Kayak Shop Closing? An informal poll.

Maybe it’s just me but it seems like suddenly I’m aware of a number of kayak shops and small manufacturers that are closing their doors – or have done so within the last few months. Country Canoeist (NH), Great River Outfitters (sold and moved to RI), Raven Works Kayaks (PA), Norcan Kayaks (Quebec), Noyo Pacific Outfitters (CA), Mariner Kayaks (WA), and Baidarka Boats (AK) all have owners who are moving on – with GRO the only one that looks to be remaining open under new ownership.

What other shops are closing? Any new shops opening? Is there a trend? And, if so, what might be the reasons for it?

Shops closing
1) very tough business with low margins

2) consumers buying at box stores (sure they say they like their specialty shops but they vote with their dollars

3) many shops simply didn’t have a business plan or a reserve of working capitol to ride out the weather and economic slumps that are part of weather related business

4) you can blame the kayak manufacturers for using the little guy to get their product accepted and then opening up the chains and box stores once the brand is well known. then they pat the little shop on the head a bull—them that it won’t hurt their business if they open Dick’s or Sam’s Club

Insurance, recession, fads
I hear the the fad of kayaking exploded in high end craft but not now is more low end, mass boats, giant cockpits. etc.

Also, less luxery money for the boats we often describe here.

Insurance costs have increased hugely for demos, rentals, just the whole business.

This means much lower margins and more work. A good reason to move on.

Well it’s not to hard to figure
The stores are full of low end plastic kayaks that all look like they came out of the same mold or are very closely related. Confluence and Watermark are all the same companies now…Dagger, Mad River, Perception, Wavesport, Wilderness systems, Harmony, voyager, and more. Confluence will be making your cheap boat now and all the cheap plastic parts and pieces needed to make it go.

I don’t think outfitters who sell just boats and related gear can make a go the way things are going.

quite sad
all those kayak/canoe brands mentioned used to stand for high quality and hiqh performance boats. Now I see those names (with the exception of Dagger and Wavesport whitewater boats)as almost synonomous with the recreational category. You can’t blame Confluence/Watermark as they cater to what the public wants and what drives the highest margins, yet it’s still pretty depressing.

Brand consolodation
While I have nostalgic memories of the “old days” when as a retailer I dealt with Bill Masters, and Kay Henry guided me on a tour of the Mad River factory, the consolodation of brands is inevitable as the sport matures. The technologies that were cutting edge 20 or 30 years ago are commonplace now, so you see a bumper crop of entry-level rec boats being spit out like HoHo’s on an assembly line. But another result of consolodation is the emergence of smaller builders that still put the personal touch into their products.

Shops are another story. I really have a pain in my heart regarding the loss of smaller (and sometimes bigger) outdoor specialty retailers in the face of internet sales and big-box stores. Unfortunately it is probably true that we are seeing a winnowing out of the retailers that were marginal in their business acumen. They rode the wave of the '90’s growth but that wave has broken. I read a comment from the owners of Pacific Water Sports (closed last year) that they had failed to predict the economy downturn in the PacNW. For Mariner, I have no idea. Maybe it was “time”. Of course, another chain of shops I used to visit when traveling for business is now gone, apparently due to the “high inventory/low turns” syndrome.

Things change. Life, and boating go on.


end of philosophy rant.

As far as I can tell
there are only two main shops exclusively devoted to paddle sports within 50 miles of downtown Chicago. They have both been in business for many years and continue to add (and drop) lines. There is no way to know how they are doing financially without asking the respective owners (which I won’t do). I think there is a new dealer opening in north central Illinois. It seems to me that the market is either dominated by big box stores or it is not a very lucrative market for there to be so few dealers near a major metropolitan area.

Don’t forget about Walden closing.

Kayak sales have been declining for the past few years, the sales will eventually be a reasonably steady number. I bet the sales of sailboats, canoes, roller blades, skateboards, etc… have some highs and lows but over 20 years or so are pretty steady.

remember Mike,Walden was forced to close by their bank, not because of lack of business. It certainly may contribute to fewer boats in the oh so saturated Northeast, but probably not for long. Most of the walden boats will likely see life again under different names as the molds/ovens etc mostly went to one manufacturer in the Midwest.As someone working in the industry, I can tell you it is INCREDIBLY frustrating to spend hours with customers only to have them buy their boats at some big box or even medium box. Especially those customers who come in with the intent of doing so. I just can’t get past the idea that the paddlesports industry is ripping its own guts out for short term gain. Ok end of rant now…

Missed market opportunities
There is plenty of demand for kayaks, just need to target the right audience.

