Malibu Kayaks set to open dealers the right way

Malibu Kayaks, in business making and selling its own brand of kayaks directly to consumers for over three years, is ready to take on a limited number of retail dealers, the company told SNEWS® last week.

Malibu Kayaks, in business making and selling its own brand of kayaks directly to consumers for over three years, is ready to take on a limited number of retail dealers, the company told SNEWS® last week.

Sean Caples, owner of Malibu Kayaks, launched into the manufacture of his own line of boats after parting ways with Cobra Kayaks.

"Sean had been selling thousands of boats for Cobra since opening a retail store, Malibu Ocean Sports, in 1994," said Ric Hawthorne, technical director and vice president for Malibu Kayaks. "However, they decided to part ways when Cobra's distribution decisions and Sean's philosophies didn't mesh."

Caples purchased a very small kayak company, Competition Kayaks, which specialized in making a high-end competition surf kayak -- not exactly a booming market. In short order, Caples added the Pro 2 Tandem, his first kayak design, to the lineup, continuing to sell only through his two stores.

In 2001, the company decided, with the introduction of yet another design, the Pro Explorer, a single recreational kayak, to display at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market.

"We got a great response from the dealers and were very excited when we headed home from the show," Hawthorne told SNEWS®. "However, when we started trying to produce the orders, we quickly realized we did not have the facilities to meet demand so we decided to tuck our tail between our legs, focus on servicing our own stores, and focus on selling direct to consumers."

For the next two years, Malibu fine-tuned production in the company's Santa Fe, Calif., factory, and built a name for the brand the old-fashioned way -- word of mouth. That tact appears to have paid dividends. Head to any number of web-based bulletin boards (,, etc.) and passionate paddlers sing Malibu's praises.

Now, with six boats to offer, all sit-on-tops, and a strong following in Texas, California and even overseas, Hawthorne said the time was right to begin supporting dealers.

"We have signed on 15 dealers since deciding to start selling through the retail channel in March," Hawthorne said. "Our goal is to have nationwide coverage, but we are going to be very particular. We will not allow any direct competition within the same town or locale.

"I know that some brands believe that if they open up a dive shop or a surf show within a few miles of a paddlesport shop, they are not undercutting their paddlesport dealer because they believe the customer is different, but I disagree. As a manufacturer, you have to support your product and your dealer by building on your brand reputation and driving consumers to those select shops that fully support your product with strong merchandising, promotion and a well-trained staff," Hawthorne said.

Ultimately, Malibu wants to have a dealer network established so that no consumer has to drive more than two hours to get to an authorized Malibu Kayak dealer.

As the dealer base grows, Malibu is exploring opportunities to open up an East Coast production facility to alleviate shipping and warehousing costs.

Malibu, which decided not to exhibit at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market this year, hopes to participate in trade shows in the future, but for the time being sees steady growth of one to two dealers each week appropriate progress.

"We want to concentrate on fulfilling every order from every dealer completely and on-time. When we can do that with our established dealer base, and feel the need for more growth, we'll likely exhibit at Outdoor Retailer," Hawthorne said.

Malibu grew at a 40 percent clip last year, and Hawthorne thinks the company will exceed that as it adds more quality dealers. If a recent order is any indication, Hawthorne may be underestimating -- 65 boats in a 40-foot container to Hawaii for a new dealer's opening order.

What is driving all the growth and interest in the company's product line?

"Kayak fishing, pure and simple," said Hawthorne. "Surf kayaks have become a very small part of our business. Fishing editors and experts will tell you that while fishing remains the largest outdoor sport, it is stagnant. The only area in fishing that is growing and adding excitement to the sport is kayak fishing."

What has made Malibu's new eXtreme such a sought-after boat, according to Hawthorne, is that the company designed the boat from the hull up specifically for kayak fishing.

"Most other companies have simply taken an existing sit-on-top design and modified it for fishing, and that's just not as good an approach," he said.

SNEWS® View: We've read the passionate preaching on the bulletin boards, and we've talked to some Malibu kayak owners, and we have to say, we're impressed. Malibu has recovered nicely from the early blows-it by leaving dealers hanging, and it is hitting the market at just the right time -- dealers are looking for a manufacturer they can support that will, in turn, fully support them and not just look to open another door down the street in a quest for more volume. As long as Malibu takes a cautious and measured approach to expansion of its dealer base, we see no reason the company can't continue to grow, and keep dealers and consumers smiling broadly. To contact Malibu for more information about becoming a dealer, call 562-921-8591.


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