Paddle Sports in the COVID-19 Era Pt. 2
This week I chatted with my friend Seth over at Next Adventure to see what has been going on with COVID there. Stay up to date with them via Instagram @paddlenextadventure.
Tell me a little about yourself and your job? Maybe include a little how you got to your current job.
My official title is Next Adventure Paddle Sports Center Store Manager, I also manage and create the paddling content for Next Adventure. I got my start in the industry at Austin Canoe & Kayak in 2014 as a seasonal employee, gradually working my way up into managing a couple of their stores. I moved to Portland in 2018, where I landed a job managing the kayak sales division at West Coast Sailing, and then jumped at the opportunity to join the team at Next Adventure as a store manager when the position opened up in 2019.
We are coming up on a year of COVID. What did things look right before first round of lock downs started?
The beginning of COVID as a retailer was downright depressing. We had to let go of almost all of our employees since we were forced to close our doors due to the shutdown. Basically we had to go through and talk with everyone to make sure they would qualify for unemployment, and we retained pretty much anyone who wouldn't qualify for unemployment to ensure that they'd still have income. Most of those folks ended up in our warehouse fulfilling orders since that was really the only way we could still do business. I still came to the shop every day to try and figure out a way to keep things rolling. The first few days of that were extremely bleak.
Was there a point when you realized things were going to be fine? Was there a point when you were like Yeah, now we can't keep up with demand?
Despite the struggles I mentioned earlier, I was very driven to find a solution from day one and we quickly got things rolling again. Basically we kept the doors to the shop locked and just fielded phone calls and posted rafts and kayaks for sale on social media every day. We had a ton of old kayaks in our warehouse that I sorted through and blew out via Facebook and Instagram posts, and before I knew it we were hiring people back on, and even hiring new folks to keep up with demand. By mid-April we were already starting to see solid sales days consistently, and by May we were really firing on all cylinders again, keeping a small team of superhero staff handling calls, running gear out to the parking lot for folks, and delivering boats to the community. It was honestly inspiring to see how hard the team worked to support the paddling community and help people get on the water in such dark times.
In June we caught back up to where we would typically be for that time of year, and it wasn't really until July that it really hit the fan. Because of the timing of the shutdown, we didn't get the opportunity to hire seasonal staff for the summer season, so we went into the summer season with the same amount of staffing we would typically have for January, about 5-6 staff total, so 3-4 people working per day. We would typically have 15-20 employees in July, with anywhere from 10-15 working at a time depending on the day of the week. July was also a record setting month for us, absolutely eclipsing our previous best sales months. This was the case for both of our paddling shops and paddling gear on our website. If there was a point that the struggle to keep up with demand began, that would have been it. This is also roughly when the delays in manufacturing caused by the shutdown started to show.
Is the outdoor industry growing? Is there a portion that is growing faster? Rec paddling? Fishing? Whitewater? Is this a good thing? Bad thing? What are your thoughts.
Undeniably yes, though it's tough to say how much of the industry's growth is a quick bubble caused by COVID that will pop when things return to "normal," and how many people that are buying gear now will actually catch the outdoor bug and become lifelong explorers. In paddling we've seen huge growth on every front, but the recreational paddling market has definitely been the most exponential. It was absolutely enormous in the summertime, but the really cool thing has been seeing the growth with recreational paddling that's continued well into the winter. Generally it would be super rare for us to see recreational paddlers buying kayaks and gear in January and February, but we're seeing a consistent flow of folks coming in and picking up rec kayaks, drysuits, pogies, and still getting after it all winter. I think this is absolutely phenomenal; especially to see that these folks have a respect and concern for cold water safety and being willing to invest in proper immersion wear. I would really love to see more folks getting into whitewater as well, but we didn't see anywhere as many newcomers getting into that as we saw with rec, fishing, and SUP.
Thats awesome to hear. A new wave of folks getting on the river year round is cool.
It seems like many products are sold out or on back order. What is making it hard to get products to people?
It's a myriad of struggles really. Manufacturers are struggling to get containers of materials to make their products, factories are struggling to stay staffed enough to make gear because people don't feel comfortable working in a manufacturing environment during COVID. Ports are operating slower than ever for similar reasons, causing huge delays in getting product from port to shop. There's an explosion in demand for deliveries, too, so freight prices are on the rise and in many cases you can't even find a truck to get stuff on for weeks. It's really a perfect storm of difficulties for the entire process. The beauty of this is that consumers are getting so used to this, that we're seeing people become patient and understanding to it.
I am glad to hear folks are being more patient and understanding. A nice little nugget of positivity with al the craziness that is going on.
Yeah this is a total 180 from the beginning of COVID; at that point the whole country was used to getting everything same day from Amazon and no one could fathom waiting weeks or even months to get something they wanted. It's obviously a horrible situation, but one of the great silver linings of this all has been seeing people accept these things that are totally out of our control and work together in a calm and understanding manner.
What do things looks like for Next Adventure right now and into the rest of 2021?
It's hard to say. All of the paddling industry is predicting another banner year in demand, while simultaneously expecting an inability to fulfill a large portion of the supply. Luckily we had plans prior to COVID for 2021 to be a huge year for us in paddling, and we ordered accordingly. Even with the order cuts (some of which have already happened, more are inevitably coming), we're still hoping for a great year thanks to the volume we were planning on. We've been working with our staff all winter on how to help people find alternatives; there are a lot of popular models that definitely won't meet demand. If someone shows up in June or July expecting to get their first choice in a kayak, well.. honestly they'll be lucky to get their third. A lot of people seem to have caught on to this already, which has contributed a lot to the growth we've seen in our sales this winter.
What are some good things to be coming out of this pandemic? Any new gear? Upgrades to gear?
The good: I do think it's been really great to see the outpour of support for small local businesses. It's hard to say that people have been more patient and kind with each other given what we see on TV with the crazy political stuff, but I do feel like the interactions I've experienced from day to day have become gradually friendlier throughout COVID times. I think people really feel that need for kindness in the day to day since they can't connect as much physically with their close friends and family members. How cool would it be if we came out of this whole thing as a more patient and understanding nation? Seems implausible, but it would sure be cool.
Gear: There are some really awesome whitewater boats coming that I'm fired up about; the Dagger Code is getting ready to hit the market this spring and looks to be another great design. Pyranha has something new on the way that I can't talk about yet (but I've seen it and it's FREAKING SICK!).
Pyranha has been putting out some really great boats lately. I snooped around the internet for a bit looking to see what I found find. Maybe it is a new long(ish) boat?
We've got some Titan Nymphs heading this way, which I'm looking forward to checking out. We're also bringing in Verus kayaks; I really dig what Josh Pecaric is doing - it's awesome to see someone so young really making waves in the whitewater industry and I'm sure he's going to do great things.
Thanks for taking the time to update everyone on how COVID has hit Next Adventure. Hope to see you on the river soon!