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Rethinking Retail: Stand-up paddleboarding a means to retail, gym partnerships

The Rutabaga paddlesports shop is targeting the fitness crowd to build participation in stand-up paddleboarding -- and sees a natural means to partner with the likes of gyms and fitness retailers.

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The buzz over stand-up paddleboarding has grown louder over the past three years, and

Rutabaga, an outdoor specialty store in Monona, Wis., has found that the sport especially appeals to fitness-oriented consumers — and could be a path to partnerships with gyms and fitness retailers.

As SNEWS® reported on June 18, Rutabaga recently hosted a luau to promote stand-up paddleboarding and drew a surprising number of new customers who were more of the fitness set than the traditional outdoor retail consumer base. (Click here to read the complete story.)

“We roasted a pig, wore Hawaiian shirts and got a whole bunch of people on boards,” said Rutabaga owner Darren Bush. “We saw people at our luau we’d never seen before — yoga instructors and a lot of other people into fitness.”

Bush pointed out that consumers are responding to a steady stream of media messages that stand-up paddleboarding is a good form of exercise and therefore can be great cross-training. “That’s what you see in most of the magazine articles written about it,” said Bush.

Doug Erwin, CEO of Tahoe Stand Up Paddleboards (, in Reno, Nev., said that stand-up paddleboarding primarily works a person’s core.

“Because you’re balancing, you’re activating your core,” said Erwin. “While you’re paddling you’re also rotating, and keeping stabilized while rotating really strengthens core muscles.” He added that the sport also involves “a lot of micro muscles in your feet and legs,” and does it in “a very low-impact way.”

Bush said that Rutabaga didn’t really play up the fitness angle of paddleboarding when he promoted the luau through a radio ad that ran at a high frequency for a week. Rather, the ad message focused on how stand-up paddleboarding is fun and relaxing (partly because the store didn’t want to turn off people who don’t consider themselves fit). Nevertheless, the promotion brought out people looking for a new way to exercise. Bush said he wants to build a community of people to support paddleboarding. Bush didn’t offer details about his plans to do that, but he said he’s working with gyms and fitness retailers as well as other entities that are natural partners.

Bush said he’s particularly interested in reaching out to women, as he thinks they’re buying the majority of the boards. Erwin of Tahoe Stand Up Paddleboards said he was not sure whether the majority of buyers are women, but he said that participation by women is growing quickly (his company’s women’s-specific board has seen the highest demand), and about 60 percent of women are buying boards for exercise.

As for the overall growth of stand-up paddleboarding, there’s a general consensus in the outdoor specialty market that it’s generating lots of interest but only slight to moderate sales. Nevertheless, plenty of shops are willing to give it a go, and Rutabaga has moved a modest number of boards this spring and summer. “They’re selling,” said Bush. “They’re not flying out the door, but they’re selling.”

–Marcus Woolf