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Sally McCoy talks inspiration for CamelBak and industry issues

Special Forces and wildland firefighters inspire CamelBak CEO and the brand's innovations.

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Throughout the next month, SNEWS will recap its coverage of Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2013 with select stories from the O.R. Daily we published at the show July 31 – Aug. 3. It’s an opportunity for you to catch up on stories you might have missed in O.R.D., and for us to update and upload the articles to our searchable archives.

When she was a little girl, Sally McCoy wanted to be a park ranger.


But what she grew up to do —hold multiple leadership positions at major outdoor companies, most recently CamelBak —is at least as exciting.

Every working woman (and man, for that matter) can take inspiration from McCoy, a wife and mother who also successfully runs a business and dedicates time to nonprofits and advocacy issues.

With 20-plus years in the outdoor industry, McCoy offers deep insights on what plagues the business and which issues we need to focus on. Plus, she tells us who inspires her.

What are some issues the outdoor industry faces today and how can we address them?
I have picked two: first, the shift in what people consider outdoor activities and that impact on our industry, and second, the need for the industry to become articulate advocates with specific goals locally and nationally to protect our wild and open spaces.

How does the changing definition of “outdoor activities” have an impact on businesses?
Americans have become outside omnivores. You have alpinists doing routes at speeds unimagined (or even desired) a generation ago, and people who consider a music festival a major outdoor activity. There’s a plethora of outdoor activities that can be enjoyed, but there isn’t a central activity that binds us together the way climbing and backpacking did in previous times. Many bike shops still thrive because whether a roadie or mountain biker, you need to ride a bike before you buy it, and who can fix the latest componentry but a bike shop? The outdoor business does not have that same compelling need to get people into the retail store on a routine basis. Some gifted specialty retailers have anticipated this and have become community centers that serve as gateways to outdoor sports and pastimes.

How can the industry advocate to protect our open spaces? 
Our industry has the opportunity to use the political visibility and clout we’ve developed over the last two decades to advocate for wilderness and local recreation areas by demonstrating the economic power of wild places. We have a voice as businesspeople that should be louder and directed towards a more focused, specific agenda. There is sustainable economic value in public lands and a healthy environment; we need case studies to prove the economic benefits of creating a national monument or protecting a local crag.

Tell us about the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and how the industry can benefit.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund, created in 1964 by Congress to promote recreation and natural treasures in the forms or parks, forests and wildlife areas, is essentially funded by offshore drilling royalties and the money, up to $900 million a year to support state, local and federal programs. Congress has fully funded the measure only twice; most years the majority of the money is diverted to other spending. As an industry, we have lobbied for full funding every year since 1993 with inconsistent results. We should take part of our trade association budget to put up signs in every park, ball field and wildlife area that LWCF helped to build or protect so that Americans begin to know the LWCF story and its potential for their communities.

You are involved in a lot of nonprofits. Why is this important to you? And, of all your work, which is your favorite and why?
I’ve been involved in multiple nonprofits but I generally only commit to being on one nonprofit board at a time. My commitment to non-profits is directly tied to what issue or opportunity they are working on. I enjoy nonprofit work because you generally get a wide range of interesting people working on an important topic. It is fun and I learn a tremendous amount by participating. As for my favorite, I enjoyed my stints at both OIA and the Conservation Alliance, during their founding and then again at a key growth stage for each. I am finishing up my time at the Alliance and think that its mission to protect North American wild places for recreation and habitat is vital to our country and certainly to our outdoor community.

Who inspires you and why?
We are blessed at CamelBak to have customers who inspire me daily. It sounds sappy until you realize who they are: operators from the Special Forces who rely on our gear for their epic missions. Wildland fire fighters who work in peril (our hearts go out to those lost in the Prescott tragedy) who drink from CamelBak products. A hospice worker who uses CamelBak reservoirs and bottles to keep his patients hydrated. And of course, the professional cyclists, runners, triathletes, climbers and all other athletes who use our products. They all inspire me.