PADDLING BUSINESSstream: Paddlesports Leaders On The Looming Trade War, Box-Store Kayaks And The Shifting Tradeshow Landscape | Adventure Kayak Magazine | Rapid Media
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PEDAL DRIVE KAYAKS CONTINUE TO GAIN MARKET SHARE COURTESY JEFFREY FORTUNA/HOBIE

How 14 Paddlesports Industry Professionals Are Navigating The Changing Paddlesports Landscape

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NAME ONE THING YOU LEARNED ABOUT RETAIL PADDLESPORTS AT THE START OF YOUR CAREER THAT HOLDS TRUE TODAY?

Relationships—with customers, suppliers and staff—are key.

—Bruce Lessels, ZOAR Outdoor

Probably it’s best not to buy a kayak shop before you have done one day of work in a retail shop of any kind.
—Simon Coward, Aquabatics Calgary

 

HOW WILL THE RECENTLY ANNOUNCED TARIFFS ON U.S.-MADE CANOES AND KAYAKS—25 PERCENT FROM THE EU AND 10 PERCENT FROM CANADA—AFFECT YOUR BUSINESS, EITHER NEGATIVELY OR POSITIVELY?

The tariffs obviously impact all U.S. manufacturers negatively. Combine them with the weak Euro and Canadian dollar, and it’s like staring down Craig Kimbrel on the mound with an 0-and-2 count.
—Bill Kueper, Wenonah/Current Designs

Yet to tell, but not good. Having your product suddenly go up in price due to tariffs is not a winning situation.
Woody Callaway, Native/Liquidlogic

No question about it, there will be job losses in everyone’s facilities because of these tariffs. Not just in Old Town Maine, but across the board. You need to sell X number of boats to employ X number of people, and if sales are down you don’t need as many people to make the boats. That hits close to home. We employ almost 200 people in Old Town Maine, and you see them all every day.

—David Hadden, Johnson Outdoor

In our case it will have a positive impact as we do not manufacture in the USA, so we are positioned to benefit from this in the European and Canadian markets. The tariffs will however probably make the U.S. market more competitive, as U.S. manufacturers will want to move more product locally.

—Mark Hall, Kayak Distribution

 

WHAT WAS THE BIGGEST CHANGE IN THE SPECIALTY RETAIL GAME IN THE LAST 10 YEARS, AND WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO ADJUST?

Amazon. We have rededicated ourselves to our brick and mortar retail while maintaining an online presence. We also sell on Amazon but the majority of our sales are in person. We know most of our customers and try to offer them exceptional service.

Bruce Lessels, ZOAR Outdoor

 

WHAT ARE YOUR TRADESHOW PLANS THIS YEAR, AND WHY?

We attended ICAST the last five years and it has been a great venue. ICAST is organized to be a great marketing show. The fishing industry gets it. We did not attend OR (Outdoor Retailer) last year and won’t this year either, but we will attend Paddlesports Retailer in Oklahoma. It only makes sense to go to a show if retailers support it.
—Woody Callaway, Native/Liquidlogic

We attended ICAST, Outdoor Retailer and Paddlesports Retailer last year, but will not attend OR this year. We feel the location and timing of OR will reduce the number of paddlesport accounts attending, and we have to go where our customers are.

—David Hadden, Johnson Outdoors

Last year we attended ICAST and Outdoor Retailer, but not Paddlesports Retailer. We plan to attend all three events this year, showcasing products tailored to each show. We believe each show has its place helping us reach different audiences from different locales.

Pierre Arsenault, Pelican

We bid our farewell to OR last summer. This year we are entirely focused on Paddlesports Retailer as the North American paddlesports tradeshow.

—Bill Kueper, Wenonah/Current Designs

 

HOW WOULD A $15 MINIMUM WAGE AFFECT YOUR BUSINESS?

As long as it applies to our competitors too, I would support a $15 federal minimum wage. Massachusetts is presently at $12, so for us it’s not as big a change as for states still using the federal minimum.
—Bruce Lessels, ZOAR Outdoor

It would have no bearing, as I am a one-man shop, with a lot of volunteer help from folks that love to come shoot the breeze and help when and where they can.

—Kevin Fox, Southern Moon Outfitters

 

KAYAK FISHING CONTINUES TO GROW BUT IS STILL A SMALL PERCENTAGE OF THE OVERALL ANGLING BUSINESS. WHAT IS THE KEY TO ENGAGING THE VAST POTENTIAL OF THE WIDER FISHING MARKET?

I believe we will continue to see this be an important and sizeable category, but the days of 20 percent-plus, year-over-year growth are behind us.

—David Hadden, Johnson Outdoors

 

WILL PEDAL-DRIVE KAYAKS CONTINUE TO GAIN MARKET SHARE IN THE KAYAK FISHING SEGMENT?

Of course. When we saw almost every major manufacturer in the industry attempt to create a pedal drive and bring it to market, it confirmed everything we’ve been saying for 20 years. What ceiling?

