01 Sep 2018

Action Plan: Rapids Growth

by Ryan Jones


Holley paddling through Sparks Lake, near Bend, Oregon (courtesy of Eddyline/Sheer Madness Productions)

When he was debating whether to acquire a venerable, high-end kayak maker, Scott Holley (MBA 2009) worried that he might be doing so for the wrong reasons. “I could picture myself enjoying the heck out of it,” recalls Holley, a former consultant and finance executive. “The question was whether it could be profitable. I was pleasantly surprised to find that both were true.”

Last summer, Holley wrapped up his acquisition of Eddyline Kayaks, a family-owned company that—since its founding in 1971—had grown into one of the most admired brands in its industry. The founders were intent on seeing the company they’d built live on, a hope that aligned with Holley’s goals: to buy something to maintain for the long term, and to find it in northwest Washington, where he’d settled with his wife and three kids.

Mindful of his relative ignorance of the niche business, Holley immersed himself. He learned all about the thermoforming process (which uses heat-formed plastic instead of fiberglass) that Eddyline pioneered, and he occasionally helped out with shipping and packaging when his 20-person team was down a body. But just as important, he threw himself into the lifestyle, hoping to better understand what makes Eddyline’s customers so passionate about the products. A novice kayaker before, Holley says he’s now hooked. Asked if he’d spent any time on the water over a recent holiday weekend, Holley laughs. “All four days,” he says. “My kids complain about how much we kayak. But I love it.”

How to Kayak Like a Pro

Find a great dealer. “You can walk into any big-box store right now and walk out with a $250 kayak, but the person helping you probably isn’t going to have any experience in the water, and if they did, they wouldn’t recommend the boats they’re selling. You want a paddlesports-specific retailer—a good one will offer lessons and tours too.”

Fit matters. “It’s really important, just as in skiing or mountain biking. You’ve got multiple points of contact with the kayak, so you’re basically wearing it and using your entire body to control it.”

Learn from a pro. “Lessons are vital. It’s tempting to look at someone kayaking and say it looks easy, but knowing what to do if you lose your balance, if you go over, how do you get back in and get back to shore—learning those things with qualified instructors will give you confidence.”

Featured Alumni

Featured Alumni

Class of MBA 2009, Section F
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