(SAWYER PADDLES & OARS PRESS RELEASE
Sawyer Paddles & Oars is celebrating 45 years of tradition and innovation with an eye to the future. Peter Newport has returned to the company as President after 20 years, where he worked on the night shift while attending university. Here we take a look at Sawyer’s roots, accomplishments, present challenges and vision of the future. The company is celebrating by inviting fans to share their “Sawyer Stories” and giving away numerous prizes for the first 45 stories, the best 45 stories and launching a 45th Anniversary Calendar for 2013 featuring fan’s favorite stories. See the last paragraph for details.
After a legendary canoe racing career including being a 10 time AuSable River Canoe Marathon Champion, Ralph Sawyer was inducted into the Canoe Racing Hall of Fame. He began building paddles and oars in 1967 and set up Sawyer in the town of Rogue River, Oregon. Ralph quickly fell in love with whitewater rafting the Rogue and began producing whitewater oars. Soon the company’s oars were getting out to river outfitters around North America. He really drove the use of Douglas Fir, Ponderosa Pine and Sawyer’s signature Walnut racing stripes in combination with fiberglass to popularize the concept of composite paddles. Ralph and wife Bobby are now retired and enjoy exploring waterways from the Puget Sound to Alaska from their home, an ocean faring catamaran.
Bruce Bergstrom, owner from 1987 to 2011, was recently awarded a lifetime achievement award by the American Outdoors Association for his contributions to the industry. Bruce drove the company’s innovation and developed the reputation of durability combined with the proper feel of the water throughout all of Sawyer’s products. Most noted was the introduction of the Sawyer SquareTop Oars matched with his innovation of the Cobra Oar Locks. These are a favorite among drift boat fisherman and whitewater rafters, which may row a thousand strokes per mile positioning for the perfect catch for their clientele or negotiating heavy whitewater. The two innovations paired together make for the highest performing whitewater oar and oar lock system in the world. Bruce also acquired chief rival Smoker Oars & Paddles in 1992. The acquisition set up Sawyer to be the premier paddle & oar maker in the USA complete with a durable line of composite oars balanced by a complete line of legendary solid ash wood oars for extreme conditions.
Current President and Owner, Peter Newport, was a kayak instructor and dreamt of having a paddling school in Bend, Oregon and enjoyed competing in whitewater slalom and freestyle. After a winter of working on the night shift at Sawyer he departed to work his way through college as a Pepsi-Cola Route Salesman while continuing to develop his kayaking skills. After graduating from Oregon State University with honors, Newport returned to work with Pepsi distributors in the Pacific Northwest. After 10+ years of loading trucks, delivering Pepsi and later developing markets he was introduced to Breedlove Guitar Company and began rapidly growing the guitar manufacturing company from $500K to $10 million in Sales before selling the company in 2010.
After retiring from Breedlove and taking some time with family, Newport decided to return to the business world in style. “I read a book that explained: to be truly happy as an entrepreneur, you need to design your dream customer. I appreciate my time with Pepsi and I loved Breedlove Guitars and the music industry but I was not a guitarist at heart. At Sawyer, I feel like I have come home. This is what I have been hoping to do all my life” illustrates Newport. He points out that the Sawyer customer is his dream customer. He further explains that the experiences gained in manufacturing exotic wood guitars, learning all aspects of distribution and brand building with Pepsi combine with a lifelong passion for boating to be a perfect education to lead Sawyer into the future.
Sawyer Today, Challenges and Top 3 Improvements:
The last 12 months have been a huge challenge and time of change for the team at Sawyer. They have purged 40+ years of old equipment, rebuilt others, applied the basic principles of lean manufacturing, cleaned out old inventory, and have used their employees skills and determination to steadily improve existing products dramatically. Sawyer’s 25 employees serve customers from dozens of tiny niches within the world of water sports. Thousands of small shops help get the fine paddles and oars out to sportsmen each Spring Season.
Sawyer specializes in hand built, Made in the USA, rugged paddles and oars for the world’s fishing and river guides and outfitters. Sawyer’s are a favorite of expedition style paddlers and rafters and have forged their way through the Amazon, the Nile, across Oceans, the boundary waters and in virtually every condition that a paddler or oarsman will come up against. Sawyer also builds kayak touring, canoe voyaging, and stand-up paddles. Stand Up paddling is now the fastest growing sport in the world complete with numerous niches that are rapidly forming such as white water river running, freestyle & expedition SUP along with its roots in big wave surfing on Hawaii’s North Shore.
