Bell - Where is my Canoe???

Bell, where is my canoe? Last year I purchased a new blackgold Bell Magic from Dive and Glide in Auburn, MI. The canoe was special ordered with no seat and no holes were to be drilled for the seat. I use a kneeling pedestal. The owner of Dive and Glide contacted Bell when my canoe arrived with a seat. Bell agreed to replace the gunwales of my canoe under warranty. The plan as outlined in a letter to me was that I was to drop my canoe off at Dive and Glide after ice in last winter and pick the canoe up before the beginning of the paddling season this year. I dropped my canoe off at the end of October. My canoe has not been returned to me. I have not been able to find out when my canoe will be delivered and it is a very frustrating experience. It should have been back a month ago.


Where is Bell?

– Last Updated: Apr-24-07 12:26 AM EST –

I too have been having problems with Bell. Last Fall they were acquired by OCR Industries, Inc. and moved from Minn. to Wisc. In Dec. I called in an order for several canoe accessories. I didn't hear anything from them so I called back in mid-Feb. and they said upon searching they had found my order and they would process it. I still haven't heard from them and I get no response from repeated e-mails to Bell and to OCR e-mail addresses posted on the website. Does anybody know if they are still in business? Seems like a total customer service meltdown. What a shame. I sure did love the old Bell.

Regarding the unwanted seat,
I correct such things on my own whenever possible, because I have found slow turnaround with a variety of manufacturers. It is fairly easy to plug a couple of screw holes, and fairly easy to put a slip of glass/epoxy over the plugs for insurance. But once you let that boat go back where it came from, you’re probably doomed to some thumb-twiddling.

Sorry to hear that.
But I now feel better about my recent 1200 mile round trip to Wisconsin to pick up a 2005 Magic. I figured that teher would be some degree of problems with the acquisition and move, but I am sorry to hear that things are so bad.


Call, write, cajole
I went through a similar experience with my Yellowstone prize from P-net. It took 4 months+ which included Bell/ORC’s move. My impression is they are filling volume orders for dealers and not focusing on individual buyers’ needs as much as they probably should.

Calling monthly or at the end of each of their self-imposed deadlines (whichever the case may be) seemed to help them keep me in mind. Posting here on P-net didn’t hurt either. They do read the forums. There is also a phone number on their website, use all methods of contact available would be my suggestion.

That’s a good point, Cole. There is a
certain optimum frequency and intensity of “complaining.” If you call so often that they can’t see how they can possibly respond, they shut you out. But if you check in fairly regularly at a rational frequency, you can induce useful guilt.

Customer service is a big issue
Look at any company listed on any market and try to find ones that do well every year in spite of poor customer service.

You’ll find very few of them.

So who now makes canoes and give good customer service? Is it Old Town the only decent company left? Seems like Bell and Mad river aren’t doing very well making their customers happy. When the order doesn’t come right or get made right, do you blame the shop or the maker?

Small builders
become successful, float to the top, get bought out and overflow onto the floor.

All the while being replaced by more small, custom builders. At least that is the way I see it.


For whom the Bell tolls
Here’s some information that won’t get you your boat any faster but might give you a better idea of what is going on at Bell. Jsaults observes above that “small builders become successful, float to the top, get bought out and overflow onto the floor.” We all know examples where this is exactly the case. It is almost always the result of the boat builder wanting to grow but being without the capital necessary (or simply wanting to cash out). The entire outdoor industry in general and the boat building community in particular, is one where “deep pockets” don’t usually exist. They are idea rich but capital poor. The result is often a buyout, done by management groups backed by venture capital firms. VC firms and their funds commonly want out in 5 years, which allows little time for niceties. It is “balls to the wall” production and sales, and volume is king. We’ve all seen the wreckage.

The Bell situation should turn out differently. Here’s a bit of what I learned at Canoecopia and from living in the state capital: Bell was purchased by ORC Industries of La Crosse, WI, a very respected not-for-profit. They specialize in training and employing workers with varying disabilities and have become famous for success both in their efforts and in the products they make. High on this list is work with the military on hi-tech rainwear, where they are the lead supplier for the Pentagon.

With its purchase of Bell (which I was told will be for profit, but I can’t confirm that), ORC sees itself moving into other products that can be made with the production capabilities already at hand, providing its disabled workers with more employment opportunities and Bell with the capital it needs to expand. They went out and hired the famous Dave Kruger away from Wenonah, where he not only was their lead designer (starting with the wonderful Advantage back in the 70s), but has also been the production wizard there. It is the process of designing, teaching and perfecting Bell’s new production line that has probably caused the greatest delay. Anytime one moves a line there are hassles that one must not only conquer but also prioritize. I’d guess that specialized issues (like replacement gunwales), no matter how old or legit, tend to get pushed back again and again until the “regular” work is going well. Again, this is just my guess.

