the "Valley dilemma"

OK - so you’re a sea kayak manufacturer. How do you serve the masses while still catering to the niches? Or do you?

So what do you carry in your product line? Here’s a stab at it:

Single distance stable tourer

Surf playboat

“Speed merchant”

(everything above x 2 for LV versions?)

Tandem tourer

Another model
Tiderace seems to be taking another approach. They’ve quite rapidly turned out a very filled out product line. I counted something like 20 different models? A few Xtra sizes, the plastic xtra, the Xplores, the Xcapes, the Xcites, the Pace series, etc.

While Valley appears to be consolidating things, Tiderace is presenting a really full line-up!

The real problem is volume of sales. Sea kayaks are not a high volume product line by any means, and even the heavyweight manufacturers of the industry occasionally have to cut back their lines, or lose money.

Just the facts. When customer’s tastes change, so does what’s available, and very quickly. Seen it happen many times over the last 20 years. Seen quite a few manufacturers go bust, too.

I understand that
So, given that challenge, what’s in your fleet?

but for how long?
Can they sustain it? If so, then Valley should be able to sustain their lineup.

If you total it up, all boats in all sizes and materials, Valley will be offering 20 boats going forward.

For 2013, Tiderace is offering 16. So, almost as many, and TR has only been around for maybe 5 years (if you include its’ "In-U-It’ incarnation).

My fleet…
This is what I would have, if I ran a higher-end kayak company:

  • Expedition/‘serious touring’ boat
  • Transitional boat (14-footer, lightweight)
  • Play/surf boat
  • ‘Fast expedition’ boat/ski-inspired sea kayak (like the Taran or Pace)
  • Greenland boat (low-volume, super-easy roller, traditional lines)
  • Surf-ski
  • SOT/fishing boat (hey, they sell)

    Would have everything in at least a regular and LV versions, and there’d be a rotomold version for everything (i.e. cheap) as well.

    The SOT, play/surf and transitional boats obviously would be rotomold-only.

    The most popular lines would probably get 3 or even 4 sizes, as Tiderace and Valley have done with a few of their boats.

    I wind up about a couple dozen different boats under this set-up. Oh well, no worse than P&H/Venture. =]

- Expedition/‘serious touring’ boat

  • Transitional boat (14-footer, lightweight)
  • Play/surf boat
  • ‘Fast expedition’ boat/ski-inspired sea kayak (like the Taran or Pace)
  • Greenland boat (low-volume, super-easy roller, traditional lines)
  • Surf-ski
  • SOT/fishing boat (hey, they sell)

    Would have everything in at least a regular and LV versions,

  • What’s the difference between a “fast expedition” vs “expedition” boat?

  • Why can’t a Greenlander by marketed as a “transitional” boat?

  • Who would use a LV version of expedition boat? After all, you’re throwing a lot of extra weight into that boat for your expedition…

  • Last, which other manufacturer currently offer both surf ski and traditional kayak besides Epic?

re: nit-picking

– Last Updated: Oct-04-12 5:42 AM EST –

Hi Abc,

Don't worry about nit-picking. To try to answer your Qs:

"What's the difference between a "fast expedition" vs "expedition" boat?"

Expedition boats are traditional 'old school' touring sea kayaks, pretty much 'expedition boats as we've always known them'.

Fast-expedition boats are the 'new school' plumb-bow, long-waterline, surf-ski-inspired touring boats, such as the Epic 18X, Rockpool Taran, and Tiderace Pace family (now 3 boats of this type from them).

"Why can't a Greenlander by marketed as a "transitional" boat?"

Gosh, for any number of reasons I'd think. They're quite different, after all.

Greenland boats tend to be low volume, low initial stability, 'skills-oriented' boats for more advanced paddlers, or ppl who want to become more advanced (be able to do every kind of roll, etc).

'Transitional boats' are more geared to newer paddlers, ppl who want an easy-to-transport, easy-to-store, shorter, more maneuverable, cheaper, higher-initial-stability boat.

It would seem that the goals and design of those two categories are at odds with one another.

Did you think I meant something else by 'Greenland boat' or 'transitional boat'? I know it's hard to keep up with all the marketing-speak.

"Who would use a LV version of expedition boat? After all, you're throwing a lot of extra weight into that boat for your expedition..."

Either considerably smaller/lighter paddlers (such as our own Celia), or regular-sized paddlers who want to use a smaller expedition boat as a 'day boat' that they can easily throw around in the water.

If that answer does not suffice for you, I guess you could ask Valley, since they make even the famous Nordkapp expedition boat in LV. I doubt they would do this unless there was a market for it, so some ppl must be using LV boats (cynics might simply say, "women").

