Steve Jordan is no stranger to the ups and downs of the kayak business. His career has spanned nearly thirty years and taken him from Perception Kayaks, through the co-founding of Liquidlogic Kayaks to his current role as President of Hurricane Aquasports, and VP of Sales for BIG Adventures, the parent company that produces the Hurricane, Native and Liquidlogic brands.
All that experience gives Jordan a long view on the current paddlesports market. He’s positive about the performance of the brands but realistic about the challenges. Jordan says the 2019 season started out slowly. Sales are flat in some categories and down in a few. “It’s a challenging year,” said Jordan, “not like any season I’ve seen in some time, and the weather has not been on our side for an early start to the season.”
The challenges of 2019 are different than the tough times in 2007 and 2008. One of the key issues today is the proliferation of mass market product at ultra-low price points. Jordan sees these sales eating into sales and margins on recreational kayaks at specialty dealers.
Despite the competition from big box retailers, not all categories are down. Jordan says specialty products, like Hurricane’s lightweight ABS kayaks, have continued to perform.
These kayaks offer specialty retailers and their customers something they can’t find at chain retailers. High performance, lightweight designs at a great value and affordability.
Jordan says the Native line of fishing kayaks has been a huge success for Big Adventures and their dealers. These boats, particularly the pedal drive models, sell at higher price points than the recreational kayaks. Fishing kayak sales have increased the average transaction at retail and have helped support specialty paddlesports dealers even as sales in other categories have eroded.
Fishing kayaks can be a profit center for dealers, but they require expertise to sell. Kayak anglers want to buy from an expert, somebody who knows both the boats and the fishing.
“You can’t just put them out on the floor and expect them to sell,” says Jordan. “You have to live it.”
That’s why Native’s most successful fishing kayak dealers are also their most innovative, actively engaging on the web to build community and excitement around the sport and their shops. Dealers who create unique internet content increase their credibility with customers and are more likely to make the sale.
While internet marketing and content creation can drive customers into specialty shops, Jordan doesn’t see web sales as the future of specialty paddlesports. He says that several of his key dealers are re-evaluating the profitability of their internet sales. “You can reach a lot of customers, but there are heavy overheads,” says Jordan. And then there is the problem of freight. “Rates are sky high. A lot of that business was built on free freight or discounted freight,” says Jordan, “you can’t do that now.”
The spiralling cost of freight prompted BIG Adventures to take shipping in-house. “We leased a truck and hired a driver,” says Jordan. Having their own truck not only allowed BIG Adventures to drive down freight costs to their dealers, it also helped to reduce costs on the manufacturing side. “We back haul our own resin, transport our recycled product. It’s helped a lot of have our own truck, and our service level has increased with our dealer base.”
Driving down costs by doing things in-house is a big part of the strategy that BIG Adventures uses to stay nimble and flexible in a challenging marketplace. Jordan said that the past year has seen downward pressure on the profitable pedal drive fishing kayak category. There are more options on the market than there were a few years ago and prices and margins have come down.
The evolving market prompted BIG Adventures to bring pedal drive production in-house, sourcing components from regional suppliers. “We used to have our pedal drives built in Taiwan,” says Jordan, “now we build them ourselves.” By keeping their supply chain close to their manufacturing facility, Native stayed competitive in the category. “We’ve increased dealer margins and reduced price.”
While realistic about the challenges of the current market, Jordan remains optimistic about the opportunity for growth in key categories, and committed to maintaining a strong relationship with specialty retailers. “There’s a lot of opportunity for us to grow if we nurture what we’ve had for all these years—our passion for paddling.”