There are three major players in the kayak industry, WaterMark, Johnson Outdoors Inc. and Confluence Watersports. These companies are the result of a flurry of consolidation that saw many established, familiar names come under new ownership.
WaterMark, an investment partnership based in Easley, S.C., owns high-end kayak maker Perception, as well as Dagger, which has been around since 1988. Its diversity has won Perception the respect of its competitors.
``A company like Perception, they're doing composite, thermoforming and [rotational molding] plastic,'' said Jeffrey DeSantis, president of rival Walden Kayaks.
``Perception has been around for 28 years. They were the first company to successfully rotomold plastic kayaks,'' said Bryon Phillips, spokesman for Liquidlogic LLC, a kayak maker in Flat Rock, N.C. ``Not [the first] to rotomold plastic kayaks, but to be successful at it,'' he qualified. After the company was purchased by WaterMark in 1998, Phillips and several of his co-workers left Perception.
``The consolidation was the catalyst for us [to start Liquidlogic],'' he said. ``The bigger the company gets, it becomes very hard to react in the right way to changes.'' WaterMark employs 300 and is No. 15 in Plastic News' North American rotational molders ranking with estimated sales of $30 million.
The consolidation led to many changes in order to reduce competition between sister companies. ``Dagger gave up canoes. [Perception is] concentrating on hybrid composite boats,'' said Chris Mitchell, executive director of the Trade Association of Paddlesports in Olympia, Wash.
Trinity, N.C.-based Confluence Watersports formed in October 1998 when it bought Wilderness Systems and Mad River Canoe, at the time the third-largest manufacturer of kayaks and the second-largest maker of canoes in the United States.
Over the last six years, Confluence has acquired a foothold in every dimension of the water recreation market. Its Wilderness' WindRider division makes trimarans. Mad River, a 33-year-old canoe company, bought Voyageur, a maker of paddle sport accessories, in 1990. In 1999, Confluence acquired Wave Sport, a 15-year-old company specializing in whitewater kayaks, to complement Wilderness' line of recreational and touring kayaks from PE and composite construction.
Johnson Outdoors owns 14 companies, including Old Town, Dimension, Ocean Kayak, Necky Kayak and Carlisle, a company that makes paddles. Old Town is known for its canoes, but also makes high-end touring and recreational kayaks. Ocean Kayak has been making sit-on-top kayaks since 1971 and Dimension sells sit-on-tops and traditional recreational/touring kayaks. Necky has a full line of kayaks.
Johnson is publicly held. It is part of the Racine, Wis.-based Johnson family empire, which includes S.C. Johnson & Son Inc.
Kayaks are a small part of Johnson Outdoors, which employs 1,500 and reported annual sales of $315.9 million in 2003.