The Weekly - May 19, 2020 - 11


attendees, it's the industry's largest
paddlesports consumer event and
includes educational seminars,
clinics, and presentations.
"It was one of the hardest
decisions I've ever made," says
organizer and Rutabaga Paddlesports owner Darren Bush. "Half of
our exhibitors were already there
and set up. I knew if we closed,
we'd be saving lives and stopping
the spread of COVID-19, so I felt
peaceful knowing it was the right
thing to do. But it was definitely
a significant financial hit, and it
continues to be painful."

Paddlesports manufacturers have
been equally hard hit, with supply
chain issues, retailers canceling
orders, PPP loan issues, heavy
inventory burdens, and more. One
of the biggest players in the space,
Johnson Outdoors, reported that its
watercraft recreation sales fell 38%
due to COVID-19's impacts on production and demand. The decrease
eclipses the losses of its fishing, diving, and camping categories.
"As governments open up for
business in their jurisdictions, so
will we while strictly adhering to
public health guidelines, cleaning
protocols, and workflow practices
limiting employee interaction,"
says marketing manager Alex
Sherbinow, adding employees
working from home will continue
to be able to do so. Some locations, he adds, will ramp up before
others, and some positions may be
suspended longer than others. The
company resumed production and
shipments in its North American
operations on April 22, but executives say government mandates
overlapped with its primary selling season, with the third quarter
expected to be impacted as well.
All this comes when the company
is rolling out its new seven-boat
Sportsman fishing kayak line from
Old Town Canoe.

The SUP side of the equation
hasn't fared any better.
"Between the tweaked tariffs, the
virus, and the closures, we've seen a
significant amount of our wholesale
orders be delayed," says Peter Hall
of Hala Gear. "That's costly because
we're not turning our inventory into
cash as quickly as we need to."
One thing they are focusing on,
he adds, is their affiliate marketing
program for their shuttered retailers. "It allows them to refer sales
to our web channels, and they get
a commission on the sale to help
them make a bit of revenue," Hall
says. "We're trying to work with our
dealer network to give them the
flexibility they need."
He adds they're also focusing
on their product and the release it
can give their customers. "Thankfully, we offer something that helps
people get outside and stay active,
helping their mental state, while
still abiding by social distancing
standards," he says.
Inflatable kayak-maker Advanced Elements has also seen some
air let out of its "sails" this season.
Luckily, a recent investment in
computer and network technology
helped when the pandemic hit. "In
hindsight it was key to what was to
come," says Marketing Director Clay
Haller. "Being in San Francisco, we
were among the first to receive the
shelter-at-home mandate, and our
entire office was up and running
remotely overnight. It took some
getting used to, but everyone has
done an amazing job to keep business going."
Thankfully, he adds, its fulfillment center in Nevada was deemed
essential and has continued shipping and receiving. "There were still
major disruptions and hurdles to
deal with, including order cancellations and uncertainty, so it hasn't
been easy by any means," he adds.
"But we're fortunate and thankful,
and all signs point to paddlesports
being among the industries to prosper in this new age."

As if increased online competition,
lower margins, and rising brick-andmortar costs weren't enough, the
virus has hit specialty retailers especially hard. Without being able to
open their doors-during the peak
selling season no less-cash flow
dried-up while the rivers surged.
But being paddlers, many have
also been quick to change course
midstream. Venerable retailers like
4Corners Riversports in Durango,
Colorado, have hosted innovative online gear swaps and sales.
Wheat Ridge, Colorado's Downriver
Equipment, one of the niche's largest rafting retailers, and Madison,
Wisconsin's Rutabaga launched
curbside pickup programs that
boosted sales.

"As far as adapting, we're offering curbside pickup, and our web
is helping to keep us afloat," says
Rutabaga's Bush, adding the store
sold gift cards for cash flow, and a
PPP loan helped keep its staff working. "Our customers have been kind,
patient, and supportive. One even
sent a four-figure check thanking us
for 20 years of service."
While he admits it's difficult to
make predictions or projections,
they're doing what it takes to succeed. "Specialty shops should be able
to compete against the big guys by
being more creative and flexible," he
says. "I recently Facetimed a customer, and we just did everything
virtually. He ended up with boats,
paddles, and PFDs for his whole
family, as well as a rack system, and
we delivered it to his house an hour

Masks produced
at the ReChaco

With paddlers always known for helping each other in times of
need, its industry is no exception. Case in point: Chaco, which
shifted its focus from sandal repairs and product customization
to producing face masks and other critical protective equipment needed by health care and other first responders working
through the pandemic. "We're doers," says Lisa Kondrat, director of operations for the ReChaco Factory, which switched gears
from footwear to face masks. "It's not in our team's DNA to stand
by when we have the opportunity and resources to take action.
We want our skills and machinery to be useful in this crisis."	-E.B.


The Weekly - May 19, 2020

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of The Weekly - May 19, 2020

The Weekly - May 19, 2020 - Cover1
The Weekly - May 19, 2020 - Cover2
The Weekly - May 19, 2020 - Contents
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