4 Corners Riversports Celebrates 40 Years


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Blow out the birthday candles (while you’re blowing up your raft). Four Corners Riversports in Durango, CO, hit a huge milestone—in both retail and paddlesports—by turning a whopping 40 this year, marking four decades of helping paddlers get out on the water.

Founded by Milt and Nancy Wiley in 1983, the store was sold to Andy Corra in 1998, with Tony Miely coming on board in 1999, Matt Gerhardt joining the ownership circle in 2007 and Ashleigh Tucker signing on in 2008. The foursome has since  done everything right in the world of paddlesports retail, including hosting a rollicking parking lot party to celebrate its anniversary this spring, complete with a band, gear swap river cookoff challenge and more.

We caught up with co-owners Tony and Matt to shine some light on what makes them so successful:

What’s your take on the paddlesports market and state of kayaking today?

Matt: Whitewater kayaking and rafting are still the backbone of our business, and we saw a big bump in interest during COVID. Lot of paddlers are moving towards more modern designs of river running half-slices and high rocker creek boats, and even the newer full-slice designs. Playboat sales have gone a bit stagnant since it’s really just Jackson that’s coming out with new play designs, which is a bummer for us since we have such great waves right in town (and all over the state). We’d love to see some new designs from Pyranha, Dagger and LiquidLogic.

Tony: We’ve seen a lot of changes to the paddlesports market over the years and have tried our best to grow and adapt with them. Currently we’re seeing a bit of a decline in SUP sales as the market seems to have become saturated with manufacturers and the used market has grown. Fishing rafts and kayaks have been selling well, with manufacturers putting significant effort into developing new designs and ideas. Whitewater has had a bit of resurgence in the last few years with more focus being put on river running designs that are more approachable to newer paddlers.

4 CornersWhat’s been your secret to lasting 40 years?
Matt: Being a dedicated, specialty paddlesports retailer. While we all love other sports, whitewater is really the core of what we do and know, so focusing solely on paddlesports has really helped us to stay thriving for four decades. That and employing people that love and know paddling. In a world full of Backcountry.com’s, it makes all the difference to have staff with real world experience and a passion for the sport.

Tony: We’ve been pretty good at getting in front of a lot of trends.  We developed our website pretty early on and have tried to stay on top of growing our online store and presence.  I also think that is really important to customers to have a salesperson with real world experience.

How has the industry and sport changed over four decades?

Tony: So much has changed, but the core of paddling and rafting remains, which is running rivers. There are new ways to do it, like SUPs, better and safer equipment, and lots of new shiny widgets that make trips more fun and enjoyable, but the heart of whitewater paddle sports is running rivers.

Matt: With the advent of “pack rafts,” we’re seeing a lot more people getting into kayaking. Some are coming from a rafting background, or a climbing or bike packing background, so it’s cool to see people from other disciplines getting into paddling. We’re also seeing some of those folks transition into hardshells.

Is brick and mortar retail getting harder?

Matt: It’s evolving and has its challenges, but it’s still the core of our business. Our website actually drives a good chunk of in-store foot traffic these days. A lot of people walk through the door that have already “pre-shopped” our website, but still want to come and have that tactile retail experience. They want to see, and touch, and try things on, and ask questions. That’s not possible if you’re shopping solely online.

Tony: We see that it has become more challenging, but we expanded our store last year and are feeling good about our growth. Our industry is a tough one to be run fully online.  People want to sit in a kayak, paddle a SUP, build their raft frame. Our Paddle School teaches hundreds of people to kayak every year and we try to keep our class prices affordable to bring more people into the sport. Sometimes they buy their new gear online after their class, but usually they buy from us because we have created that relationship with them. One of the biggest challenges we currently face is the rising cost of shipping.

What’s selling well these days? Hot product pick of the year? 

Matt: Half-slices, modern creek boats and rafts are the big items that move out the door regularly. We’ve seen a lot more demand for drysuits in the past few years, which is great because they are a lot safer than your old Farmer John and booties. In the raft world, we’ve moved a lot of our Coyote Raft Biminis since we have so many good desert floats in our area. Smaller rafts have also been gaining a lot of popularity because they’re a lot more convenient for day trips than big 14- or 16-foot expedition rigs. My top pick for best new product would be the Dagger Nova.

Tony: Dolores River Maps, half slices and Alpacka pack rafts.

What’s your sales percentage breakdown between retail and rentals?

Matt: It’s hard to truly quantify because so many customers use both our website and showroom for a “hybrid” shopping experience. Pretty much everyone that comes through our door or calls us references our website, so you can’t really go “by the numbers”. Rentals and kayak school do very well for us, but retail is still our predominant revenue generator.

How was your 40th bash? Big turnout, etc.?

Tony: We had our 40th Anniversary Celebration during our annual gear swap weekend, which drew customers from the entire Four Corners region and beyond. It was our biggest swap ever, so I’d say it went really well. We had two bands, our Cast Iron Chef cooking competition, free beer and give-aways, and the turn out was great. A lot of longtime customers came to celebrate with us.

Any big plans for the future?  

Matt: I really want to do more organized international paddle/instructional trips. It’s something we used to do, and I really want to see that come back. The biggest part of paddling for me is getting to see super unique and beautiful places, and doing that in a foreign place is even that much more impactful.

Tony: It’s spring time in the Rockies, it’s time to paddle! Seriously though, I would be happy to continue to slowly but steadily grow our business, teach new paddlers, and be known for our first rate customer service.

Info: 4 Corners Riversports 


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