You're not saying that expedition boats should be made in only one size, are you? Don't let Aled Williams overhear you saying that– Tiderace makes the Xplore in *four* sizes.

"Last, which other manufacturer currently offer both surf ski and traditional kayak besides Epic?"

Besides Epic? Stellar comes to mind. Why do you ask? Is there a minimum number of kayak-makers who have to already offer both for the idea of offering both to be valid?

If that were the case, then Epic would've offered only one or the other, and thus missed out on a good number of sales/opportunities.

You can't always play it safe or 'me too' in business. =\

not sure it is a Valley dilemma

– Last Updated: Oct-03-12 10:27 PM EST –

Not sure it is Valley Dilemma, as Valley is a niche player. If you go by numbers of boats sold, SOTs and rec boats more than beat out touring boats, where Valley is just touring (and even within touring, Valley is a bit of a niche player, as none are ruddered boats).

There are niche players in other markets also, such as Cobra and Hobie (SOTs).

I think if you look at the major players out there and what they offer (Johnson Outdoors, Confluence, and Legacy Paddlesports) you will see what the meet the majority of the market strategy is.

Edit - my bad. The OP did say "sea kayak" for the masses, not just kayak for the masses. So maybe Delta or Eddyline would be better examples, though they are both 1 material brands (where to fulfill the wants and needs of the sea kayak masses, you would definitely need rotomolded plastic and a higher end material.

Our fleet

– Last Updated: Oct-04-12 7:41 AM EST –

Let's see, we have (in no certain order):

CD Caribou
Betsie Bay Recluse
Valley Anas Acuta
Nigel Dennis Sihouette
NDK Explorer LV
Necky Arluk 1.9
Chesapeake 16

Took a lot of years to collect all those, but we don't get rid of what we like, because it may not be built tomorrow.

Only a few boats eliminated
Valley only discontinues a few boats. They still offer a fully developed product line. It’s not like the molds for the glass boats require much beyond digging them out for maintenance as they are hand laid boats.

Vally has never offered boats that would be marketed towards people that are looking for SOT’s or rec boats. They also have a full line of surf boats and the principal is also involved in Big Dog WW boats (at least that’s me understanding).

I’m not concerned about Valley in regards to them sticking around and will eventually require a new Anas Acuta after I finish pounding mine against rocks and such.

reading too much into it
I used the title because it was current and topical. But the question was what would your range be if you produced sea kayaks?

function vs fashion

– Last Updated: Oct-04-12 11:10 AM EST –

Kayak models are like women clothing. It's dictated by fashion not function.

By "fashion", I mean it's by what people THINK they "want". Therefore, not necessary what a boat can be made to do.

In terms of function, your list is complete:

- a well rounded expedition boat
- a fast day tourer
- a playful, surf-able (short'ish) "fun" boat.
- tandem

In reality, there're many "in-between" designs: expedition boat that are playful, expedition boat that leans towards going straight and fast, etc... Because that's what people WANT!

To be fair, for people who only have 1 boat (or even 2 boats), we're already going down the "compromise" path. So someone who want a day boat that can double for mini-expedition do "want" something between the first and second of that list. And the list goes on...

(I myself is guilty of that "compromise": what I paddle fits into 2 categories: a playful one and a fast day tourer. But I only have storage space for one boat: so instead, I got a reasonably playful boat that has decent speed. I even camp out of it too! It's a good compromise boat for me but it's a "in-between" design)

Yes and no
It was more than a few boats that Valley dropped. Counting all the different sizes and materials, they dropped 10 boats total, out of 30. Their new sea kayak line-up is going to be 20 boats, so they cut back by a third.

That said, I certainly agree with your other points. Despite the cutbacks, Valley continues to offer a complete sea kayak line-up and should be around for a long time to come.

(I just wish they’d update their website more than once every two years. =[ )

A former designers perspective
FWIW? Ok first off I want to preface my comments with a statement of no right or wrong here, good or bad etc. These are “my” thoughts after years in the business instructing, guiding, designing,R&D,yadda yadda…

Sea touring unlike WW is very traditional and slow to change. Manufacturers need to design things that the market will buy. Too much innovation applied to a very traditional nostalgic audience is failure guaranteed. Ive had great discussions with owners, designers of many of the famous brands and we pretty much all agree that what we’d personally like to design and play with would not likely go over too well!

So what you have right now is a lot of essentially the same kayaks with different badges. Look, there’s really only so much variation of any significance you can get within certain dimensional constraints. 16 long, 22 wide, x amount of rocker, this or that chine profile, coefficients, bla bla… I walk the shows and see the so called new stuff which is all cool but to me and some of my piers it’s sorta another version of x,y,z.

