Some kayak importers were scrambling more than usual to nail down prices and pre-season offers for the Outdoor Retailer show last week courtesy of a weak dollar and rising shipping costs. And there was not much consensus on how much prices will rise. Thats probably because boats are entering the U.S. from so many different countries, including England, Germany, the Czech Republic, Thailand and China.
One distributor of a European brand said he will strive to keep price increases at 10% and may simply stop offering lower margin products. Another said he expects wholesale prices to rise nearly 40%.
Executives at Aire have discussed redesigning product to eliminate costs or justify price increases. But the Idaho maker of Fish Cat Tributary and Aire inflatable boats did not have time to develop new product for OR, said VP Dan Allumbaugh. The Idaho company imports some of its whitewater and fishing boats from China.
“A lot of different options will be explored, likely in 2010,” he said.
Some U.S. distributors and European brands said they will continue countering the impact of a weak dollar by lowering their margins and scrutinizing marketing expenses.
Wildwasser Sport USA, which distributes Prijon kayaks from Germany, has virtually exited the low end of the U.S. kayak market over the last five years and settled for lower margins on its higher priced boats, said President Landis Arnold.
“Because our market seems to be so important, a lot of work goes into trying to keep market share here, even though margin goes down and down and down,” said Arnold.
Wildwasser pulled out of OR for that and other reasons last year for only the second time since 1986 and wont be returning this year.
“We are running a tighter ship,” said Arnold, noting that it cost him $1,000 per appointment at his last OR show. “If eastern dealers made it to Salt Lake, the math on the show would be much different.”
Pyranha US Inc. has already raised prices twice since ORSM 2007, but does not expect to raise prices dramatically at this years show, said the companys U.S. marketing manager Brian Good.
Wholesale prices rose $100 across its Pyranha whitewater and P&H sea kayak lines in June. The boats are made in England.
Good is less concerned about the dollar than rising shipping costs, which are hurting the small specialty shops it relies on. He said fuel surcharges are doubling costs.
Pyranhas focus at OR will be signing up dealers for two newer lines, including its Feel Free line of sit-on-tops imported from Thailand and its Venture line of rotomolded sea touring kayaks from England.
Inflatable kayak importer Innova is bracing for a substantial double-digit price increase because the dollar has fallen 17% against the Czech koruna in the last year. The company is better positioned than many to pass along price increases, however, because its boats are PVC-free and its kayaks have won accolades from consumer magazines, said Tim Rosenhan, owner of the Burlington, WA-based company.
However, steady price increases could eventually undermine inflatables gains against rigid boats in the U.S. market. While sales of rigid kayaks have been flat to down at most price points in recent years, sales of inflatables have been flat to up, Rosenhan said. Thanks to Zodiac and innovations like Hypalon, inflatables have been gaining credibility in the marketplace and are competing better with rigid boats, he said.
At Jersey Paddler, President John Durrua said rising import prices were the topic at his store one morning last week.
“We have plastic boats going for composite prices and thats just crazy,” said Durrua.
The flip side, however, is that Durrua recently had his first export sale since the 1990s. He said he shipped eight Pelican paddle boats and nine Ocean Kayak boats to a resort owner in Croatia earlier this year.
“These guys, with the dollar being weaker, are starting to come west again,” he said.
Small dealers should expect less generous terms and marketing support from domestic brands as well, particularly when it comes to subsidizing shipping costs on onesies and twosies…