The big upsell works on me

It’s been a few years for me and kayaks. Not many, but a few. And definitely heavy usage the last couple years.


Kayak skills lessons on the Kennebec River in Maine two years ago.

I never thought I’d enjoy them so much. And I didn’t think I still had a lot to learn about kayaking. It’s simple, right? Just a skinny canoe?

Today I had an epiphany. I was under a bridge, working hard (REALLY hard) to make headway against a combined incoming tide and the afternoon Buzzards Bay blow. Damned if I hadn’t just gotten sunscreen all over my hands, too, just enough to make them slippery on the paddle. It was very challenging to make progress toward open water while eddies swirled in front of me and the kayak I had felt like a leaf blowing across a lake. 

That’s when it occurred to me that trying to upsell people on better kayaks makes perfect sense. Not that you always need a really good one, but at times like those a more expensive kayak would perform better (thank God it was daylight and there was nothing at stake but finding out if there were fish on the other side of the bridge).


The boat I was using is a basic, $300 model. In the store where I worked they were Pungos. Whatever. I think there’s a factory in China that turns out thousands a minute, all bright red and orange, which get different names according to who’s selling them. It’s about the cheapest kayak you can buy. And when I was employed in that business, we sold a LOT of them.

The conversation with the customer usually went like this:
Me: “So, where do you plan to use this kayak?”

Customer: “Uh, I dunno, around.”

Me: “Well, just so you know, this will be okaaay if you’re just going to muck around a lake once in a while or something, but if you encounter wind or plan to go any distance, you should consider one of these other boats that are a little longer and have a deeper keel, because they will track better.”

The customer’s eyes glaze over, but I continue:

“The cheap boats meander, you’ll spend more energy just trying to keep it going in a straight line and it will get frustrating. If you use it frequently you’ll be back here by next year wishing you’d bought a better one. Yada yada.”

Then they either buy the boat or not. Very often not, because they hadn’t really spent any time in a kayak before. They liked the idea of it, but refused to step beyond the store atmosphere to consider that I could be right.

The upsell was perfectly logical and people knew that, but few wanted to drop $800 or $1200 on a boat rather than $300. Because they only saw a boat. They didn’t see themselves in challenging or crappy conditions relying on a cheap boat.

Before I completely trash this little orange Streak let me say I have had some fantastic times in it. There’s nothing like bumping down the Ammonoosuc River’s “scratchy water” (Mike’s term) and not worrying about punching a hole in it. Or dragging it across anti-erosion boulders after a long paddle down the Battenkill because the damn thing is just about bulletproof. But today in Buzzard’s Bay? I would have gladly put up a few more dollars for a better boat.

Last spring my fabulous divorce house had a nice 12-foot kayak with a rudder. I’d carefully carry it across the street to the water and, stocked with all of the necessary gear, felt very comfortable heading out into open water alone. I caught more seaweed than stripers but feeling confident that the boat wasn’t a loser was a great first step.

That’s the connection I made today. I think I just upsold myself. Is Santa listening?


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