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flavor of the stew

Posted Jul 24 2008 12:00am

I’m gonna build me a boat
With these two hands
It’ll be a fair curve
From a noble plan
Let the chips fall where they will
Cause I’ve got boats to build
- jimmy buffett

I came out into the living room and glanced over for a moment to see Gryphon playing video games. He got a million of them recently from his older brother. They are all the old games I used to play back when Nintendo was new and simple graphics were still amazing. These days all those old games are on ROMs and easily downloadable everywhere. The truth of the digital age is of course that everything is available and everything is legally or illegally, free.

It’s a hard place to be in for businesses. No matter what they do they cannot stop the tide. Heck, even if you create a great digital product chances are someone has copied it and put it up for download. Software makers have the added problem that there is probably a good if not better open source version out there as well. The stark reality of this is pointing out something that has always been true even if it’s not always been so apparent. It takes something more than just the product to encourge people to invest not only money but time and loyalty as well.

Back in the day we used to trade music all the time. Thing was a friend usually bought an album and then would offer to make a cassette copy for you. We did it all the time. But if we were really fans we would inevitably buy the album ourselves. On the other hand if there was just one song we liked and the rest felt like a toss off, there was no way we would spend our limited teenage incomes on the whole album. One song was not worth 7 bucks (or whatever the going rate was). Movies were the same. We’d make a VHS copy and share it out. If we really loved the movie we would go out and buy a copy. Really life has not changed all that much. Now as then you can always get a copy of anything digital. Then for most of us if we really find it valuable we will go out and purchase our own copy. Not everyone of course, but most do and the numbers have backed that up. It’s an interesting idea.  Even if we can get it free most of us are willing to pay for it.

This little digital trip does actually bring me back around to kayaking. What the digital age has shown us is that  what makes us willing to part with our money, time or effort is something more than just the product  itself. It’s  personal. It’s appreciation, loyalty and feeling valued by the people selling the product. If companies want us to give up the reddies, these days they have to develop a strong relationship with customers. They can’t look at people as “consumers” but as real human beings with an emotional investment in the company, its products, and it’s people. In the world of sea kayaking this is especially true. We live in a very small circle where everyone knows everyone else and no one is getting rich in the process. No one “owns the outdoor adventure”.

So when this post came up on one of the Yahoo groups titled “Nigel doesn’t care” I couldn’t help but feel a bit tweaked. Of course it wasn’t necessary for me dive into it. I could see the many responses coming through right away that were much more concise than I could be. You’re not going to take a shot at Nigel without seeing the torches and pitch forks coming up from the village. And with good reason.

Nigel Dennis if you don’t know is the guy behind NDK, or as it is now Sea Kayaking UK and is arguably one of the most important figures in the growth of our sport. Over the years NDK kayaks have built two very distinct reputations; First and foremost as one of the premiere sea kayaks in the world. No doubts, no questions. People can and will talk about comparisons, who did or designed what but in the end NDK is one of the few on top of the heap. NDK produced the hulls that others love to copy. The other thing we all know is that NDK boats have, unfairly or not come to have a warm reputation as “kit boats”, in that there is probably something you’ll need to tweak when you get yours. Funny thing about that though is that it’s not always deserved, and even when it is most folks sort of grin about it. The reason for this comes down to what I was on about before, appreciation and loyalty.

Those of us who have crossed paths with Nigel over the years know that he is probably one of the most giving and supportive people in the sport. You could lose track of how many expedition paddlers owe their training and even their boats to the fact that Nigel is right there behind their dreams all the way. When you seek him out for advice or support you don’t get a numbers guy looking for a media plan, you get someone who is genuinely interested in you. That is something getting rarer by the day. When you buy a Romany or Explorer you know you are paddling one of the finest boats on the sea. You also know you are part of the legacy of sea kayaking. Something you can’t help but feel as you look out over the bow. You know when you do have an issue, Nigel and crew in the end will do whatever it takes to make it right. . They won’t view you as just a number or a consumer who can be fluffed off.

Let me share this one post from that thread I referred to before as it does a great job illustrating why NDK paddlers feel the sense of loyalty they do;

“If Nigel didn’t care we wouldn’t have his boats, imperfect as some maybe. I could almost guarantee he ain’t making much money and personally I commend him for his perseverance in putting out boats and supporting our sport. I have never met him but he did me a great  service, after misplacing an order for my custom boat he gave me a boat out of the recently arrived container that was supposed to have mine in it. He said use it as if it were your own , tweaking fit with foam, changing deck outfitting etc., when your boat gets to you trade back. I did a couple big trips in the loaner, it took the expected bumps and scratches a loaded boat will and when my new one (the custom one) arrived he took the loaner back without a care. It wasn’t trashed but it sure wasn’t brand new anymore. Point is he obviously cared enough to do all in his power to make up for an error. . . ” – Sandy

And that’s the thing. With NDK you do know exactly what you are getting and you know it’s worth every penny. In the end when you work with any company in the world you get both good and bad. For every problem there are usually another 100 happy customers. In small companies you have the advantage in knowing that the owner is probably nearby and regardless of the statement of that post, they really do care.

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