Confluence heads to Summer Market with refined vision and plan

Following the recent acquisition of WaterMark, Confluence heads into Summer Market with a clearer picture as to how it intends to position its brands, as well as a restructured sales team, a generous preseason program, and an eye to developing new markets and expanding existing ones.
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Following the recent acquisition of WaterMark, Confluence heads into Summer Market with a clearer picture as to how it intends to position its brands, as well as a restructured sales team, a generous preseason program, and an eye to developing new markets and expanding existing ones.

After the merger of Confluence and WaterMark's paddlesports division in May, Confluence suddenly found itself with what is arguably the majority of the "A" list boat brands now all under one roof -- Wilderness Systems, Mad River Canoe, Wave Sport, Mainstream, Dagger, Perception and Mainstream.

SNEWS® spoke with CEO Rich Feehan and Kelley Woolsey, senior vice president of marketing, to garner a bit more detail regarding what the company intends and what retailers can expect.

Distribution
According to both Feehan and Woolsey, each brand is positioned by design, price and distribution to ensure that the right boat makes it to the right customer through the appropriate channel.

Specifically, that means that some boats will only be available to specialty, while others will be offered to both specialty and what the company is terming "select chains." When asked to define what Confluence meant by select chains, Feehan replied, "Stores like Gander, EMS, REI and Dick's -- pretty much the same distribution model that Confluence has held to for the last year."

Woolsey added that Confluence will not allow distribution into any chain store that is not consistent with what the company demands in terms of merchandising, display, marketing and product positioning.

In short, retailers can expect that Wilderness System boats will be priced in the upper tier, with select models enjoying keystone margins and planned distribution into both specialty and select chains. Perception is being moved into a price point that Confluence terms "competitive" (we would say mid-tier) and will be distributed to both specialty and select chains. Dagger is being positioned as a premium brand in both touring and whitewater, and will be sold only to specialty dealers. Wave Sport will also be positioned as a premium brand in whitewater and available only to specialty distribution. Mad River Canoe is being priced as a premium brand, but the distribution will be a little broader, going to both specialty and select chains. And, rounding out the mix is Mainstream which will be distributed to, well, the mainstream, meaning specialty, select chains, sporting goods stores, etc. Positioning for Mainstream remains consistent -- value pricing in the lower tier of the market.

Rep force
Following the acquisition, some former WaterMark reps stayed with Yakima. Others jumped ship. A few new ones were headhunted and in the end, Woolsey tells us that the company believes it has assembled a team of sales reps that are the best possible, representing both youthful energy and veteran wisdom.

Covering the Northeast is Mike Macdonald and Steve Long. Serving the mid-Atlantic region is Harry Longerbeam. Frank Stapleton is working the Southeast, and Joel McBride is covering the Rockies and Gulf Coast. The Eastern Great Lakes will be represented by Greg Larson, and the Western Great Lakes will be covered by Dave Larson. Ted Keyes is holding down the fort in the Northwest, while Jared Noceti is working the West Coast. North of the border, Kevin Henderson is repping Western Canada, Paul Brittain is covering Ontario, and Andrew Sterling will be working Eastern Canada.

Preseason opportunity
Feehan pointed out to SNEWS® that because Confluence now has so many leading brands in the company stable, it can offer its retailers flexible terms so they don't have to purchase more models of one brand just to achieve a volume discount. Beginning immediately, retailers of any size can combine orders for Dagger, Perception, Wilderness Systems, Wave Sport, Mainstream and Mad River Canoe to reach the highest volume discount levels. As a result, retailers will more easily realize better terms, bigger discounts and better margins.

Growing the market
Whitewater paddling: Woolsey tells us that the company is very intent on cutting back on the number of "bro" deals that are out in the market and do the industry no good. In addition, Confluence will be seeking to own several key whitewater events, and put its considerable weight behind getting those events significant TV exposure. It is not lost on Woolsey, or the rest of the company, that there are nearly 200 whitewater parks in the United States, and yet hardly anyone knows about them. Little wonder the sport is languishing. Woolsey said he believes firmly that by garnering increased TV exposure for whitewater paddling will not only benefit it as a market segment, but padding as a whole.

Kayak fishing: Wilderness Systems' professional kayak fishing team will be at the Summer Market Open Air Demo, holding demonstrations and leading a kayak fishing tournament for any interested attendees. They will also be conducting demonstrations in the Confluence Booth and in the TAPS Paddle Tank throughout the show. Both Feehan and Woolsey see nothing but growth potential in this market, and the company will be seeking to apply the sponsored fishing team model to Perception's own line.

Paddle fitness: Yes, you read that correctly. No, paddle fitness is not an official category yet, but it will be if Woolsey has his way. Coincidently, Woolsey tells us, prior to the merger of Confluence and WaterMark, each company was independently pursuing the idea of tapping into the fitness market. Perception had already received interest from the 24-Hour Fitness health club chain and the U.S. Olympic team. Those ideas have been turned into a formal program, with Confluence, in conjunction with a team of fitness experts, launching a paddle fitness program for on and off-water. Paddle Fitness demonstrations will be performed throughout the Open Air Demo Day, on the Confluence Watersports stage, as well as in the TAPS Paddle Tank at the show. "This is not just paddling in a kayak to improve your fitness and your skill. This is a full-fledged fitness program with elements that utilize yoga equipment, rowing machines, paddles alone, and also on-water," Woolsey told us.

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