Should You Sell Kayaks and Canoes?

Kayaks, canoes, stand-up paddleboards and accessories are hot in the outdoors market. Don’t miss this opportunity to attract more customers and sales.

Should You Sell Kayaks and Canoes?

Kayaks are the most popular among paddlers, with about 13 million kayakers among almost 22 million paddling enthusiasts in the United States. The American Canoe Association says about 55 percent of paddle customers have an annual income of $75,000, and 39 percent earn six figures. (Photo: Alan Clemons)

According to the American Canoe Association (ACA), an estimated 21.7 million Americans — about 7.4 percent of the U.S. population — regularly participate in some type of recreational paddlesport activity. These include kayaking, canoeing, standup paddling (SUP) and rafting. These numbers are from 2015, but there is no reason to suspect that this potential consumer base has declined. Numbers have likely up ticked, just like they did from 2010 to 2015.

Paddlesports aren’t new, of course. Men have been traveling via paddle power ever since they discovered that wood would float. But the ACA data reflects some trends that, properly digested and transferred to the sales floor, can help retailers attract more paddling customers and send them out the door with boats, boards, paddles and the growing list of accessories flooding the market.

The ACA says kayaking is the most popular form of paddling. Of the 21.7 million total paddlers, 13 million are kayakers, and while there is some crossover use among the whitewater, touring and recreational kayak paddling (or peddling) crowd, nearly 9 million identify themselves as recreational paddlers.

They spend about eight days per year on the water. Most (37 percent) are in the 25 to 44 age group, a large number (47 percent) of which are women. In the 18 to 24 age group, 62 percent are female.

Paddle customers in general and kayakers in particular are mostly well educated and prosperous. Fifty-five percent have an annual income of $75,000 or more. Thirty-nine percent enjoy a six-figure income. Nearly half (49 percent) of the same group are college graduates.

Demographics are similar for canoeists, SUP and rafters. These are customers who will have likely done their product research before walking into your store.

Canoes offer more room for gear, such as tackle boxes, rods and coolers, while helping younger paddlers build confidence thanks to stability.
Canoes offer more room for gear, such as tackle boxes, rods and coolers, while helping younger paddlers build confidence thanks to stability.

Growing Popularity

No segment of the paddlesports industry has enjoyed as much skyrocketing growth as kayak fishing. Manufacturers including industry icons Old Town, Hobie and Jackson Kayak keep introducing new and improved kayaks specifically tooled and targeted for the kayak fishing audience — although during a rollout to show off their latest fishing kayak, an industry spokesman quietly acknowledged what every fisherman already knows: “Every kayak is a fishing kayak and every canoe is a fishing canoe.”

As the market is becoming more specialized, retailers — both those currently stocking boats, paddles and boards, and those who are still considering it — should not ignore or overlook this surge in popularity among anglers for paddle and pedal-powered boats, says James McBeath. “For the last 10 years, the Outdoor Industry Association has listed kayak fishing as one of the fastest-growing sectors in outdoors in general, not just the fastest-growing sector in paddle sports,” said McBeath, marketing director for Sparta, Tennessee-based Jackson Kayak, a manufacturer that has aggressively and successfully pursued this swelling market share, which he insists remains ripe for new or expanding retail.

“The (kayak fishing) industry itself is now maturing, growing and expanding their structure,” he said. “This is mainly due to the sheer number of anglers across the globe, many of whom still haven’t even tried kayak fishing. We’re at the peak-of-the-iceberg moment.”

Kayaks have improved in myriad ways in the last 15 years. While some still opt for traditional two-blade paddles (above), one of the most popular segments is the pedal drive kayak (below).
Kayaks have improved in myriad ways in the last 15 years. While some still opt for traditional two-blade paddles (above), one of the most popular segments is the pedal drive kayak (below).

Retailers, too, should be sharing in this glorious moment and its shimmering future, he says. Of course, manufacturers profit when their products go out the retail door. McBeath urges current paddlesport retailers to fine-tune their efforts with a particular emphasis on which crafts would best suit their area waters. He also says it’s critical that retail sales personnel thoroughly know their product, as boats and accessories become more technically detailed. But he also stresses that those retailers who are not yet hawking paddlesport gear have hardly missed the boat.

“Retailers, even today, can get in at the ground floor,” McBeath said. “Being one of the first in your area with kayak angling-specific gear puts you in as the early adaptor and authority.”

This works best, he says, for retailers who keenly know their product, because they will be dealing with an informed customer.

“The greatest success in kayak fishing retail comes from staff who are knee deep in the sport,” he said. “Hiring knowledgeable staff or partnering with a local kayak fishing community leader has meant great sales numbers. Keeping the kayak portion in mind and holding stock on paddles, life vests and other accessories that the kayak angler will evolve into is key for success as well.”

Who’s Buying

Paddlesport customers, generally, are not one-and-done consumers, McBeath added. Particularly angling customers. Paddlesport retailers will happily learn what powerboat manufacturers and sellers have long known: No one buys a smaller boat, nor one with fewer goodies.

“The consumer is also looking for more,” McBeath said. “The average kayak angler fishes weekly. Once hooked to fishing from a kayak, their skills increase. Their needs for different style boats increase. Their gear purchasing increases.

“Each year there is an evolution in kayak fishing gear that sends new products into the marketplace that subsequently creates new reasons to buy another kayak. New boat shapes, new fishing gear features and new technologies make this a buyer’s market.”

Retailers can also widen their paddlesport consumer footprint by reaching beyond the demo- graphics of the traditional customer, which, according to the ACA, is overwhelmingly white. Kayak, canoe, SUP and rafting participants are, respectively, 80, 82, 73 and 75 percent Caucasian.  Only one other ethnic group broke double digits: 12 percent of SUP paddlers were Hispanic.

“I think that’s changing as more marketing for healthy, outdoor living reaches the diversity of audiences out there,” McBeath concluded. “The real breakthrough in both kayak fishing numbers and their diversity will come as kayak manufacturers break up into higher revenue plateaus, look outwards from market share battles and begin efforts to attract new kayakers from all walks of life.” 

For a copy of the most recent paddlesport statistical roundup, go to www.americancanoe.org/page/Statistics and click the PDF link for “A Special Report on Paddlesports for 2019.”

Kayaks give anglers the chance to get into areas larger boats may not be able to access, thus creating memories that last a lifetime.
Kayaks give anglers the chance to get into areas larger boats may not be able to access, thus creating memories that last a lifetime.


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