I had a great ride with Greg Anderson from Chicago at about 5:00 AM on Saturday during the Gales. We talked a lot about the kayak club CASKA and its relationship with local kayak shops. And I talked about WMCKA and its relationship with local kayak shops. In short we as a community, have a very dysfunctional view of our relationship with retail entities.
We as members of paddling clubs seem to be very reluctant to endorse kayaking shops. Shops on the other hand seem to be very willing to help support kayak clubs, as these are their customers, their community. I’ve been struggling with how to say this for some time, so in typical Go Kayak Now! fashion, I thought I would just come out and say it. Paddling clubs need local shops. We need to support them for the benefit of the community. The worry about getting in bed with a commercial entity is always a risk, but the larger risk, is not having a commercial entity around to get in bed with. Kayaking is a sport that is very gear intensive, and very skills intensive. In order to have a good paddle shop, the local community has to actually buy their gear from the shop.
I’ve actually even heard of retail outlets getting pissed at clubs for having a favorable relationship with a more local club than another. Meaning a shop that was further away didn’t get the treatment they would have liked because there was shop that was closer that did. To this I say, “Hell Yeah.”
Without a local shop, where are you going to send new paddlers to buy or try immersion gear, new paddles, new kayaks. Where can you send them to get charts, VHF radios, compasses, books on kayaking, get repairs done?
The trend in the outdoor industry has been to do comparison shopping and find the “best” deal online. The “best” deal often turns out not to be, as people buy something from somebody they don’t know, and they end up having problems. They also end up not having a relationship with the one local entity that can actually help them fix it, their local kayak shop. I’ve been guilty of this myself. I’ve done the comparison shopping, and bought some gear that doesn’t work the way I’d like. And I can’t go back to a person to return it. A student of mine just told me on the phone yesterday he bought a used boat from a stranger in another state. It is his first composite boat. I am really happy for him. But I am also kinda frustrated. Our local shop needs his sales, and I could have guided him to a boat he was going to love, and into a relationship with the shop.
In short, I suck. And I am not going to do it anymore. I am drawing a line in the sand, and I am going to start buying all of my gear at my local shop. I am going to encourage, (if not insist) everyone in my community to start doing likewise. There should be a symbiotic relationship with shops and clubs. Clubs should be telling shops the gear that they want, and the shops should be fulfilling that need by stocking that gear.
Sometimes it means having to wait for a special order to arrive. But to me that is a small price to pay, to know that there is a real person who is getting my money.
In my area, Lee’s Adventure Sports has invested heavily in paddle sports, they support my lessons, and pay for the pool time during the winter in Southwest Michigan. The were the first distributor of P&H Pyranha, before P&H became the wild US success you see now. They were carrying Lendal’s and Werner while everyone else carried mushy plastic no-name brand paddles.
How about investing something back? Our local clubs should be finding out what they can do to support local paddle shops, before there aren’t any… If there is something your shop doesn’t carry or offer as a service, for the love of Christmas, tell them. They want to be there for you! It is your shop make it the kind of shop you want to buy stuff from, by stepping up and offering some feedback.