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une 3, 2002 Business Section

Kayaks a Breeze for Nova Craft

 

The future of London’s Nova Craft Canoe is in the Breeze.

          The classic canoe maker last week unveiled the first of its new line of kayaks, called  the Breeze, which will spearhead the Nightingale Avenue industry’s drive to expand into new, global markets, said Bill Jones, sales and marketing director for Nova Craft.

          “This is very exciting for us.” Says Jones.  “It's a totally different product for us and the initial response has been very good.”

          The Breeze, to be sold under the brand name Aquafusion, is the latest in a series of developments for Nova Craft which makes this a critical year in its history.  Along with expanding its product line, Nova Craft is hiring staff, expanding its dealership network in the U.S., Canada and into Europe and joining forces with Tourism Ontario and The Bay to raise its profile nationally.

          The strategy, says Jones, is to base growth on growth.  Over the last two years sales have increased 30 per cent.  With a new marketing plan, anchored by the Breeze, they now have 40 per cent more dealers in the U.S. selling their product so growth forecasts are also strong.

          “up to one year ago we did not seriously tackle the U.S. market.  We had no sales reps, just a smattering of dealers who found us.  Now, we are growing,” says Jones.

          And there is a lot to grow into.  The total North American paddle sports market is worth $300 million US and of that, only $45 million is in canoes with $130 million in kayaks.  The Balance is made up of accessory sales from jackets to paddles to personal flotation devices.

          “The thing about a kayak is even as a mediocre kayaker you can have fun, but a mediocre canoeist in for a challenge,” says Jones.  “For recreational users, kayaks have taken over.”

          Nova Craft makes canoes of Royalex, a synthetic material that makes the canoes lighter and tougher.  Kayaks are made from super linear polyethylene.

          After The Breeze, the 11-foot kayak will be followed by the 13-foot touring model Liberty kayak, then a 15-foot model called the Quest.  Nova Craft now makes nine different models of canoes.

          “When we get the full line going, we should double our business in three years,” says Tim Miller, part owner.

          The average dealer sells 20 canoes to 150 kayaks says Miller,  “Kayaks are more user friendly than 10 years ago…everyone up to an 85 year old grandma can go kayaking, kids love them and they’re popular with cottagers right now.  People like the feeling and the independence of it.”

          Nova Craft began marketing its kayaks in October.  Kayak prices range from $599-$1549 while the canoes range from $1,050-$2,895.

          “With the aggressive pricing structure and a competitive retailer program, there’s lots of potential for growth,” says Jones.

          From a manufacturing perspective, kayaks are also easier to make.  The material is more readily available and easier to produce, says Miller.  Polyethylene plastic is a light, robust material and it takes about half the amount of time to make a kayak as it does a canoe.         

          Kayak production time takes about 60 minutes while a canoe takes three to nine hours depending on the material and trim material (wood is longer than aluminum or vinyl).

          “It’s a completely new process,” says Jones.  In the past, to make the boat waterproof, a cloth of resin was placed over the boat which often produced air pockets and made the boat heavier, less aerodynamic.  Today Nova Craft uses a new airtight vacuum method.

          Excess resin is removed from a boat using a vacuum bag.  This method ensures all cracks and crevices are properly sealed.  This also could save 10 to 15 per cent (eight to ten pounds) on a 15-to 17-foot boat says Jones.  Since Jones came on board more than a year ago. The company has taken on more territory beyond the tried and true London market.

          Its expansion into the coveted U.S. market began last August.  The company began aggressively marketing to the U.S. Jones started getting the word out about Nova Craft through trade shows to find the new sales representatives in the U.S.

          “One year ago U.S. sales totaled about 10 per cent of business, today the U.S. is close to a quarter of sales and growing,” says Jones.

          And Nova Craft has something lacking in the American market.  While American canoes are specialized, doing one thing really well, Nova Craft makes a solid multi-purpose canoe.

          “The U.S. manufacturers have taken classic canoe designs and changed everything just to make it easier to manufacture.”  Miller observes.  “We kept those extra steps in so it retains the classic lines.”

          The company has come a long way from its former 15,000 square foot location, dispersed between six different units on Exeter Road.  In December 2000 it moved to its present, 55,000 square-foot home.

          Launched in 1970 by husband and wife Ken and Elsie Fisher, Tim Miller, Pat Malloy, and Zoltan Balogh took over Nova Craft in 1987 following the Fishers’ retirement.

           Since the move to the larger space, the company is able to handle growth.  Before if it wanted to increase production, it meant renting more space, says Miller.

          And the company is looking for even greater growth by partnering with Tourism Ontario and its new slogan Paddle the True North, which markets Ontario as a tourism destination.

          With 20 per cent of the world’s fresh water, Ontario is being promoted as a paddling Mecca.  In February, the Ontario Tourism Association approached the company and along with another Canadian symbol, The Hudson’s Bay Company, Nova Craft is now featured on the tourism brochures.

          “This promotes us in a way that we haven’t been promoted before, those brochures go out to a 1-800 line, they get that brochure with our name and Web site – it’s good exposure internationally and domestically, says Jones.

          The company is also launching a limited edition canoe promoting a Canadian paddling icon.  Bill Mason was an avid paddler, author and film-maker who spent a life-time promoting paddling.  He died in 1988.

          “We approached the family to do a special canoe and to contribute to his scholarship fund for every canoe sold,” says Jones.  Only 200 prospector canoes are being made.

          The rest of Canada is also getting more Nova Craft exposure.  This year Nova Craft went from two to eight dealers in Quebec.

          “The Quebec market has been under-serviced by canoe companies.  It’s a good growth opportunity,” contends Jones.  Nova Craft has also cut a deal with Subaru Canada.  New Subaru owners will get a discount on a kayak/canoe from Nova Craft.

          “Our retailers are asking for this,” says Jones of the company’s expansion and growth plans.  “There has been a fair amount of consolidation in the paddle sport industry, where canoes and kayaks got together to offer a stronger product for retailers.”

 

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