How Covid has Impacted the Paddlesports Industry

aqua bound kayak paddles

Covid-19’s impact on our world has been unprecedented in so many ways. While there’s plenty of bad news from this pandemic, there’s also some good news that came out of it—millions of people have rediscovered nature and the outdoors.

Because of social distancing, stay-near-home guidelines and simply to avoid going stir-crazy, folks have been getting outside in record numbers over the past year. That’s continued into 2021 and, if current stats have anything to say about it, won’t stop in the next few months.

The paddling industry and many other outdoor niches have exploded in popularity because of this. Like other companies, we’ve had to be extremely nimble to adapt to this new world.

We released this video in November of 2020 to let you know We’re Still Here:

Andrew Stern, Aqua Bound’s Marketing Manager, takes us through some details to tell us what it’s been like for the industry, how Aqua Bound has adapted and what the near future looks like…

A Big Picture Look at Covid’s Affect on Outdoor Recreation

The NPD Group, a market research agency, uncovered some interesting results of the pandemic’s affect on outdoor recreation (It may be similar for many countries, but NPD focuses its research in the US):

  • Outdoor recreation became much more localized—local parks, trails, waterways, even the backyard. Understandable, considering global conditions.
  • Even traditionally off-season months showed off-the-charts growth in sales for outdoor equipment by general consumers, as opposed to just outdoor enthusiasts. For example: portable power grew by 338%, lanterns by 103% and bike racks for cars by 185%—all in February of 2021 compared to February of 2020.
  • Common across all the high-growth categories was consumers buying new items rather than replacing worn out and used items.
  • 2020 saw phenomenal growth in many fitness and recreation categories, especially products the casual recreationist uses. Cycling and golf saw especially high growth.
  • Kayak sales were up 51% in February 2021, compared to February 2020…this was after the previous 4-5 years had seen a small but steady decline in the paddle industry.

aqua bound shop checking a kayak paddle

The number of people introduced to paddling for the first time has been extremely high. Individuals, couples and families have all discovered this new way to get outside that’s fun and has built-in social distancing.

The thing that’s been most exciting for the industry is that the small specialty retailers—the brick-and-mortar Mom-and-Pop shops—have experienced new life because of the pandemic. They had more new paddlers and enthusiasts come into their shops than they’ve had in years. Having healthy specialty shops is very good for the longevity of an industry. They’re the backbone of education, training and service.

We also saw a shift in consumers wanting to shop online more, especially when their local retailers were still closed or if these shops didn’t have the desired paddles in stock. Many of these consumers are going directly to the brands with their questions.

What High Demand during a Global Pandemic Means to Production

The entire supply chain is off-kilter right now. We’re seeing massive global shortages in some of our key components like nylon resin, aluminum and carbon shafts, and snap-button fixtures.

We’re also seeing massive delays in delivery times. For example, one of our key suppliers couldn’t send our October 2020 order until April 2021, and then only 1/8th of our total order.

As a result, every brand has had to focus their business. We’ve all had to prioritize who we sell to and how we sell to them. We’ve had to say no to hundreds of prospects and turn down orders because we just can’t fulfill them.

aqua bound employee

Our current lead-time is mid-late September for most dealer orders, which isn’t until the season is over for many. In “normal” times we’d get out a consumer order in one or two days. Now it’s a month. And a few of our paddles are already sold out for the year.

We’ve been in touch with many others in the paddle industry, and found that what everyone is going through is very consistent. Most of the kayak/canoe brands we reached out to is seeing its operations booked out until the end of 2021. Stores are running out of inventory quickly with most paddle items backordered until the end of the 2021 season, and even into 2022.

How Long Will This Continue?

This is the million dollar question! No one can predict, but everyone needs to make wise businesses decisions. Demand looks to continue through 2021, but how far beyond that?

There are two industry factors at work that we’re looking at. The first is called “retail overshooting” especially in the niches that have seen the highest growth. Panic buying is happening all over with shops ordering everything they can get their hands on. But once things “get back to normal” again and consumer buying slows down, will they be left with overstock they can no longer sell? It’s a hard balance to achieve.

The second industry factor is “consumer stick.” If there were 5 million kayakers in the US before the pandemic, and that number has now doubled, how many of those new 5 million people will “stick” with kayaking for the long term?

So part of our company strategy moving forward is looking at how to encourage these new paddlers to continue to paddle. How do we get that “consumer stick” percentage as high as possible? We want to give them a solid paddling foundation by providing good educational and training content…we want to engage these new customers with excellent communication and customer service.

aqua bound employee

How Aqua Bound has Adapted to these Challenges

We’ve committed to being the best communicators in the industry with our dealers and consumers. We’re letting them know to expect much longer lead times before receiving their order. We’re letting them now the “Amazon effect” (2-day shipping) just isn’t realistic with this kind of demand.

Price increases are inevitable because of the true cost of doing business today. All our costs have increased: resins, carbon, aluminum, shipping…everything. Consumers have already been seeing this all over the outdoor industry.

Up until 2020 Aqua Bound always had full-time employees year-round, then we’d add several seasonal employees during our normal busy season—summer. In 2020 we didn’t have a down-season at all, and since then our full-time employee numbers have roughly doubled in our effort to meet product demand.

We’re working two shifts every day, Monday through Friday, using every machine to capacity and still can’t keep up. We work on our high-end composite kayak blades seven days a week because they’re so meticulously crafted, and we still can’t keep up.

Our entire marketing team has been working in sales and service since returning to work last June, just to help handle the demand and workload.

kayakers on still water

When all is said and done, though, despite the challenges of the past year+ we’re optimistic about a strong future for Aqua Bound specifically, and the paddle industry in general.

Our friendly, Wisconsin-based Customer Service team is ready to help answer your paddle questions: 715-755-3405 • [email protected]

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