Kayak Makers KL Outdoor, GSC Technologies Merge

A C&K Exclusive with new Hemisphere Design Works CEO Chuck Smith

Two of the biggest rec kayak manufacturers in the industry, Michigan-based KL Outdoor and Quebec-based GSC Technologies, have merged to form Hemisphere Design Works (HDW), which, with flagship rec brands Sun Dolphin, Future Beach and Evoke, is estimated by company executives to now be the world's largest maker of kayaks.

Company execs maintain its brands now command an industry leading 30-35 percent market share of the kayak industry, with a forecast of double-digit growth through 2020. (Confluence Outdoor, which owns such kayak brands as Perception, Dagger, and Wilderness Systems, declined to comment on HDW's market share.) Citing studies showing the U.S. kayak market forecasted to grow by up to 10.7 percent by 2020, the company plans to produce more than 500,000 boats this year. It's also bringing a new plant online in Atlanta as it further taps the Southeast region, and with expanded production and distribution capabilities, hopes to grow into independent retailers and increase its retail presence of all its brands.

Sun Dolphin’s 8-foot Aruba SS sit-inside kayak retails at some big box retails for as low as $148, paddle included.

Sun Dolphin manufactures entry-level rec kayaks sold primarily at big-box retailers, like the 8-foot Aruba retailing for $148 at Walmart. Evoke Kayaks are higher-end, retailing at outlets like Cabela's and Academy Sports. Also carried in big-box outlets, Future Beach kayaks range from $219 for the 6-foot-6 Sprinter Junior to $439 for the 10'4" Discovery 124F.

We caught up with Hemisphere Design Works CEO Chuck Smith for his take on the merge and the market.

C&K: Do you see rec kayaking as driving the market?
Smith: Recreational kayaks are clearly the lion’s share of the market. Interestingly, for HDW, a disproportionate part of our growth comes from the Fishing segment. Hemisphere Design Works offers feature rich kayaks under the Sun Dolphin, Future Beach, and Evoke brands for beginning paddlers to Enthusiast and everyone in between.

Where do you see the paddlesports market heading in the future?
We anticipate participation to continue to grow at a 10-11% CAGR over the next three to five years. The market is still relatively immature with plenty of runway to grow. The explosion of quality boats priced under $300 has attracted new entrants into the sport and will facilitate a positive first time experience. History suggest that a great initial experience create a life-long participant.

Why you think it is so appealing to people? 
My opinion is that people love the opportunity to “get away” and enjoy the outdoors. Paddling a human powered watercraft gives them a feeling of accomplishment and re-energizes them to better deal with life’s challenges.

What does combining KL Outdoor and GSC bring to the table? 
The merger effectively creates the largest maker of human powered watercraft in North America. HDW is the only industry player that can leverage the  ability to Blow Mold, Rotational Mold, Twin Sheet Thermoform, and Injection Mold Kayaks. This unique aspect of the combined company gives us the ability to provide a customer boats across the complete quality and price continuum.

How will this merger help grow the sport?
The combined scale and size give us the ability to produce a high quality, feature rich kayak at an affordable price point. Our goal is to bring new participants into the sport and keep them as satisfied customers for life.