Colorado’s known for embracing Mother Nature, but the COVID-19 pandemic has upended the outdoor recreation industry.
Businesses have scrambled to adjust to mandated closures and safety requirements, as well as supply chain disruptions.
Many have already lost tens of thousands of dollars in revenue and face a steep climb to cut their deficits in 2020.
But with businesses reopening, many owners are hopeful that the pandemic’s most damaging impacts are behind them.
Local outdoor rec business owners told the Business Journal how they’ve been impacted by the pandemic, and what they expect from the summer months.
PEAK FLY SHOP
Peak Fly Shop, a full-service fly-fishing business with one location in Colorado Springs and another in Woodland Park, has been around for 22 years.
But once the shop was forced to close because of COVID-19, co-owner Brad Tomlinson said there was little they could do to generate revenue.
“The only thing that was really approved by the state [during the stay-at-home order] was online sales,” Tomlinson said.
“And we were still working on our online store — we did not have a full store set up — so for us, that was pretty bad.”
Fortunately, Tomlinson said, the shop got a revenue boost from loyal customers who wanted to support the business and mitigate the economic damage.
Many customers called or emailed Tomlinson to place orders that he then shipped to them, and many others purchased gift certificates to boost revenue while the shop was closed.
“That got us through,” Tomlinson said. “It was definitely a blow, but certainly not as bad as I anticipated it would be.”
In addition to fishing products, Peak Fly Shop offers fishing and fly-tying classes, as well as guided fishing trips to places along the South Platte and Arkansas rivers, Lake Pueblo State Park and other destinations not far from Colorado Springs.
The guided trips represent about 25-30 percent of the business’ overall revenue.
Guide tours have seen disruptions in the past when wildfires and mudslides have cut access to popular fishing destinations — and Tomlinson said that when the pandemic began, he thought it would be 10 times more damaging than past events.
“And it really wasn’t,” Tomlinson said. “It was on par with those events, but not vastly worse like I projected it would be.”
They still lost a lot of money.
Tomlinson said the shop saw about a 75 percent drop in revenue compared to the same period last year. They lost more than $30,000 worth of guide trip business in the first two days of the stay-at-home order and he estimates they lost $65,000-$70,000 thanks to guide trip cancellations.
And because many visitors to Colorado Springs schedule fishing trips while visiting the city for other reasons, and travel to the city is still sparse, Tomlinson said he expects cancellations are far from over.
“It’s pretty crushing and affects the geometry for the rest of the year,” Tomlinson said of the revenue losses.
Before the pandemic, the owners had been considering a new location, but that move is now on hold.
“That’s become significantly more difficult to think about now,” Tomlinson said, “because that capital kind of got burned up. But I think we’ll weather the storm. We will come out on the other side of it bruised and battered and probably running a little leaner, but I think we’ll be OK.”
The shop will likely face supply shortages because of the pandemic.
“Because of all the factories around the world that have been shut down and some of the port closures, there’s definitely going to be, and already are, shortages and short-runs of product,” Tomlinson said.
“Even major American rod manufacturers … some of their componentry that they put on their rods comes from overseas. And some of that stuff is not available and is not expected to become available anytime soon.”
Since reopening, Peak Fly Shop has been requiring masks both for employees and customers, and has implemented new cleaning procedures.
The sole employee at the small location in Woodland Park — Tomlinson’s father — is in an at-risk age group, so they’re taking every precaution to ensure his safety.
“He is still strictly curbside only,” Tomlinson said.
“We have a large deck so people just sit out on the deck and call [their order] in and he drops it out the door. We’re not allowing anybody in that shop — which we hate to do, but we’re trying to be conscientious and flatten the curve.”
OLD TOWN BIKE SHOP
John Crandall, founder and owner of Old Town Bike Shop, said that during the first weeks of the stay-at-home order, the downtown bike sales and service business was limited to bike repair, with its only retail sales coming in tires, tubes, chains or other items needed to “keep somebody rolling.”
But then one of its employees tested positive for COVID-19, and the shop was forced to close entirely for two weeks.
For the month of April, Crandall said the shop’s revenue was about 20 percent of normal, and he estimated it likely lost $50,000-$60,000 in revenue.