Bell makes some wonderful boats and this new ownership arrangement should mean good things for the line. It is also a really great way to expand the program to help out disabled workers. This won’t get your boat back to you any faster, but I thought that you, like me, would be interested in what was learned on the floor at Canoecopia. We’ll see how much of this actually comes to pass!

How true
And I do not see teh sale to ORC as being Bell’s death-knoll, just a speed bump. Fact of life though, there will be delays and problems until the kinks are worked out. And that will mean that the small custom shops will see an increase in their business.


It tolls for thee…
Yep, I agree with you. The “small filling in for the missed opportunities of the big” is really just another subset of Adam Smith’s “Invisible Hand of Economics.” Thus, in theory anyway, these small shops will prosper from the work, grow and begin the cycle again, giving the owners of the small shops the benefit of both their labor and nimbleness. It is a tough business, but the potential to profit, the passion of the participants and the joy it brings makes it a worthwhile endeavor. And so it goes… (and none of this, of course, gets this poor guy his boat back any sooner!)

Most small family businesses…
…conduct their business affairs like it matters to them personally – they have their name on the line. Being the co-owner of a small family business that’s certainly how we run our small company.

The story mckennarod related that he picked up at Canoecopia is pretty much what was posted here at this forum last fall when the sale to ORC occurred. Much of this information is also posted at Bell’s web-site under ‘news’. But it’s a good idea to post it again on this thread – it helps to put things in perspective.

Yes, ORC has made some wise moves: they hired Dave Kruger from We-No-Nah and they retained Ted Bell – very good. From a paddler’s perspective what seems to be hurting this new venture the most now is a serious communications break-down with their customers.

In business, large or small, nothing is more important than Customer Service!

Once customer confidence is violated it’s an uphill battle to regain lost ground. Time will tell how this one plays out for Bell.

Sadly when the small builders get bought out the brand name is often reduced to a mere marketable commodity – while quality and design integrity are thrown out the window. Examples of this abound. Many knowledgeable paddlers quickly catch on to the junk some of these mega-corps churn out under the banner of a ‘fallen flag’ builder. But the general public might take years to catch on. In the meantime mega-corps of that type spew out junk and make a fortune as they cash in on the past glories of their various brand name holdings. I’ll site the ludicrous “Mad River Adventure” series of boat-like objects and rest my case.

Back to Bell: Has Bell reached its zenith? Is it now in decline? Will it rebound stronger than ever with improved quality and a broader selection? Will the ‘New Bell’ take Customer Service seriously? Time will tell. While in my opinion Bell’s quality has not yet reached the level of fit and finish of some other builder’s efforts (like Hemlock or Mad River back in its glory days in Vermont) for a while the Bell star shone brightly. It looked like it was headed towards the apex. Bell certainly had a bevy of really top-notch hull designs, many of which appeal to me personally (we own two Bells). Now that it has been sold it would be a shame if the Bell brand name sank to the depths of some other, formerly independent brands that have been bought out. I for one hope under new ownership the Bell line will go upward rather than downward. But again, time will tell.

If anybody in sales at Bell is reading this forum how’s about getting in touch with the original poster of this thread and doing the right thing? Your company’s reputation is on the line. Does that matter to the “NEW BELL” or not???

  • Randall

There are a bunch of article in the La Crosse Tribune about ORC. These may be interesting for those who love Bell canoes to read.

One of the articles is:

I love my Magic and Wildfire. And if anyone is in the market for old school Northwinds in Kevlar, there are two in Des Moines brand new for $1300 and $1100 at a store there.

Hopefully, the new owners can live up to the high expectations and the high level of service and quality that the old guard set. Changing ownership in any company is always a time of growing pains, even more so if the headquarters changes.

Too many holes
Sorry to hear they drilled your hull for a dropped seat, but…

You and/or your dealer asked a production company - a group making over a thousand composite hulls to customize one. Asking any organization to step outside standard practice is problematical. The larger the org. the better the chance for failure.

I am a partner in a small, custom composite canoe shop. We’ve gotten color wrong once and seat wrong twice in the last handful of years. It happens even when a place is ~ set up for and small enough to keep track of custom orders.

Your order was a “step outside your design and production proceedures and do something non-standard.”

Ted and Dave and ORC will get your boat right, but it’s no great surprise it didn’t work the first time.

Then you got