It is no surprise that many of our earliest dealers are located in New England, not far from MTI headquarters. In the beginning, Yoshi and Simon Takashina loaded up the car with life jackets and drove along the coast, stopping in at every paddling shop they could find.
The Kayak Centre, which opened in May 1995, has been a close partner of MTI for many of the 21 years they’ve been in business. Located right on the water in the small fishing village of Wickford, RI, The Kayak Centre fits in well with the community of paddlers, sailors, commercial fisherman and boat builders nearby. Water access is plentiful, and their private boat launch makes it easy for instruction and demos.
It is not uncommon to drive over the Hussey Bridge on a Saturday morning and see twenty people practicing SUP yoga in a sheltered part of Wickford Cove. The Kayak Centre was one of the first locations in the area to offer classes. Staying at the front of trends has been a key component of their business.
“[We] expanded our courses and events; adding new and different things that are gaining popularity such as SUP yoga,” says Matt Bosgraaf, boat manager. “We are always expanding our fleets of kayaks and SUPs, often trying different makes and models seeing what works best for our cliental.”
Some of the other changes they have seen include kayaking and SUP becoming “more specific to function,” says Bosgraaf. Beautiful fiberglass sea kayaks and touring SUPs line the walls of the shop, gleaming alongside a thoughtfully curated selection of paddles and accessories. Fishing kayaks have become a huge seller as well, with an entire separate room for sit-on-top boats.
“As kayak and SUP trends have changed through the years, our store and concept changed with it,” says Bosgraaf. “We are always on the lookout for new and exciting trends and we are not afraid to take a chance and try something new. Being able to identify your customer base and their buying habits is key. We listen to our customers and gladly take their feedback. We try to make a laid back and comfortable environment while still providing outstanding customer service.”
That attitude is apparent right when you walk in the door. Even on a slow day you won’t be pounced on by a salesperson. Special order or request? You’re in the right place. “We often go above and beyond other stores in order to accommodate a customer,” says Bosgraaf. “We let the customer make their own informed decision.” That includes the option to try any boat before you buy it, and a full range of demo paddles, including carbon fiber SUP paddles. The Fedex driver came “paddling” up to the door last week with a smile on his face, swinging the cardboard box from side to side, because even he knows what’s in those long boxes – custom Quickblade SUP paddles.
The Kayak Centre’s annual Demo Weekend is April 30-May 1, 10am-4pm. Check out the event on Facebook and get directions. MTI Staff Alex and Rachel will be on hand with PFDs to try out, including the inflatable Fluid 2.0 and SUP Safety Belt.