After the shop was thoroughly disinfected, Crandall reopened for business May 4 and discovered a pent-up demand for bicycles as a result of the pandemic.
“We sold several times more bicycles in that first week than we normally would,” Crandall said.
Since reopening, the store has mostly offered curbside sales and is allowing only two customers in the store at a time.
They’ve also been requiring masks for employees and customers and have used the business’ back parking lot as a check-in area for repair consultations and to answer questions about bikes.
A major problem the business now faces is a shortage of supplies, as Crandall said it seems many bike shops throughout the country were not following the same guidelines for safety and social distancing.
“The rest of the country was not really playing by the same rules,” Crandall said. “So the supply of under-$1,000 bicycles is totally decimated. There basically are none for the next couple of months. All the major companies … have almost no inventory and we’re a couple of months away from getting any resupply.”
Crandall said he expects multiple factors have caused the shortage, including that most of the bikes in the under-$1,000 range — the bread-and-butter sellers for Old Town Bike Shop — are made in China, where factories were shut down for prolonged periods.
And “because the gyms are closed, people are looking for any form of exercise,” Crandall said. “So we had this kind of triple whammy with our own little issue [the employee testing positive], the supply chain being interrupted, and the demand growing.”
For Old Town Bike Shop, May, June and July are typically the busiest months.
“So this is kind of a famine-feast-famine situation,” Crandall said. “We had these five or six weeks of very low income, and then this huge rush, and now there’s no bikes. We do have some bikes, of course — it’s not like there’s nothing left on the floor — but there’s very little selection compared to what we would normally have this time of year.”
Thanks to the early May sales boom, the business is positioned to do well this month, but Crandall expects the store will see revenue drop significantly in June, July and August.
Looking forward, Crandall said he’s unsure exactly what business will look like, but noted, for the most part, the shop’s customers have been understanding.
“And that doesn’t mean they’re not frustrated and that they wouldn’t like to see things different,” Crandall said.
“But as far as their response to us, most people have been really good about it.”
WORLD GOLF & SAND CREEK
For World Golf & Sand Creek Golf Course, the stay-at-home order had limited impact on course business, as the course only closed briefly.
But owner Mark Fontana said his business is different from other courses: Rounds of golf aren’t its primary source of income.
“We are the major teaching center in southern Colorado, and the [driving] range was shut down quite a bit longer, which was quite hurtful,” Fontana said.
Even since reopening, the on-site restaurant and café have been shut down, impacting events the course hosts and the income it generates.
Fontana said World Golf & Sand Creek Golf Course is also the leading golf equipment store in the area and has lost significant revenue due to the closure of its retail arm.
They also are facing supply shortages because of the pandemic.
“A lot of our golf equipment vendors have been unable to ship in the last month or so,” Fontana said. “So those things are all negatives. It’s hard to measure the effect of each one, but they all add up.”
Over the past three months, Fontana said the business is down about $100,000 in revenue.
“The issue with a golf course, as you might expect, is it’s all fixed cost,” Fontana said. “It’s a high-fixed-cost, low-variable-cost kind of business. So you don’t just shut everything down. You still have to mow the grass, you’ve got to water and fertilize and do all that stuff.”
Out on the course, scoring pencils have been removed and golfers are encouraged to bring their own or download a free scoring app for their phones.
The business is also enforcing 6-foot social distancing and limiting golf cart use. Otherwise, little on the course has changed.
“Golf has been around for 500 years, so the game doesn’t change in nature much,” Fontana said. “Our big problem is just getting enough people in the door.”
In terms of business volume, Fontana said things are starting to pick up.
“I really think we’re past the worst of it,” he said. “The driving range is doing quite well right now … things are getting better. And I think people are ready to get outside. They’re wanting to be health conscious, but they’re tired of sitting around at home, and a golf course is a wonderful place to get out and to feel safe.”
But the revenue the business has lost thus far can’t be recovered.
“We went into this fairly strong [financially] so we’re lucky in that regard — but every round of golf represents a certain amount of revenue and that round wasn’t played,” Fontana said. “And that doesn’t mean that somebody plays two rounds the next time. So we’re hopeful we’ll get back to normal, but our losses are now losses. We’ve just got to look at it that way.”