Where Do We Go Next? The Outdoor World is Key to Our Healing

 Having just ended our second week of #social distancing and #stayhome instructions, the world is a dramatically different place, with the outdoor community facing extraordinary challenges, the likes of which we have never seen before. I know we are resilient, as we proved in 2008 and after

9-11, but the path before us requires a completely different kind of navigation.

As a communications professional having had the privilege of serving this industry for nearly 30 years, not only have we have had to quickly pivot with regard to how and when we share our clients’ stories, but also, how we engage with the media. Our collective worlds have been turned upside. We do not know when we might return to normal, or what that normal will look like.

Yet, the outdoors has provided solace for many  — taking walks, flying kites, riding scooters, taking a bike ride, walking their dogs or running on the beach. And yes, countless numbers have not followed the #socialdistancing rules including backcountry devotees and spring breakers with their “devil may care attitude.” Finding the balance about how best to go outdoors while following established guidance has been a struggle, but there is no question – fresh air and sunshine has lifted all of us and will continue to do so.

Two weeks ago, I reached out to Dean Baquet, executive editor of the  New York Times with a simple subject line: “Outdoors is the new #social distancing.” My message was simple, the paper needed to cover this.

He agreed, the story was assigned within ten minutes and posted within three hours.

The outdoors is incredibly relevant to the turmoil we face right now. The question is: what role it plays in the future and how has Covid – 19 impacted our world. The first answer is significantly. However, it is far too early for any clear answers. I am not an expert in retail and don’t proclaim to be. I am, however, heartened today by the numbers of people my husband and I saw on the North Shore of Boston simply enjoying their neighborhoods, soaking in the sunshine (after a brutal week of being battered by brutal New England winds, rain and gray skies) and taking a walk.

In thinking about where we go next, here are a few general observations:

  • The outdoors will be front and center and crucial to our healing.
  • We will go back to basics with a strong desire for a holistic, health-and wellness-focused environment – especially in our homes
  • DIY will be top of mind
  • Eco friendly products will be important
  • Emergency preparation will continue to be in demand
  • WFH will evolve and expand

This business disruption will be a dramatic game changer for the outdoor community across the board – brands, retailers, the consumers, communicators and the business community at large. Specialty retail will be dramatically altered.  There will most certainly be a new normal.

The silver lining is that a whole new group of consumers are discovering the peace that outdoor activities can bring. It is our responsibility to find a way to nurture and keep this new consumer so they stay long into the future.

Empathy will be the governing word looking forward. What does this mean for the industry?

For Brands/Retailers:

  • Accessible price points: We will need more apparel and gear at accessible price points.
  • An inclusive point of view: We will need to engage with more diverse groups with wider ranges of sizes and offerings.
  • Style clarity: Styles may need to be simpler with fewer bells and whistles. (There will always be those outdoor devotees at the top of the pyramid looking for premium products.)
  • Broader distribution beyond specialty: Mainstream retail, e.g. Target and Walmart, will play a larger role, as will online.
  • Simple communication and messaging: We need to talk about footwear with good grip and shirts that are breathable instead of overly technical jargon.
  • How To Get Outdoors: There must more guidance on how to “get started” in the outdoors for those experiencing the outdoors for the first time.
  • Product Durability Will be Critical: As consumers recover, spending will be curtailed and those that do spend will want reasonably priced products that last a long time.

For the Business Community:

  • A New Reality for Trade Shows: Trade shows need to reflect this new reality, but it is critical for us to find a way to preserve the magic of seeing a friend in the aisles of Outdoor Retailer.
  • Protect the Industry’s Heart and Soul: We must protect the heart and soul that has kept this community and industry resilient through previous challenges, e.g. 2008 and 9/1, especially specialty.
  • New Trade Show Models: Consider a trade show that adapts an equalizer model, where all booths are the same size where the product is the key focus, along with best practices and education.
  • Shop Local: Specialty retail will be changed forever. Shop local will be the rallying cry for those that can.


  • Day Trips Will Be Key: Day trips or “drive to” destinations will be the first choice for consumers, if any. Eoin Comerford, CEO of Moosejaw, coined the term “statecations” as opposed to “staycations.”
  • Local Parks: Local parks will see increased traffic.Fitness: Running and walking, seeing a burst of activity right now, will continue to be strong.
  • Overall Outdoor Activity Boost: When it is safe, we will see a burst of outdoor activity across the board.

For Communicators

  • Strong Story and Opportunity: There will be an even stronger story to share about the benefits of the outdoors though with fewer marketing dollars. We will need to be efficient and thoughtful, as our world has also changed.
  • With the Absence of Trade Shows, Virtual Previews Will Be the New Normal: Virtual platforms will grow and evolve to reflect a changed trade show schedule.
  • Public Relations in All of its Forms Will Be Vital: Story telling that is informative and helpful will play a key role in helping the industry get back on its feet.

This industry has a soul like no other and, as it has done before, it will come together stronger than ever to address the hard work ahead. Drawing from my sailing background, a rising tide lifts all boats.