Sound the Taps song for another paddlesports retailer. Austin Canoe & Kayak, a longtime Texas paddlesports retailer with five stores and a robust e-commerce platform, has closed.
The closure came on Jan. 1, for both its Texas stores as well as its four Summit Sports ski stores in Michigan, which it merged with in 2016. Minneapolis, Minn.-based The House, a division of Camping World, has acquired the retailer’s leftover inventory, with ACK’s website and E-commerce page directing consumers to www.the-house.com.
Austin Kayak’s FaceBook page reads: “Austin Kayak is now officially part of The House (www.The-House.com). ACK is committed to our customers and our mission to allow the world to discover paddlesports. We are currently building a bigger and better experience for our customers. Thank you for trusting us for all these years and see you on the water!”
Austin Canoe & Kayak was founded by brothers Peter and Steve Messana in 2005, quickly growing from one lone store into an operation with four more stores in Texas and a growing e-commerce platform. In 2016, the company merged with Summit Sports, a four-store ski retailer in Michigan, to form Outdoor Adventure Brands, bringing Austin Canoe & Kayak’s expertise and business model to the skiing industry. But the expansion didn’t necessarily pan out.
Other retailers in the category hint at seeing the writing on the wall. “I was surprised but not shocked,” says Darren Bush, the longtime owner of Madison, Wisc.’s Rutabaga paddlesports store. “The Messana brothers are brilliant and figured out a smart business plan that worked for a long time for them. But it didn’t necessarily work when they wanted to expand into skiing.”
Then came COVID, which didn’t help. “Their model was everything was on sale all the time, and when COVID came they couldn’t do that anymore,” says Bush. “You take away that unique selling proposition and everything changes. Things can’t be 15% off anymore.”
The E-comm side also suffered. “E-comm in general has two benefits,” says Bush. “One, people can get the product; and two, it’s cheaper. Then that ‘cheaper’ part went away, as did the ability to get product.”
Another flaw, he suggests, is that they treated everything like a commodity—which doesn’t necessarily work in paddling. “A passion product like paddling can’t be a commodity,” says Bush. “Once you bring in outside people with the promise of growing, things often change and can suffer. If I was doing this for the money, I’d be doing something else. And skiing is a different market than paddlesports.”
For now, consumers visiting the Austin Canoe & Kayak website will find the following note from The House, which is warehousing and selling their inventory: “Austin Kayak may have closed it’s doors…but The House is here to pick up where they left off as your online dealer for outdoor gear! Great Savings – Better Selection – Same Great Service! Austin Kayak customers Save 20% on their first order.”