Bank shuts down Walden Kayaks

On Nov. 24, Walden Kayaks received notice from Banknorth of Portland, Maine, that the bank would no longer continue to finance the company and that the bank was calling in its note. By 5 p.m. that day, the doors to the Ayer, Mass.-based, company were locked, and approximately 16 employees, a number of whom had worked for Walden for over five years, were out of work. Reps in turn were left scrambling around a Thanksgiving holiday to contact their retailers that there would be no boats as ordered.
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On Nov. 24, Walden Kayaks received notice from Banknorth of Portland, Maine, that the bank would no longer continue to finance the company and that the bank was calling in its note. By 5 p.m. that day, the doors to the Ayer, Mass.-based, company were locked, and approximately 16 employees, a number of whom had worked for Walden for over five years, were out of work. Reps in turn were left scrambling around a Thanksgiving holiday to contact their retailers that there would be no boats as ordered.

Walden's owners, Jeffrey DeSantis and Bill Hearn, had purchased Walden Kayaks from Hardigg Industries just over 13 months ago. Hardigg retained ownership of the building that housed Walden, as well as the two ovens used by the company to manufacture its recycled plastic boats. No word on what Hardigg plans to do with the building or ovens at this point.

DeSantis, Walden's president, remains hopeful that the company will find an investor within the paddlesports industry to keep Walden Kayaks alive, SNEWS® was told by Jennifer Hearn, public relations director for the company.

SNEWS® contacted a bank representative who confirmed that the company would be placing advertising to sell off the assets of Walden shortly.

According to insiders we spoke with, the inventory is quite significant: over 8,000 Waldies shoes (very much like Crocs), approximately 1,000 finished boats, approximately 800 boats in various stages of production, several thousand TNP paddles that the company imports and distributes from Czechoslovakia, and an unknown number of PFDs that are produced by Extrasport and co-branded with Walden. In addition, there are an estimated 12 to 14 molds used to make the company's 10 models of boats.

Jennifer Hearn stated in an email she sent to SNEWS® that, "On a personal note, I have enjoyed acting as public relations director for Walden Kayaks. The paddlesports industry is such a closely woven group of canoe and kayak enthusiasts, and I appreciate rekindling paddling relationships and nurturing river conservation partnerships."

In that same email to us, Bill Hearn added that, "The Walden Kayaks employees were responsible for a huge turn-around in the quality of the kayaks over the last 13 months, and they were responsible for creating a positive change in the company's culture."

Unfortunately, it now appears as if all that sweat and toil will be for naught -- as of now, Walden is just another name on a bank asset sheet prepped for liquidation.

SNEWS® View: Whether or not the Walden name will survive is questionable at best. We learned a number of companies were considering acquiring Walden's assets and confirmed to us they were "sniffing" but with relatively lukewarm interest -- and that is a shame. In fact, the whole thing is a shame. What DeSantis and the Hearn family have managed to do with the Walden line in the last year is nothing short of amazing -- and perhaps that was the problem. Too much money being invested for long-term returns often don't make jittery banks feel very comfortable. Though at first glance, the boats seemed like Walden boats of old, closer inspection at Summer Market revealed boats of much greater quality than in prior years -- lighter, stiffer, better. Competitors took notice, and retailers began upping orders. Checking around, it appears too that the company had orders on the books that (on paper) would lead us to believe it was headed toward one of its best years ever.

Though we may never know why this happened so quickly, insiders have told us that the bank was not willing to loan money on receivables, leaving DeSantis and Hearn scrambling to find an outside investor. A deal that was supposedly in the works fell through at the last minute, leaving Walden funded by a bank that was willing only to loan on hard assets, not paper. Hard to run a company when a bank will not loan money for raw materials to produce goods necessary to fill orders.

This industry will miss what a little company like Walden brought to it, if the company cannot be saved. We hope it can, but it does appear now that whatever life is left in Walden's candle has nearly flickered out.

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