Need to focus on the people filming SUV commercials. No self respecting SUV is without a kayak on the roof in a commerical these days.

Seriously, do small kayak and canoe shops advertise? They seem to be there to be found if you are looking, but when was the last time you stumbled on an add for your favorite shop?

As far as Mariner and GRO those are folks who choose to retire after many years of hard work and service to the paddling industry. Anyone who wants to sustain a retail/service business or make a living manufacturing anything today will have thier hands full 24/7. Granted it has always been difficult but in the new “Information Age” faster, better , cheaper, RIGHT NOW is the norm. Not to mention taxs, regulations and the political correctness factor. Just look at all of the Mom&Pop hadrware stores, lumber yards…etc. that have been shoved out by the Home Depots of our new world. I think what we are touching on is responsible conciously or not for the steadily growing interest in kayak building be it SOF. S&G or Strip built. The internet and cable television are fantanstic but like a lot of other folks I hope we do not lose touch and appreciation for true craftsmanship, individualism and real customer service. LIke Steven Wright says : Its a small world, but I wont want to paint it"

chicago stores
Are you referring to Chicagoland Canoe Base and Offshore? Those are the two Chicagoland shops I know of although I’m surprised that there aren’t at least a couple more.

Excellent point asking whether these small shops advertise. Two years ago when I was shopping for a kayak, I found the shops by driving around and noticing kayaks out by the road. None of them seemed to advertise.

I kept finding myself back at EMS looking at kayaks because that was what I could find. I ended up buying from a small shop but if it I hadn’t seen their boats out by the road, I wouldn’t have known they were there (they are a ski shop in the winter).

One of the small shops that I found (in Nashua, NH) has since closed down and in it’s place is now a lingerie shop.

Yes- Those are the only two

– Last Updated: Mar-15-05 9:26 AM EST –

I am aware of. There are others that may carry one or two brands but those two are the only ones exclusively devoted to paddle sports.

The bank did it?
“Walden was forced to close by their bank, not because of lack of business.”

Bankers don’t just wake up one morning and decide to close a business. On the contrary they will bend over backwards if there is any hope of getting repaid. Lack of business or mismanagement led to the situation of not repaying loans.

Bicycle shops, too
We have had a nuber of bicycle shops close in our area over the last few years, probably for similar reasons as the kayak shops.

add fly rods
like so much else, most come out of the far east at this point - only a few of the very best rods are still produced here or england -

but more to the point, i think many people are a tad misled by the gov’t economic figures - - i’m retired, and only see a very small sector of the economy, but i work part time at a big box (we don’t sell kayaks) - our business has dropped off some 60% during the past two years - now there are some factors other than the state of the economy affecting my store, but people simply don’t have the discretionary cash that they had a few years ago - - now here’s the weird part - part of the reason is because of big boxes like mine - - when i started working there 2yrs ago, the pay range was $10. to $14. starting, depending on experience - - it is now $6.85 to $9.25 - - big box management, and many other employers, are destroying their own customer base, as many of our own employees can no longer afford to buy anything but the most basic necessities - they sure can’t buy snowblowers, or kayaks - -

i think discretionary income is going to continue to shrink, and kayak shops/mfgrs are going to continure to close as long as management’s focus (i was part of it) continues to be tunneled to the bottom line only - -

sorry for the rant, but just my opinion -

clarification on bank issue
Sorry haven’t checked in a while. Walden’s bank got purchased by a bank which didn’t want to be in the small boat industry, so they called all the lines of credit in. Walden was not the only company affected. Essentially they were asked to do a balloon payment quite unexpectedly, I know if I had to do that on my mortage I’d have a problem, can’t speak for you all.

I know this because I work for one of the former Walden dealers, so got the story from the Walden folks themselves.

Hope that helps.

Big boxes and cheap kayaks

– Last Updated: Mar-16-05 5:14 PM EST –

I really question the impact of big box stores selling el cheapo plastic kayaks. The guy that goes and buys the el cleapo plastic boat and a 25 dollar paddle from Dicks or Bass Pro or wherever is not the type of person that most paddle shops cater to anyway. If they are lucky the guy that buys the el cheapo will like the sport and eventualy find his way to a real paddle shop and buy a more expensive boat.

My dad worked in commercial banking for over 30 years and he told me that many times when a formerly successful business suddenly goes under it is not because of pressure from the competition, or lack of business. In most cases it is because the proprietor who may be really good at what he does (in this case manufacturing or selling yaks) does not know how to manage money.

Well maybe so but…

– Last Updated: Mar-16-05 5:25 PM EST –

Walden was probably pretty far in the hole or they would have been able to find another lender to finance them.