I’ve been an instructor trainer for the Professional Stand Up Paddling Association for six years and previously for other orgs as well.  In those years, I’ve seen many paddling business start and fail often as a result of 6 paddling business mistakes such as these.

  • Trying to grow too big too quickly.  Key is to start small, find your market, then only when you’re busting at your seams with business then do you buy more gear, get a bigger space and/or hire (more) people.  In one case, a small town SUP rental purchased a 25′ box trailer with a  logo wrapped around it’s walls. They had over a dozen boards and gear and big aspirations. They were out of business in two years as their market was seasonal, super small and preferred boating vs human powered endeavors.
  • Find your own business model. Like many, when I started out, I looked at my market and copied how others do business. Folks think there’s only one way to run a paddling business – Get a shop, do rentals, sales, lessons then charge low rates. Took me a years to figure out that I’m not good at retail, can’t find a good rental location and as an introvert I like small classes. Figure out what your market needs or has room for (or doesn’t have) then fill the gap. Be creative – unique or niche businesses can thrive.
  • Poor Pricing.  Don’t copy your competition’s pricing. Choose what works for your business and what you need to make to survive (or thrive).  Since I realized I like small classes, for that to work I needed to double my rates. It’s scary at first, but it works and I work less and make the same which for a very physical business is fine with me.
  • Paddle Business Education.  Don’t get certified a month before you open your business.  My main season for training SUP instructors is Spring. The reason is because folks book my course a month before they open their new summer business.  In my course, I teach about business models, pricing, building curriculum, finding your market, learning how to teach and building on-water instructor skills. All these take time to develop and it makes more sense to start a year or more prior to opening your doors to avoid the above common mistakes.
  • Marketing Beyond Social Media.  I see many outdoor businesses (and lots of restaurants) who only have their business listed on Facebook.  A few things to note is not only is everyone in your market not on Facebook, but when folks do a Google search for SUP lessons, SUP lessons near me or a specific search for a region, if you don’t come up on Google search, they won’t find you.  If they’re not on Facebook, they won’t find you.  Get your business Google verified, get your location marked by Google, get a real SEO optimized website to be easier found and also market outside of Facebook.  For those not on social media, a weekly or monthly newsletter can target those on and not on Facebook.
  • Find a Unique Business Name.  I know of three businesses in the US with the exact same name, and two in my state with another same name. If I had known 10 years ago, my business, Salmon Bay Paddle works now only after 10 years of continuous plugging away online. But in my neighborhood, there’s 10 other business with the name ‘Salmon Bay.’. Not very unique. Choosing a name these days isn’t just about finding a fun sounding name or one that resonates with you. But think about being found on Google. Do searches on Google and SEO keyword apps for names that you like that also come up easily in search for your type of business or service and region.  For example, a friend chose Kayak Fishing Washington because kayak fishing is super hot now and that title comes up first in searches. Then his state, also a hot google term.  Then search on GoDaddy for available domains.  Apps like Google Keyword Planner, SemRush and UberSuggest are easy to use to plug in names of interest to search for ideal words / titles.

Other paddling business fails – Hiring inexperienced staff; Responding poorly to reviews; On-water accidents due to poor risk management practices; Crappy photos; Bad gear; etc..

Need help with your small business or outdoor industry business? I help people start and grow their business. 

About Rob Casey – Named a pioneer in the SUP industry by Stand Up Journal, Rob is the author of “Stand Up Paddling Flat Water to Surf and Rivers” and “Kayaking Puget Sound and the San Juans, 60 Trips.” Rob owns SUP school Salmon Bay Paddle in Seattle. He also runs several paddling races throughout the year.

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