Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.
Confluence’s senior vice president of sales and marketing, Kelley
Woolsey, is no stranger to challenges. Yet it would be safe to say that
in the weeks and months following his infamous dealer letter (click here to read related story with accompanying link to that letter)
of last fall, Woolsey has been spending far more time than even he
anticipated trying to explain himself, his company’s official
distribution policy, and his atypical vision for the paddlesport
In that letter, Woolsey stated
that, “To elevate our brand we need to have a presence where most
consumers shop, the ‘General Sporting Goods Stores.'”
We asked him to more specifically define what he meant by “General Sporting Goods Stores.”
“If you look at what we have done since that letter went out late
September of last year, you will see we are moving very deliberately
and have not changed our distribution pattern at all, yet our
competitors have opened Costco and Walmart,” says Woolsey. “We will not
do that ever as I have seen what those kind of moves can do to impact a
consumer’s perception of a category. Hobie made the mistake of going
into big boxes and that move destroyed its image as a cool product in
the consumer’s eye.
“National sporting goods chains such as Oshman’s and The Sports
Authority concern me too because of their inability to effectively
manage what they are doing when it comes to merchandising and price
controls, simply because of their size.
“Where we will focus our efforts will be on the regional sporting goods
chains that have the ability to live up to our dealer agreements. I
will also not allow a chain to sell our product in an area where we
already have a fantastic dealer. In Sacramento, Calif., for example, we
do not sell to the REI there because we already have Adventure Sport
and California Canoe and Kayak,” says Woolsey.
What chains does Woolsey feel are worth the effort to work with?
“I have MC Sports, an awesome Michigan retailer, selling our boats
already. Sports Chalet is definitely on our list, but we are a ways
away from opening them. We will be in Dick’s shortly. GI Joe’s is
currently selling our product. And Copeland’s is also high on our radar
Woolsey told SNEWSÂ® that Confluence will seek to work with its current
dealer base first before expanding distribution to other stores within
a particular area. If a retailer is already selling A and C Confluence
brands, but not B, Confluence will approach that retailer first to ask
it to carry B. If the retailer does not, Confluence may then move to
open another store in that area selling only B.
It is also Woolsey’s belief that consumers are creatures of habit and
that focusing only on one retail market in a region restricts a brand’s
potential for growth.
“Take Orlando, Florida, for example. Travel Country is a superior
paddle sport and outdoor shop and is our dealer there. Recently,
however, we had a surf shop, University, come to us saying they wanted
to build their off-season business with paddle sports. Being a surfer,
I know folks that go into that shop, for the most part, do not go into
a Travel Country so by only being in Travel Country, we are minimizing
“However, those consumers going to University are looking to that shop
to tell them what is the new trend in beach and lifestyle sports so
when a surf kayak shows up there, they will be more inclined to try it.
“Will University carry 40 models? Not a chance, but they will carry a
basic line of entry-level boats that will expose their consumer base to
our brand and our sport. Then, as that consumer evolves and desires
more exposure, he or she will have to go to Travel Country because
University will never have the selection or expertise that Travel
Country does,” Woolsey says.
Woolsey, who came to Confluence following 20 years in the surf and
water sports industry, says he firmly believes the paddlesport industry
of today mirrors the surfing market of the ’80s — huge potential, but
with the industry as a whole unsure of how to maximize that potential.
“We are worrying too much about what each other are doing or not doing
and not enough about rallying together to grow a market together,” says
Woolsey. “I am far more concerned about what other outdoor and
action-oriented sports are doing because they are the ones taking
dollars away from paddle sports. Our goal should be to convince
consumers to spend their dollars on boating rather than water skis,
wake boards, snowboards, mountain bikes — whatever.”
It is Woolsey’s contention that the paddle sport industry desperately
needs a group to help guide the industry to decide, for example, what
the best ways to promote paddle sports are, what the best trade shows
to attend are, what the best regional shows to attend are, and how to
face up to environmental issues. He doesn’t really care if it is TAPS
or OIA or some other group.
“‘New and fresh’ made surfing what it was. By endorsing and by
embracing new companies and new ideas — not shying away from the
unfamiliar — the sport exploded. Imagine a kid in Iowa who has never
seen the ocean, much less caught a wave, decked out in surfwear. That
was the potential we saw, and we made it happen.
“We can do the same for paddle sports as a unified presence, not
individual companies. We need to feel comfortable discussing tactics
and numbers — without divulging business secrets — that can serve to
collectively grow our businesses,” says Woolsey.
“We need shared sales data, consumer surveys, market studies and more.
We need to create events that merit mass media (TV) exposure. Only then
will we begin to show the quantum leaps in consumer participation
numbers necessary to propel this sport forward.
“We have to stop fighting amongst ourselves, quibbling over market
share because the fact remains that unless the market grows, there will
always be a ceiling to how much market share any company can take
before there is nowhere else to go for any of us.”
What about the current state of affairs in the paddle sport market?
Woolsey says he believes that efforts for short-term gain at the
expense of long-term prosperity have weighed down the market with a
huge oversupply of product relative to the actual demand.
“I believe it will take us two years as an industry to get out of this
and it will be a dirty two years because there is so much product out
there,” says Woolsey.
However, Woolsey sees hope in competition from the young, fresh
companies who are aggressively pushing the boundaries with creative
ideas in design and promotion.
“The best thing that can happen for this industry is for companies like
Liquid Logic to become incredibly successful.”