Jackson Kayak Dealer Summit!
This past week we had the opportunity to meet the folks behind one of our best-selling brands while attending the Jackson Kayak Dealer Summit in Sparta, Tennessee. After a 10-hour drive from Pennsylvania, we arrived at Rock Island State Park, set up camp, and settled in for the next couple days adventure of soaking up as much information about the company, and product, as possible.
We were up bright and early on day one for breakfast at the Jackson Kayak factory, followed by a tour of the floor by none other than Eric Jackson himself. I can't tell you how much I enjoy shaking hands with the folks behind the gear we sell. We've taken factory tours before, but what really stood out at Jackson was the feeling of family. Every meal for the two-day summit was prepared by Jackson staff. And we finished each day with an amazing home cooked meal at Eric Jackson's home. Their motto - “Build it like it’s your own” - isn't just six words strung together, these folks paddle too, and take so much pride in their product.
Most of our afternoon was focused on the new Flex Drive (FD) system (patent pending) which allows for hands-free propulsion. Over the years we've test-driven a number of pedal powered craft, but with the Allegheny being a shallow-bottom river, have never found a system that would work here locally. We're pretty excited to say we've finally found "the one"!
The new Flex Drive System, available on the Cruise 12 (recreation) and Coosa (fishing), offers forward and reverse operation and includes a unique articulating system for deep and shallow water navigation. A daggerboard protected tri-blade propeller combined with articulation gives the Flex Drive a performance increase over other drives and helps with keeping the system clear of obstacles and easy to clean. The Flex Drive is easily deployed with the flip of a lever and an interchangeable electric motor driven head unit will be released in 2018. The hull of the Cruise FD is sharp and cuts swiftly, silently and efficiently through whatever water it encounters. Combined with an industry-leading turning radius, the Cruise FD is positioned to be a standout on the water. To say this setup is impressive is an understatement. It's an absolute game-changer.
We'll have the Cruise FD and Coosa FD models available for our first Test Drive Event of 2018 on June 1st!
We ended the afternoon with a thorough walk-thru of the new Blue Sky Boatworks. With 34 square feet of customizable deck space, there are no limits to how you can outfit your boat and make it your own. Superior glide plus Flex Drive’s three-blade prop and 12:1 crank ratio equals more performance with less energy. Twin hulls let you confidently stand, turn, walk bow and stern. A 360° swivel seat adjusts to your height, inseam, weight and back pitch preferences for all-day comfort. Trailer it, drop it into the back of a pick-up, or car-top it — it disassembles in minutes for transport. This boat is pretty incredible.
We spent day two in a series of workshops followed by a test drive event, where we got a chance to paddle (and pedal!) the 2018 Jackson line-up! We were pretty blown away by the FD pedal-powered models, both in their rock-solid construction, turning on a dime, and the fact that they were still easily maneuvered with a kayak paddle should you need to use one. It's worth noting, it was reaaalllly windy during our test drive, which made us think it may be a tough battle with the FD, both in terms of a workout and stability, of which we had no issue whatsoever with either. These are two well-thought-out boats that I'll admit, we did not have on our preseason order prior to attending the Dealer Summit - and now do. We're really excited for folks to test 'em out in 2018!
In-between the massive amounts of information from workshops and hands-on training, we did manage to squeeze in a hike to Caney Fork River Gorge, catch a beautiful sunset from our camp, and brainstorm new ideas around the campfire! (Nothing gets the ideas flowing like a day full of learning and a night under the stars!)
All-in-all, an excellent time, and well, well worth the trip! Along with everything we learned about Jackson Kayak, we left with a bunch of new ideas and strategies having been able to spend time with other store owners around the country, talking shop about what's worked, and what hasn't, for them. We've made the trek to learn more about the companies whose products we sell before, and these two days with Jackson Kayak came in right at the top with our tour of Cascade Designs in 2015. As we said after that tour, not all gear manufacturers are created equal. There's clearly passion, teamwork and a serious sense of family behind the Jackson product, and we think that matters. We were big fans of their gear before, but they've made us life-long ambassadors now.