businessPROFILE: My Kayaks Are So Good the Eskimos Want Them Back; David Jones Finds Why Boat Maker Nigel Dennis Is the Kayaking King from the Green Valleys to Far off Greenland
Byline: David Jones
ALL businessmen have to paddle their own canoe - but in the case of explorer and entrepreneur Nigel Dennis, it's a kayak.
His Anglesey-based business Sea Kayaking UK Ltd has built a worldwide reputation for the quality of its boats.
There can be few better testimonials to that than the fact that the firm is selling kayaks back to the people who invented them.
Inuit fishermen have bought the handbuilt fibreglass kayaks to hunt in the waters around Greenland - something that causes mixed emotions in Dennis.
"We have just opened an agent in Greenland who sells to local people and we know of two Inuits that are actually using our boats for hunting. The majority of them sold there are used, as in other countries, for recreational purposes," he says.
"I would image our boats would be heavier than those made from traditional materials such as timber and seal skin. It is rewarding to know that people in Greenland like to use our boats, but it is also a little sad that it replacing traditional boat making skills."
Exports account for about 70% of output with agents, distributors, outlets or importers in US, Canada, Israel, Iceland, Greenland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Chile, France, Holland, Ireland and Gibraltar. Dennis is also keen to get into the Japanese market, important in itself, but also as a springboard for the southern hemisphere.
"That would help us because the bulk of our business is in the northern hemisphere, which means everyone wants their kayak for the summer season - and that causes big problems in terms of delivering large numbers of boats at the same time."
In the UK, the company, which has a turnover of about pounds 500,000, sells its sea kayaks through two shops, in Scotland and the South West of England, and from its office in Holyhead.
Dennis' passion for sea kayaking began more than 25 years ago when he completed the first sea kayak circumnavigation of Britain - starting and finishing on Anglesey.
He realised he would have to leave the area to find the work, or set up a business that suited the island. So he trained for an instructor's certificate and bought part of an old prep school in Trearddur Bay to start an outdoor pursuits centre. A successor business, Anglesey Sea and Surf Centre, which focused on sea kayak training for schools, colleges and corporate clients, was heavily hit by the aftermath of the foot and mouth outbreak and was sold three years ago.
The sea and surf centre started designing and manufacturing boats, but that was stepped up when Dennis' present company, Sea Kayaking UK, was formed two years ago. He changed the name of the new business from Nigel Dennis Sea Kayaks last year when it became increasingly apparent there was an opportunity to supply kayaks to other companies.
The company, which employs a total of 17 people, has a recently acquired factory in Holyhead with space to allow manufacturing operations to be ramped up, and an office on Newry Beach, near the harbour. It currently makes 18 sea kayaks a week.
Managing director Dennis says: "We needed space for the production area and the new premises has given us the room to drive up production. …