It took less than a week following the announcement that the Trade Association of Paddlesports (TAPS) and Professional Paddlesports Association (PPA) were no longer pursuing an agenda of unification (read our story by clicking here) for PPA's board to decide to embrace the strategic framework of the Paddlesports Industry Unification Workgroup (PIUW) and become the Paddlesports Industry Association (PIA).
In doing so, PIA is making it clear that it intends to be the paddlesports association that outfitters, retailers and manufacturers will unite behind.
"Our name change is the initial step in creating a strong, industry-wide association," said Mike Prom, president of the board of the PIA, in a prepared statement. "Our new name was chosen to highlight our commitment to bringing outfitters, retailers and manufacturers together -- uniting our industry."
Matt Menashes, executive director of the PIA, told SNEWS®, "The PPA board was somewhat surprised by TAPS backing away, but we understand their position and respect it. At the same time, we felt that the work the PIUW had put in, work that included contributions from members of both TAPS and PPA, as well as industry veterans who are not members of either organization, should not go to waste.
"It was valuable work and we thought there was a clear direction from the industry to create a unified association which the board wants to support," said Menashes.
He added that the PIA was immediately adopting the three broad goals established by the unification committee:
Goal 1 -- Increase paddlesports participation by marketing paddlesports effectively.
Goal 2 -- Promote smart paddling by providing education materials to consumers and risk-management materials to member businesses.
Goal 3 -- Enhance business education by providing learning opportunities for industry professionals.
In addition, Menashes told us that the PIA board has made it very clear they have a desire to continue to work with TAPS.
Menashes said that the PIA is a 501 (c)(6) trade association dedicated to the growth of paddlesports. The association represents the interests of manufacturers, retailers, outfitters, instruction centers, sales representatives and outside suppliers of the paddlesports industry throughout North America. The organization supports industry growth and its membership through programs that include representation in government/legislative affairs, consumer education, outreach/marketing initiatives, market research, membership cost-saving benefits, and professional development programs such as the National School for Paddlesports Business and the annual Paddlesports Pro conference. For more information, visit www.paddlesportsindustry.org.
While applauding PIA for taking a strong step in a direction the PPA has long wanted to go, Michael Pardy, executive director for TAPS, told SNEWS®, "I think what the paddlesports industry needs most is a lot more leadership with a little less process and a lot more action. I personally believe the PIA initiative is their attempt to show leadership and move forward and I applaud and laud it and I would hope they look at what we are doing in the same light."
Adding that TAPS felt that there was no reason to rush unification yet every reason to continue a path of collaboration, Pardy said, "I buy into the strategic objective, but the challenge for us in the short term is taking those broad objectives and then tying them to a need for unification explicitly, and that is the problem…not that unification is a bad idea."
PIA, naturally, sees things a bit differently, and believes it is now acting upon clear direction to provide the paddlesports industry with one voice, one direction following six years of protracted effort by various industry members toward that goal.
"Speaking as one voice is very important. More important than that, though, is creating a sense of community and even more important than that is an ability to get things done. We have created that family and collaboration with the outfitters and it is time to take that model to have those folks working with manufacturers and retailers on a focused agenda to grow the sport," said Menashes.
Industry members endorsing the new PIA are both numerous and recognizable, including Keith Miller of California Canoe and Kayak, Kelley Woolsey of Confluence, Greg Barton of Epic Kayak, Danny Batton of Great Outdoor Provision Company, Norm Cavallaro of North Cove Outfitters, Lillie Gilbert of Wild River Outfitters, John Durra of Jersey Paddler, Mark Leopold of Johnson Outdoors, Andy Zimmerman of Legacy Paddlesports, Steve Jordan of Liquid Logic, Lili Colby of MTI, Kay Henry of Northern Forest Canoe Trail, Tim Miller of Nova, Steve Piragis of Piragis Northwoods, Darren Bush and Jeff Weidman of Rutabaga, Bruce Furrer of Werner Paddles, Steve Scarbourough, Joe Pulliam and Mike Cichanowski of Wenonah.
All told, PIA currently has just under 430 members, with 60 percent of those representing retailer/outfitters and what Menashes refers to as 40 brand companies, including Johnson, NRS, Grumman, etc.
For its part, TAPS currently has around 75 paid members, mostly retailers and manufacturers, Pardy told us.
SNEWS® View: We have long been on the record supporting a move toward one voice, one direction, one representing association for the paddlesports industry and we suspect we are feeling like many others who've been on the sidelines watching the TAPS/OIA and then TAPS/PPA saga play out now for nearly six years -- it's gotten very old and very stale.
We know from listening to insiders on both sides of the TAPS and PPA fence that progress around any talk of unification over the years has been stymied by one simple and very silly item -- ego. Some have argued that if the ski industry can support multiple associations than the paddlesports industry can too. And while that may be true on one front, let's not lose sight of the fact that there really is only ONE association that speaks for the ski industry in the media, on behalf of growth initiatives, and on legislative fronts, and that is SIA. Paddlesports needs to figure out which voice it wants to have speak for it, and from what we are now seeing, it appears many are saying PIA.
We've also heard that there were those on the TAPS membership side of the fence who expressed real concern over PPA's 20 percent or so ownership stake in Paddler and Paddlesport Dealer (ACA owns the other 80 percent). And that's downright whacky. Any association these days would give its right arm to have a communication vehicle to promote its message to both consumers and trade, and PPA (excuse us, PIA) has both.
As for all this talk about growing the industry by 100 percent and that being the driving force behind unification, or the creation of the PIA…ummm, are we missing something here? OIA studies for the last five years have indicated that kayaking is one of the top five fastest growing sports among all outdoor activities. So, if it has been growing so well without a single voice, does it really need one to continue to grow now? Perhaps, but can an association really encourage and inspire participation as well as or better than retailers such as Rutabaga and Kittery Trading Post and Jersey Paddler and many others who put on focused and imaginative events that drive participation already? We doubt it, and frankly to do so takes way more money than PIA would ever be able to imagine having. We would go so far as to say that there are much better reasons for an association to encourage folks to gather around a collective inspirational fire for.
Access for one. Inspiring folks who have already purchased a boat to continue to use it, for another. Liability and state-by-state issues that can and will affect the industry if not carefully watched, for another. Business education to teach retail owners and managers how to run their businesses more efficiently. Support for school-based paddlesports educational programs. We could go on.
We applaud PIA for making a bold statement that it is not going to continue along the path of process and instead move down the river of change. No matter what corporate name change or organizational structure gets put into play though, PIA will only be as strong or as effective as its membership allows it to be through both funding (by dues and donations) and active industry participation. Those who simply want to watch on the sidelines by mailing in a dues check will, we suspect, get much more bang for their buck by being a part and sadly disappointed by sitting back.
As for TAPS, the association has, for now, found a very good executive director in Michael Pardy, and we suspect from speaking with him, he will continue to work hard to get things done with very limited resources and a primarily Western-focused agenda. We wonder how long it will be now, though, before TAPS finally decides it might be best for all its members to join with one purpose, one mission, one vision. After all, this is not an industry that is anything close to large enough to support multiple associations. It's barely big enough to support one.