Earlier this month, Jandy Cox quietly celebrated a pair of milestones: his two-year anniversary of owning Rocky Mountain Outfitter and his 50th birthday.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Cox didn’t have a staff to commemorate the anniversary, nor could his wife throw the birthday bash she had been planning. Instead, the Coxes escaped to the mountains for a trail run with their two sons, and capped off the day with chocolate cake and a Zoom videoconference party.
“My 50th birthday was perfect, but definitely low key,” Cox said.
Gov. Steve Bullock’s March 26 stay-at-home directive ordering all non-essential businesses in Montana to shut down sent further shockwaves through an already reeling economy and thrust small business owners like Cox into deeper uncertainty. Cox closed his downtown Kalispell shop, leaving his family-like staff of 11 longtime employees without jobs.
“Things were going fantastically for the business and I was feeling pretty darn positive and hopeful for spring and summer before all of this,” Cox said.
But the day after he locked the doors, Cox was alone in the shop working on ski mounts and other chores when customers kept calling. He realized he might still be able to serve them, which eventually evolved into a curbside pickup, mail and delivery model.
Cox posts daily sales on social media and forwards shop calls to his cell phone, working hard to accommodate each customer’s specific needs and circumstances while emphasizing safety and social distance. He arranges product pickups outside his store, drives deliveries to customers’ curbs outside of their homes, mails other purchases, and has even made rentals available for pickup in front of his house.
His wife, Denise, helps with bookkeeping and navigating small-business loans, while they both balance increased domestic responsibilities with their sons home all day amid school closures.
“I’ve been putting stuff in the mail more than ever and coming up with all sorts of creative ways of getting stuff to people,” he said.
With widespread closures, the valley’s already vigorous outdoor recreation community has been particularly active, and Cox has been selling a variety of gear, especially alpine touring ski inventory for recreationists taking advantage of good snow lingering in the mountains. He also said some customers simply want to support the store, whether they’re in pressing need of equipment or not.
“I feel like I’ve been incredibly blessed and lucky with the world’s best customer base,” he said. “It’s definitely something that I don’t take for granted. I’m incredibly appreciative and thankful for how people in this community are super thoughtful and aware of what’s going on for small businesses.”
Cox started working at the beloved outdoor retail store when he was 19 years old, working his way up to shop manager before taking the ownership reins in April 2018 from founders and longtime owners Don and Colleen Scharfe. Over the decades, Rocky Mountain Outfitter has cultivated a community defined by close-knit relationships, among both staff and loyal customers.
“The toughest thing about being here by myself is just not having my friends and coworkers here hanging out with me,” Cox said. “The crew is what makes Rocky Mountain Outfitter ‘Rocky Mountain Outfitter.’ I look forward to getting everybody up and running again.”
Until that day comes, Cox is trying to remain positive as he operates as an adaptive one-man service. He and business owners across the valley depend greatly on the summer season, which Cox calls “a big unknown” at this point. But even if the pandemic’s timeline is unclear, it will end.
“It’s not going to last forever, and when we do get to the other side, Montana is going to look more desirable than ever, and a small, locally owned mountain shop is going to be as viable as ever if not even more than ever before,” Cox said. “I am at times nervous. But I’m ultimately super hopeful for the future of the Flathead Valley, Rocky Mountain Outfitter and our community.”
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