Each month, BizWest asks a business leader to respond to questions regarding his or her industry and the issues that it faces. This month, Outdoor Industry Association executive director Lise Aangeenbrug talked about how the industry is grappling with the COVID-19 outbreak. This interview, conducted by phone in June, has been lightly edited for length and content.
BizWest: You’re relatively new to your position as OIA’s executive director. What’s it like taking on an important new role in the midst of so much uncertainty?
Aangeenbrug: I took over as executive director on March 4. So within two weeks of taking the position, it became clear that the global pandemic was going to have a major impact on our industry.
When REI decided to close in mid-March, it was one of the first indicators of just how big this was going to be. REI quickly realized that it needed to close its stores and the rest of the outdoor industry followed suit for the safety of employees and customers.
This is the case for the entire retail industry: Having to shut down your business and not being able to work directly with your customers has a devastating effect on businesses. Sales plummeted in March and April.
BizWest: The outdoor industry encompasses more than just retail and includes some other business sectors also hit especially hard by COVID-19, correct?
Aangeenbrug: That’s right. When we think about the total impact, we’re not just thinking about stores. We’re very closely tied to the travel and tourism sector because what makes the outdoor industry work is having places that people can get to and enjoy the outdoors. All parts of the system have been impacted. We saw public lands shut down — and for appropriate reasons.
BizWest: Even if they can’t get out to national parks, people still need to get outside and recreate. Have you seen any trends to suggest people are still enjoying the outdoors, but perhaps closer to home?
Aangeenbrug: I’ve seen more people outside in their neighborhoods and in local parks than I think I’ve seen before in my lifetime. We see it as kind of a silver lining of the pandemic. People are finding the fun and joy of the outdoors closer to home.
The pandemic also provides an opportunity to highlight outdoor recreation as a safer alternative to popular indoor summer activities like going to the movies.
After two months inside, it is a basic feeling of freedom to get outside. People are craving that. People are craving interaction and a safe way to do that is six feet apart outdoors.
BizWest: We’re mid-way through Colorado’s summer recreation season and it seems pretty clear that this will be a season unlike any other the industry has seen. But as we move into the winter ski season, is there any chance we could get back to something that feels more like normalcy?
Aangeenbrug: I think it depends on how you define normal.
This winter — much like what’s going on this summer — I think people may be less likely to get on a plane to travel than they have been in the past. The trend of people getting into their personal vehicles to visit nearby public lands could continue.
We’re going to see a lot more camping because you can control your environment.
So, we’re actually still hopeful about the summer season. We’re hoping to bring some momentum into the fall and winter. What we cannot predict is what happens with COVID-19 and a possible resurgence in the winter.