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Dagger has announced that it will no longer produce canoes, and will transfer to Bell Canoe Works all Dagger canoe warranty business and the rights to manufacture the popular Ocoee canoe.
The move is significant because the canoe market is losing one of its most identifiable brands, as well as the support of Watermark — Dagger’s parent company and an influential player in the paddlesports market.
Dagger President Joe Pulliam told SNEWS that Watermark could no longer justify devoting its resources to canoes. “The numbers for canoeing in terms of sales and participation have really taken a nose dive,” he said. “This past year, our canoe volume was less than half what it once was.”
Canoe sales have sunk primarily due to continued growth in the kayaking market. Watermark has now decided to “put all of our research and development resources in our award-winning kayak line,” said Mark Pate, vice president of marketing for Watermark.
While kayaks have eclipsed canoes, other factors dissuaded Watermark and Dagger from pursuing the canoe market. As more companies introduced Royalex boats, Dagger faced increased competition, while continually struggling to secure its shipments of Royalex from Uniroyal.
Pulliam added that Dagger suffered financially when the company stopped delivering its boats years ago, and began shipping them via common carrier. “It’s hard to be in the canoe business if you don’t deliver your own boats. It’s very expensive,” said Pulliam. Add it all up, and Pulliam said, “I had a hard time defending (the canoe business) internally, as far as where we were going to allocate our resources.”
It’s unclear whether Dagger will ever try to re-enter the canoe market, but for the foreseeable future it has mothballed its canoe molds. Under a licensing agreement, Dagger has given Bell Canoe Works the mold for the very popular Ocoee whitewater canoe design and the rights to manufacture the boat. Ted Bell, president of Bell Canoe Works, said that his company will produce the boat, and sell it as the Ocoee with the Bell brand label. “It is not in direct competition with the style of solo whitewater boats we’re building with the Prodigy and Prodigy X, so it’s going to appeal to a different customer,” said Bell.
Bell Canoe Works turned 15 this year. Ted Bell launched the company in 1988, the same year Joe Pulliam launched the Dagger Canoe Co.
SNEWS View: We won’t bore you with a long lament on how outdoor companies sacrifice their identity when they bow to the bottom line. We’ve covered that ground many times before. The paddlesports market is maturing, and it has conglomerate companies that must redefine themselves to meet certain financial demands. No, it’s no shock to see Watermark drop canoeing. Matter of fact, it’s a solid financial move. Will this shake up the canoe market? Probably not. Excellent companies remain in the market to offer canoeists quality, innovative products. But here’s the thing: anecdotal evidence and statistics indicate canoeing participation continues to slip, while no initiatives have been put forth to reverse the trend. On top of this, one of the most prominent paddlesports companies has signaled that canoeing is not worth its time or resources. This alarms paddle dealers who tell us that canoeing needs a big push, now that the sport has beached itself. Consider this statistic: Canoeing courses used to represent 50 percent of all instruction programs at the Nantahala Outdoor Center. They now represent 10 percent. According to the 2001 OIA Participation Study, based on Leisure Trends data, canoeing participation dropped 8.9 percent from 2001 to 2002. Unfortunately, there is little reliable data on canoe sales, because Leisure Trends has tracked point-of-sale canoe data for less than a year. Nevertheless, there are enough indicators to cause concern that the canoe is falling out of favor with Americans. Hey, from the plethora of reality TV shows, we assume that home improvement is the new form of American recreation. It reminds us of that old joke — you know the one about how lots of unused canoes eventually serve as giant flower planters in backyards. While Bell and We-no-nah tell us they are doing very well thank you, we wonder if it is not time for an aggressive marketing push dedicated to growing the apparently flat to sagging canoe market? Or not — ’cause there’s always the lucrative canoe planter box market to chase.