the biggest problem
For any small sea kayak manufacturer is the route to market.
There are only a small number of dealers capable of selling sea kayaks, especially composite boats. The finances of many of these are woeful and the business lives hand to mouth.
Before the financial meltdown in 2008, manufacturers had been stuffing the dealers with more and more inventory, much of which sat and sat for years and was sold at a negligable profit or often a loss.
Large and better financed retailers do not see the margin return on 18 foot boats for the space and time required to sell them.
For a manufacturer, the biggest problem with composite voats is physically supplying them in a cost effective way. They are hard and expensive to ship and, when many are custom built, they have long lead times, too. The way around this is for a manufacturer to offer a wider breadth of product to support the composite sea kayaks. A 40’ container will hold around 40 to 50 composite boats. Shipping them on their own is expensive, whereas stuffing any free space with plastic product reduces costs.
A dealer will also prefer to work with a brand who can supply them an easy and saleable solution. If he can get WW, rec and specialist product from the same supplier, as he can do from Pyranha, it’s a better overall proposition than getting compositie from someone like Tiderace and the other products from other manufacturers.
When times are good, people don’t mind taking a punt on new ideas and risk holding stock. Conversely, when cash is tight and dealers need to turnover stock quickly, brands that do not have such a wide offering can suffer.
By reducing their range, Valley are making it easier for dealers to work with them, as the breadth of pre-ordering and stock boats built is across a smaller range of product. In other words, it’s less of a punt for them to take. It also concentrates attention and demand on current and new product, reducing comparisons and competition from within.
The consumer may be disappointed, but if the new models are as good as they are supposed to be, this disappointment should be confined to a small number of people and be for a short lived period of time.
the biggest problem
I know for a fact that some folks order hulls without demoing them through the dealers.
Some sell direct to consumers.
Some kayak manufactures had an epiphany, of sorts, - if known coaches paddle an X kayak, folks will be curious in trying it out; will, probably, be inclined to purchase them, since, you know, that kayak paddled by a person who knows how to use it looks really awesome. And you should really hear some company reps talk up a storm.
I heard that at least one major kayak manufacturer has changed the business model - dealers do not own hulls, just show them off. But, you know what they say about hearsay, right?
Lots of great commentary above
Nice chat here. Lots of variables for sure. Valley owners are smart guys so I think their decision making isn’t knee jerk.
I think sponsoring coaches and expeditioners, guru’s etc, is probably the smartest thing a manufacturer can do. Far greater than ads in magazines, and really not that expensive. I believe this was Dennis’s strategy and it worked. I see P&H coming on strong here as well. In the past few years we hear a lot more about guru’s paddling their boats, some cool new designs, excitement etc.
And as alluded above how boats and customers connect is changing rapidly! Many small shops are on the edge, and it’s also a mistake to be snobby about the REI’s EMS’s and MEC’s. These guys provide training and actually some great knowledgeable service. The tiny shops may be specialty in brands but often the low paid help isn’t that dialed in.
Who knows?? My best paddling surfing pal is soon on the job market and I talk to him about doing his own designs. If he sold 100 custom boats a year at 4k a piece he could make a living! I think “he” could pull that off with his resume’!
Perspective of a newbie
So I am new to sea kayaking - but not paddling. In the last couple of years I have been poking around and reading a lot, hanging out here some, etc. I have to say that my impression is that Valley’s marketing effort could be lacking because while they are clearly making excellent and well respected boats I do not see, or notice, much about their boats. Until recently I would not have even thought of purchasing a Valley kayak and I have to think it could be because of a lack of marketing effort. Could be wrong of course.
some folks buy a kayak without demoing. One reason may be geography and the availability of a particular model. Or they know the dealer will let them return it, or they’ve had great experience w. that brand in the past.
Or it could be that they see a lot of instructors paddling it, so it must be good, right?
P&H has done a clever thing in getting their boats under the butts of a good number of high profile (and rank & file) instructors and coaches. Tiderace is also pursuing this strategy.
There is an ongoing drive to place boats w. high profile people because currently there is very little innovation in seakayak design and there needs to be some other way to generate excitement over new designs.
Ads don’t do it. Neither do sizzle-ridden reviews in the magazines, some written by sponsored paddlers and dealers. Smart consumers see thru that.
A day hatch- zzzzzzzz. A second day hatch - zzzzzzzz.
Funny to see all the noise over shorter boats w. wider ends for surf play when the Mariner Coaster has been around ~ 20 years. But overall it’s an improvement if it gets someone thinking that only the long skinny boats w. upturned fine ends are worth having.
IMO there’s a lot more innovation in the materials used in various layups than there is in design. For the last few years, the Cetus has been the “it” boat. Now maybe it’s a Tiderace Xplore. And there are always the old reliable Romanys and Explorers from NDK. But if you look them all, they are much more alike than they are different.
I bought my Delta
direct from the manufacturer. Shipping was by Fedex and was included in purchase price. Of course there was no Delta dealer within 1000km, so had to go that route.
wow. do I know you?
your post is real. Gotta be an industry guy!
"IMO there's a lot more innovation in the materials used in various layups than there is in design. For the last few years, the Cetus has been the "it" boat. Now maybe it's a Tiderace Xplore. And there are always the old reliable Romanys and Explorers from NDK. But if you look them all, they are much more alike than they are different. "
Sure, but what about boats like the Rockpool Taran, Epic 18X, or Tiderace Pace series? I'd call it 'innovative' when you can cover maybe a third more water in a day of paddling over more traditional designs in something that still handles and hauls load reasonably like a traditional sea kayak. Freya certainly thought so. And then there's all those circumnavigation records that are falling.
Other than that, excellent post and I agree with everything else you said. You and salty I think are probably the two most interesting posters on Pnet. =)