In just a few years after its opening the Geneva Kayak Center established itself as an integral part of the paddling community. GKC offered quality boats and gear and plenty of pool sessions and Kayak and Coffees to use them. It matched students with top-notch instructors, and some of these students have now become into instructors in their own right. GKC organized trips across North America appealing to a variety of interests and skill levels. GKC hosted special events such as visits by paddling luminaries from around the world.
The good news is that GKC expects to continue doing these things and more for many years to come. However, the Great Recession has taken its toll and prompted GKC to reassess and retool. Tom Bamonte interviewed Ryan Rushton about GKC--past, present and future.
and closed a store in Chicago, faced the biggest economic downturn since
the Great Depression, and recently moved out of its Geneva location? What
happened and what did you learn about the experience?
Ryan: A kayak center in the city of Chicago on Lake Michigan had been a dream of
mine since we had opened the Geneva shop. We seemed to have the ideal
situation in place when we investigated the space that became the
Lakefront shop. Delays in permits pushed our opening from the spring of
2008 into the spring of 2009 and what came with it - the Great Recession
and one of the coldest summers of late. The recession and cold/short
season had us down severely from even the most meager of projections for
our first year in business at Lakefront. While there were other minor
factors including access, the major issues with Lakefront was the economic
downturn. With a continued negative economic forecasted for 2010, we had
to pull the plug on Lakefront for the overall good of the company.
GKC Chicago Lakefront
Many people are wondering what happened with the Geneva shop. Our lease
was set to expire this month for the building that we have been in for the
past five and a half years. The lease that we signed worked for us when
the economy was good and boats were selling, but not workable in the
current economic climate. We had hoped to renegotiate the lease to a more
affordable rate and stay in the building, but were not able to work with
The past two years have included many highs as well as growing pains. The
major lesson is that we have to do business differently in the current
economic climate. Both our paddling school and adventure paddling program
have grown and been largely successful over the last two years. We need
keep a tighter reign on inventory purchases to adapt to the market. We
also need to keep our overhead costs, particularly rent, in line with what
a business like ours can afford.
Question: What's the current status of GKC and what are your plans for
Ryan: We are currently looking at several locations for a re-opening
in the spring of 2011. We hope to announce the new location by the end of
Question: What is GKC doing in 2011?
Ryan: We hope that all will be "business as usual" in 2011. This
includes boat and gear sales, trips, classes and tours. I'm very excited
about what 2011 has in store for GKC!
Question: Can I use GKC to purchase boats and gear? If so, how?
Ryan: GKC currently maintains all of it's lines of boats and gear. We
have been placing many customer orders during the transition period
between closing the Geneva shop and opening the new location. Orders can
be placed by calling us at (630) 232-0320 or emailing us at
Question: Jim Walsh did a great job repairing boats. Does GKC still offer boat repair services?
Ryan: Yes, Jim is still doing repairs. In fact, we're currently installing a footpump with a custom bulkhead placement for a CASKA member.
offer instruction. What instructional services will GKC be offering in 2011?
Ryan: We feel like we've built the top sea kayak school between the
coasts. In regards to our sea kayak training programs, we'll continue to
build upon last year's successful new programs, the 2 day Coastal Kayak
Weekend and 3 day Open Water Training Weekend. We've done some
tinkering with our training programs and are adding a new class that is a
"next step" beginner class.
We are also very excited about the new Yorkville whitewater park, where we are
expanding our excellent programming into the whitewater and open canoe
disciplines. Expect to see similar "leveled" courses and some exciting
workshops for whitewater paddlers and canoeists.
What do you envision for such outposts and when will we see the first one?
Ryan: Looking into the future, paddlers should expect to see two
different approaches for GKC - Centers and Outposts. A center will be a
main place of business that includes retail, courses, local tours, and
rentals. Basically, everything you've come to expect from GKC. We will
also be looking at opening up some "outposts". These outposts will be
smaller satellite locations that offer various services ranging from
repairs to outfitting to kayak rentals to classes and tours, but not
everything that is offered at a center.
plans and how have recent events at GKC affected your paddling goals?
Ryan: 2010 was a big year for me on a personal paddling level. In the
spring, I was assessed as a ACA L5 Advanced Open Water Instructor Trainer while running a five
day L5 course under the supervision of Dale Williams. I was slated to be
involved with a major sea kayak expedition in January of 2011 but my wife
and I are expecting our third child in March and neither of us were
excited about the proposition of me being half way around the world while
she was eight months pregnant. With a fluctuating business situation and
a busy personal life, I'll seek out some other shorter expedition
opportunities in the near future. Beyond that, I'll continue to enjoy
leading some of GKC's paddling adventures and training both instructors
and paddlers alike.
owners from your experience?
Ryan: Maintain flexibility and creativity. Don't overcommit to
long term leases and inventory purchases.
ensure the success of local outfitters, shops and instructional centers?
Ryan: The paddling community is integral to the success of paddling
businesses here in Illinois. If paddlers want to keep these businesses in
Illinois, we need your support in many ways. Here are a few suggestions:
* Get Involved with the shop or business. Paddling is a very "relational"
sport and small businesses always need "friends" to be successful.
* If you are planning a boat or gear purchase, look locally first. We can
meet or beat deals found elsewhere if you'd give us the chance.
* Referrals. This is a small community and if we're going to grow the
sport, we constantly need to be introducing new people to the sport of