Building a company isn’t just about selling a product, it takes a lot more than that to compete with the big brands. You cannot underprice them, you will not deliver faster than them, so you have to out-think them on something simple: community.
This isn’t just your local community, it’s the greater community. I was lucky enough to own Austin Kayak, which in-and-of-itself is a fun and cool product to sell. Selling fun things is fun. But we didn’t succeed solely by selling fun products. First, we aligned to a narrow category design (see prior blog post about this), and second, we built a community around the sport.
While there are certainly many ways one can create a community, we did it with some less than orthodox methods. But each was a way to promote the sport, drive participation, and ultimately led to more people wanting more kayaks. We accomplished this in the following ways:
Held Bi-annual Kayak Demo Days
We sent postcards (yes, real things to a mailbox) to all of our customers and invited them to these demo days. Our vendors would come to show off the latest and greatest kayaks. Over the years, we had thousands of people come out to the free event and sold many thousands of kayaks. People would drive from Louisiana, New Mexico, and Oklahoma to come try out 100 different kayaks. Interesting side bit, these demos actually started because we had leftover inventory from the prior kayak model year so we held the demo days as a way to have a “sale” without having a sale since we never ran sales. We basically masked our sale and then turned it into something big.
Launched a Kayak Fishing Series
We first did this by sponsoring a small fishing series in town, but then we bought it outright and took it from 30 anglers to a few hundred, hosting tournaments all around Texas. We drew anglers from as far as Florida. We had it completely sponsored by our vendors and thus it was not a drain on capital and yielded amazing results.
Hosted Trips and Lessons
We would personally do some of the trips to get to know our customers and also to be in touch with the product and the sport.
Sponsored the Two Main Kayak Forums That Existed At the Time
We attempted and failed to buy the largest. This allowed for broader reach outside of the Texas market.
Continued a Monthly Newsletter
We sent out an old school newsletter that interviewed people and increased product awareness. It wasn’t sales-y at all, yet it had the highest conversion rate of any email we sent and very low unsubscribe rates.
We dominated the kayak space not because we had the cheapest product or the fastest delivery, we dominated because we built a community around the sport and we encouraged our vendors to participate to drive further awareness. We had some failures for sure, we tried to launch ikayaker.com, which was going to be a virtual community that looked a lot like Facebook, but just for kayakers. These micro-social sites were popular for a split second.
The internet does drive and allow communities to be reached far and wide. I look at a winery I have visited, during the pandemic, they started virtual wine tastings and now are going to continue them as hundreds of people show up to listen to stories and drink wine together, virtually. Imagine a place where you show up with 200 other people and then a subset of you start talking and split off into a side room on the video to chat and then rejoin the main conversation later. That is where we are headed. Your brand is your biggest asset, but only if you use it right and build a community that thrives.