22 March 2020
Dear FOAM member,
With the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) – Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers Plan, Prepare and Respond to Coronavirus Disease 2019 – radically affecting all aspects of our lives, we need to best navigate our outfitting businesses through this time for the best possible outcome. Because this situation is new for all of us, we have never been through anything like this before, the FOAM board and staff have been meeting with other outfitters, guides, public policy makers, and other non-government organizations to provide these recommendations for outfitting through this COVID-19 pandemic.
While by no means is this a comprehensive list of how to have your business survive this crisis, it is a list of ideas and actions being implemented or tried by many outfitters that seem to be working.
- Prepare for economic hardship. Tighten your belt, go over both your business and personal finances; look for ways to cut or reduce costs such as banking costs or frivolous subscriptions. Make sure you have perfect clarity on what it takes to continue operating your business.
- Investigate and act on pursuing a loan through the Small Business Administration (SBA) under the COVID-19: Small Business Guidance & Loan Resources. Currently, all counties in Montana qualify under these programs.
- Talk to your bank and ask if they have any programs to specifically deal with the economic hardship from this situation. Some banks are offering deferment on loan payments without penalties. Ask about increasing or setting up lines of credit that may help you get through this. Work with and talk with your banker for advice or assistance they can offer on SBA loans.
- Outfitters should communicate with their guides early, often, and regularly to regarding any cancellations or schedule changes. Discuss any changes to cancellations or cancellation fees that may occur this season. Keep that communication current.
- Guides should communicate with their outfitter(s) regularly as well and remain on top of this ever-changing situation. Ask for any insight they might have on ways to get through this upcoming season.
- Communicate with your clients, though this may be unique for each, for any trips scheduled for the next 2 months. Reach out to them and discuss options to potentially reschedule for a later date. With the recommended guidelines from the CDC on how we need to deal with this situation changing almost daily, it will be challenging to predict what steps we will need to take throughout the season. Remain flexible, and remember the safety of our clients, our communities, and ourselves needs to be at the forefront of our decisions.
- Communication with other guides and outfitters is key. We are all in this together, but each of our businesses are unique. Talk with others in our industry on plans they have on how to deal with this and share your ideas, collaboration can help us all weather this storm.
- Look for opportunities that might not have been seen before. Try targeting local markets for potential business. If travel becomes further restricted, out of state visitors will not be travelling as much, but that holds true for our local residents as well and they may be more inclined to utilize our services.
If you are guiding trips, think about implementing the following procedures to keep you, your guides, your clients, and shuttle drivers safe. The following were adopted largely from Jake Walbridge at Montana Troutfitters.
- Have all guides equipped with disinfecting wipes and hand sanitizer. Clients are strongly encouraged to have their own as well.
- Use disinfecting wipes regularly and often on all surfaces in the boat, vehicle, and gear.
- Meet clients at the ramp or river to limit time in enclosed vehicles.
- For float trips, encourage clients to have their vehicle shuttled as well.
- To minimize exposure from close proximity in boats, encourage walk/wade trips or single floaters.
- Disinfect rental gear, strongly suggest having the clients bring their own gear, including rods and reels.
- In slightly colder weather, cover up as best as possible. Wearing a neck gaiter, gloves, and hat will go a long way to minimize skin-to-skin contact or skin-on-gear contact. Also, seems like COVID-19 is spread through aerosolized or air borne exposure. Clients in the rear of the boat may be encouraged to sit down or wear a face buff.
- Lubricate knots using the river water or knot lube, avoid licking leaders at this time.
- Bring your own water bottle. Have clients bring their own water bottle and their own lunches.
- If you are feeling sick, tired, or worn down in any way, stay at home.
- While at this time this will not be popular, we would add perhaps take a mandatory quarantine for the next couple weeks and not interact with clients. COVID-19 is becoming a social issue, not necessarily an outfitting issue. Our health care resources in our counties and communities are not prepared for a major outbreak.
We have been in contact with several county Departments of Health. Right now, Bighorn County is implementing tight recommendations on lodges, asking them to postpone trips through April. They are encouraging other counties to follow suit.
FOAM has been in constant communication with Rachel Schmidt, Director, Montana Office of Outdoor Recreation with how our state government is willing to help the outdoor industry. We have been in contact with the Montana Board of Outfitters as well. We will keep you up-to-date and informed on any new opportunities or conditions as they change. If you hear of anything related to COVID-19 that would help us inform guides and outfitters, we encourage you to reach out to any of the Directors or staff listed below.
Thank you for your patience, support, and understanding. We will all get through this together.
Michael Bias, Executive Director
Jason Fleury, President, Gallatin Director
Tony Reinhardt, Vice-President, Bitterroot Director
Chris Bradley, Big Hole/Beaverhead Director
Phil Sgamma, Madison Director
Tucker Nelson, Yellowstone Director
Jeremy Gilbertson, Bighorn Director
Jason Orzechowski, Missouri Director