—Keeton Eoff, Hobie

Pedal kayaks are here to stay. Price point is the big factor in this game, and I hope competition among manufacturers drives the prices down over the next couple of years.

—Kevin Fox, Southern Moon Outfitters

 

AT THE END OF THE DAY, DO CHEAP BOX-STORE KAYAKS AND SUPS CREATE MORE PADDLERS?

Yes. A percentage of new consumers will buy an opening price point kayak, learn to like the sport, and eventually want a more performance-oriented kayak. Now, whether they decide to shop in a specialty store to find an upgrade will depend on several factors, but many may prefer to remain faithful to a brand they had good experiences with and already trust.

—Pierre Arsenault, Pelican

I think the super-cheap kayaks that seem to be flying off the shelves of the big box stores hurt the industry as a whole. I know many people already that will never get back into a kayak due to an experience they had with a big box brand.

—Kevin Fox, Southern Moon Outfitters

If people see a $199 piece of plastic chained to a cement pillar at Farm and Fleet and think that’s what a kayak is, then we’re all screwed.

—Darren Bush, Rutabaga Paddlesports

 

HOW IMPORTANT IS IT FOR THE PADDLESPORTS INDUSTRY TO PROMOTE THE SPORT AMONG YOUNG PEOPLE?

Since our entry into the market in 2010, Lifetime has sold more youth kayaks than any other company and we have been able to introduce younger generations to the fun of recreational kayaking, which sets the stage for a lifetime of paddling. Since kids do not usually buy their own kayaks, this has also allowed us to reach an adult segment of the population that arguably would have never considered kayaking.

—John Maas, Lifetime

As retailers, the focus on kids should be a huge part of the business plan every day. This is the future of our sport, and supporting national youth paddling and kayak fishing organizations—or heck, even creating one in our own local area—is a huge part of it.

—Kevin Fox, Southern Moon Outfitters

 

THE NEXT GAME-CHANGING INNOVATION IN PADDLESPORTS IS _______?

“Not sure, but if you hear anything give me a shout.”

—Woody Callaway, Native/Liquidlogic

Propulsion. Pedals, or hybrid with motors. At the end of the day,I am not sure we will be in what could be considered a kayak or a paddlecraft. It will be a watercraft but might be closer to a boat than a kayak.

—Mark Hall, Kayak Distribution

The more the sport grows, the more I see the market demanding additional propulsion options, which will push us all to design a new generation of watercraft that will allow consumers to go faster, farther, and do more on the water. I think this goes beyond pedal drives and delves into adaptable designs, pedal-assist systems, and watercraft that have integrated electric motors.

—John Maas, Lifetime

Game-changing innovation does not happen every year, even if the major brands’ R&D and product teams are working on it. While innovation is important, the foundation of our business is still great customer service, quality product, and superior designs.

—David Hadden, Johnson Outdoors

The next game changing innovation in paddlesports will not be product this season. It will be in business practices adapting to the tariffs in Canada and EU.

—Bill Kueper, Wenonah/Current Designs

 

WILD CARD

What can be done to keep Chinese manufacturers from ripping off designs and promoting their ripped-off product by using one’s own videos and photos to promote their ripped-off product. Did I say ripped off enough?

—Woody Callaway, Native/Liquidlogic

Nobody is talking about access. Lobbying to ensure paddlers are allowed entry to public waterways, without a fee attached, would remove the single biggest hurdle to kayak and canoe use.

—Mark Hall, Kayak Distribution

I think the industry would benefit from adopting a design standard like the ABYC [American Boat and Yacht Council] and developing it further to ensure that we are collectively designing better and safer watercraft.

—John Maas, Lifetime

There’s a lot of talk about consolidation in SUP, but over the last few years most of the retailers I work with have dropped the corporate-owned brands. They don’t want to deal with that. They want to deal with brands where they can call the owners.

—Mike Harvey, Badfish SUP

We need to make sure that what is put out as a kayak is something that we as an industry can feel good about. I believe the major manufacturers—Johnson Outdoors, Confluence, Hobie, Jackson—all agree on what a fishing kayak should be and what a rec kayak should be, and we’ll all fight it out just fine at that level. The problem is these people coming out and presenting $199 boats as rec kayaks or fishing kayaks. We shouldn’t be selling $199 boats.

—David Hadden, Johnson Outdoor

In the sub-$500 market, price matters. Period. That is why it is the sub-$500 market.
—Marc Pelland, Kayak Distribution

There is a strong sentiment out there that the Internet and manufacturer-direct sales are going to slowly erode the role of the retailer until there are no retailers left. And indeed, that’s what will happen if we’re not careful, because that’s the easiest, laziest course for our industry to take. But that is far from what is best for our customers and our business. We need to make sure all of us—manufacturers and retailers—are as enthusiastic about this awesome sport as our customers are, and let it show in everything we do.

—John Weld, Immersion Research

 

This article orginally appeared in the 2018 annual edition of Paddling BusinessRead the full issue here.

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