacted by these storms. And its Give Light, Get Light Program lets customers buy a PackLite Nova USB Solar Inflatable Lantern for themselves and then one will also be sent to distribution centers for hurricane relief and other disaster response work.
  • KL Outdoors, Michigan-based parent company of Sun Dolphin small boats, Evoke kayaks, and Five Peaks portable restrooms, is planning to support FEMA during relief efforts by helping with portable restroom facilities. “These are typically not needed until after the flood water recedes and the true effort begins,” explains CEO Chuck Smith.
  • Sawyer has sent insect repellents to support relief workers in Florida. The company also sent 50,000 filters to Haiti and the surrounding islands.
  • Wolverine Worldwide Foundation will be making a $40,000 donation to the American Red Cross. and committing to donate over 35,000 units of footwear and apparel to the communities affected by this natural disaster. The Company's total commitment will exceed $2.6 million dollars.

Have you been impacted by the storm or are you donating to relief efforts? E-mail us at snewsedit@aimmedia.com to share your story. 

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