So then the sales and marketing folk say we need more hatches, gizmo’s, shelf appeal stuff, and what do we see??? Goofy seats, complex gizmo’s and hatches all over! The big mega brands were/are the worst at this. R&D folk where I worked fought that and in the end simplified things, but the pendulum will swing.

Numbers: a thousand composite kayaks a year would be a decent number for a small company. Contrast that with a mega brands 150,000 plastic rec boats, sit atops, etc, at probably more margin per unit, and it’s easy to see where the focus has been, and should be given the market place. Selling the commodity plastic “allows” manufacturers to keep a composite program.

So, right now there’s lots of really great kayaks out there, and it really comes down to personal use and fit. Narrow it down to several models that would meet your needs then test and buy what fits the best. Many touring folk will adopt a preference for a certain brand secondary to their sphere of influence (instructor, club, etc)

I paddle a custom radical 14’ surfy flat hulled, finned, surf tour kayak with two small storage compartments with valley round hatches. It defies all conventional sea kayak thinking and would probably never get past the “that aint a sea kayak” mentality and be a miserable failure. Yet to me it represents soo much potential to shake up that world and have some fun, as well as “maybe” get some younger athletes interested? Just look at the touring market demographics now in North America. Total geriatric gig, of which I’m closing in on!

So, contrast the huge changes in WW over the last 20 years vs sea touring?? The market place defines the products to a very large extent and I think sea touring will remain a very conservative, slow to change arena, and that is what it is.

The crazy stuff will come from very small, custom shops operated by weirdo’s who’ll never make a dime but may enjoy the hobby.

I still do some work in the industry and enjoy it. These are just my impressions. I personally like some of what I’ve seen from both Valley and P&H, and the Tiderace stuff seems cool as well. Sterling seems to be putting out some neat designs as well and I like seeing that happen. I remember him trying to get on board with JOI some years back and me telling him to do his own thing and it seems that’s working for him. I hear rumour he may be pulling a world class designer i know into the mix as well, so I’d look for some cool stuff there down the road.

I think Valley is smart to thin things down for a number of reasons. BTW, and this is a “secret”… What happens when you discontinue a model?? Huge nostalgia develops! You some time down the road dust off the mould and offer a limited run special order:)

Awesome post
Thank you Salty, that was awesome to read. =]

A couple of thoughts:

  1. The conservatism of the sea kayak market and it’s ‘geriatric’ demographic are related, and are also a ‘chicken or the egg’ -type thing.

    As in, exciting new ground-breaking designs might be able to slowly bring in new, younger paddlers, but those designs have a slim chance of being a success given the current conservative demographic in the sea kayaking world. How to break out of that ‘chicken or the egg’ paradox?

  2. But to disagree with both the above and your post a bit, I wouldn’t say that the sea kayaking world is entirely devoid of innovation.

    ‘Fast expedition boats’/surf-ski-inspired designs such as the Epic 18X and Rockpool Taran are pretty cool and seem to be doing well. And of course the whole ‘planing hull’ playboat phenomenon, as set off by the Delphin.

    But sure, lots of boats out there do seem almost like carbon copies of one another. I wonder if it’s even possible to enumerate how many, say, NDK Explorer-clones there are. =<br />

    Not sure what can be done about it. It almost feels like how movie studios plan out their summer offerings… you establish a franchise and milk it for all its worth (sequels/imitation of what’s been successful before), while taking as few chances as possible. Maybe the business is just that tough.

Yea, agree
Epic boats are cool and it was neat to see Freya go that route as her athleticism and personality fit with Epic. She “left” the traditional world in search of a better match for her. I liked some of the Kayak Pro stuff too and yeah I think more fitness based, ocean race inspired models would be a good direction. I read here and other places soo much mis-understandings about boats like QCC’s Epics, etc, and much of that is adherence to traditinal sea kayakie notions that were never accurate to begin with.

I believe it’s a VERY saturated market. I also think we’ll see a swing back toward small companies.

there has been a recent radical shift
A recent, successful, or at least recently successful, radical shift in paddlesports.


Younger folks participating, often quite beautiful, adventurous younger folks.

To borrow a quote from above, “that aint a sea kayak”. Get that quote in context in the above post, and bingo, there you have it. Planing hulls, standing instead of sitting, offspring from the surf zone, modified to be closer in purpose to kayaks than a traditional surf board.

The timing may never be so right for further bridging the gap between paddling displacement hulls for miles of sea paddling and paddling planing hulls. The imaginations of 2 audiences could be captured. Or two audiences could completely reject it, thinking they don’t have or want anything in common with the other group?

re: agree

– Last Updated: Oct-04-12 2:27 PM EST –

"I believe it's a VERY saturated market. I also think we'll see a swing back toward small companies."

You should tell us more about these things. Seems... important. =o