A story about kayaks — and — retailers making American manufacturers' lives miserable

© 2020 Peter Free


26 February 2020



Small American manufacturers have a hard time


Their work and creativity is dropped by unmotivated American retailers.



An illustrating anecdote — about kayaks, canoes and paddle boards


If you know a little about paddling, you will have recognized that it provides a manufacturing niche that contains an unusually high proportion of small American and Canadian manufacturers.


Many of these small businesses produce high quality paddling boats (or boards) made by locals.


That would be a "yay" — if our retail culture were not so lethargically eager to screw it up.



My specific example


I have been trying to find a somewhat efficient, paddle-propelled boat that I can take offshore in mild conditions.


The glitch is that my damaged spine prevents me from sitting in the L-shaped position necessary in sea kayaks and most sit-on-tops.


That leaves:



(a) canoes


which are not my first choice because they are dicey (without significant modifications) in even moderately rough big water


(b) kayaks converted to a kneeling saddle seat — an assemblage that "sort of" used to be called whitewater c-1




(c) standup paddle boards


which are not ideal in cool, cold or rough water.



Facing a variety of water types and temperatures, I am currently focused on converting a kayak.


This would require a recreational cockpit size — as well as one or two bulkheads, so that the boat will not completely swamp under difficult conditions.


Critical to this conversion is whether I can remove the kayak's existing seat and seat supports, so as to have a workable kneeling surface.


This information is not provided by any manufacturer's webpage.



In our tech age — investigating this should not be difficult


But it has been.


Thanks largely to:


uncommunicative, technology-challenged retailers




manufacturers, who do not seem to know that their brands have been dropped by stores that they thought were selling their products.



"But Pete, it's the 21st communications century, isn't it?"


Not one of the many retailers that I have found has an online in-stock tally.


Evidently, you are supposed to phone the store and ask. Provided that you can get someone on their end to answer the phone, and then wait for someone who is not brain-deficient go look.


In my case, being mostly deaf, phones are out, anyway.


That leaves email.


So, why do these businesses not answer their website-listed email addresses?


Even when the email function is in-house, meaning that it competently rejects spam and requires almost no winnowing at all?



The search process has been voluminously irritating


Especially so, because two American manufacturers competently tried to help: Hurricane and Eddyline.


Hurricane (in Warsaw, North Carolina) answered my emailed question within two hours. The woman at their end, an experienced paddler, understood exactly what I was trying to do and why.


But Hurricane has almost no remaining West Coast outlets. One listed on their website, three hours round trip from me, no longer sells their products.


And the one that I did find is a five hour round trip. Their shop requires inquiries by telephone, not email. This retailer also does not website-list the only Hurricane kayak that would work for my purpose.


Eddyline (in Burlington, Washington) responded, by email, in less than 24 hours.


It expressed doubt that its best-suited model would work.  The boat has unremovable seat towers.


Could I get to a retailer to see for myself, they asked.


Well, yes, I could.


Provided that one of those retailers bothered to tell the public (online) — or via email — what they have on the floor, so that one does not waste hours driving there and back.



Yes, it is the Internet age . . .


But none of these retail-business people are taking advantage of very accessible technology that makes reaching large markets so easy.


They're also ignoring examples set by Amazon, Home Depot and Lowe's. All of whom can tell you (online) what they've got and where to find it.





In the old days I knew booksellers, who kept track of what they had in the store in a handwritten log book.


Write or call them, and they'd reliably tell you what they had on their shelves.


Inventorying stock, especially big stuff like boats, really is not that hard.


And WordPress has Internet store fronts that can keep this information visible and up to date. You don't need an IT department or a webmaster.


So, what's wrong with us and our supposedly "business" culture?



The moral? — Cultural complacence and apathy are drowning the comparatively few Americans, who are still trying to make things


Contrast China.


It has enough business and Internet acumen to sell billions of dollars worth of Chinese stuff over here.


In comparison, I can't even get reasonably complete information on a kayak that is competently manufactured — by Americans — just 828 miles from where I am stationed.


The situation is "friggin" ridiculous.