Despite many accolades and a strong fan base, Newport has identified three major initiatives that must be addressed in order for Sawyer to continue to drive its growth and leadership role in the industry, 1) Consistent Quality, 2) Authenticity and 3) Consistent Delivery.
Firstly, Sawyer’s are handmade. While this is part of Sawyer’s magic, it also has its challenges. Techniques have been handed down from generation to generation like folk stories with little written down and specifications that are open to interpretation. It’s no surprise that “Consistent Quality” is of top priority for the future. A major change in philosophy from getting the paddles and oars out the door to now being number one in quality is another sweeping change at Sawyer. “If the paddle, or oar, is not number one in quality in its respective niche it will likely get redesigned or discontinued in the future”, explains Newport. Applying lean manufacturing is becoming the norm at Sawyer. They have been purging, cleaning, organizing, over communicating, improving, and redesigning systems and products non-stop for the last eight months.
Sawyer is the quality leader in several areas of oars and paddles and they are working hard to make sure every Sawyer product has a similar responsibility and position within its niche. Sawyer defines quality as being the best fit for use for a particular style of paddling or rowing with no defects that inhibit the highest level of performance. Each paddle and oar must also be a beautiful work of art. “I am astounded at the improvements in quality on our last shipment” says Darren Bush, owner of Rutabaga in Madison, Wisconsin, one of the world’s leading canoe and kayak retailers.
Secondly, “Authenticity” is vital for the future success of Sawyer. According to their new philosophy: not only should the company’s leader be an expert on customer’s needs and product development, but, to be truly great, every person in the organization needs to use the products and interact with customers to help drive innovation. Presently a handful of Sawyer employees are paddlers and oarsmen. Newport is driven to teach every employee the joy of paddling, rowing and what it is like to spend the night in an awe-inspiring deep river canyon. Newport shares, “what truly drove quality at Breedlove was our team of skilled craftsman and their love of music and woodworking. The quality really came from the team. As long as I bought the finest materials and developed people’s love for what we did, the rest took care of itself and everyone wins, especially our clients.” It helps in the fact that Sawyer employees co-created the new mission by filling out an in-depth survey last year where they were encouraged to write down their biggest frustrations, dreams of improvements, fears, desires, self assessments and more. Weekly company “round table” style meetings keep the dialogue fresh. Newport interviewed dealers, competitors, and employees and then prioritized the biggest issues to create Sawyer’s vision and mission.
To round out Sawyer’s “Authenticity” mission they have incorporated Wednesday night paddle trips, they are interacting in regional paddling events, assisting professional athletes, increasing in-house product testing. This part of the mission extends to lifestyle products ranging from Sawyer apparel to paddle shaped hat racks and toilet paper holders, to exotic Sawyer Paddle bladed ceiling fans. More people are starting to put their Sawyer paddles and oars in the living room, bedroom, boardrooms and offices too. These people are really enjoying expressing themselves and it serves as a reminder to get back to the water.
Thirdly, “Delivery” is another major aspect for Sawyer to master. This remains a big challenge especially in a seasonal business that is closely tied to the weather and water conditions. Furthermore, with dozens of niches, it takes thousands of dealers and distributors to get the right paddles and oars to the right people around the world at precisely the right time. There is a tremendous amount of “gut” prediction that is relied upon, especially in emerging markets such as SUP paddle boarding. To assist with predictions and organization of a wide selection of small niche orders, Sawyer just put in a new accounting system to keep production flow in sync with niche demand.
“We are in the process of changing from a batch mentality to a flow mentality. We are changing our focus from cost per part, to total benefit to the customer” explains Newport. He continues, “We just had our first complaint of delivering too soon! We’ll always remember that and it shows we’ve made some progress!”
In the off season, the company gives discounts to loyal dealers for taking predictive risks on best selling items in the “pre-season” and then must be in a position to replenish actual demand once the Summer heat turns up and stores are running out of favored products. Newport explains, “It’s (the season) all over in a flash it seems and then the cycle begins again.”
To further create excitement and to help soften some of the seasonality, Sawyer is launching its first limited edition series in September/October to create some fun gift giving items for the Holidays and mark their 45th Anniversary.
Future Vision & Acquisitions:
A crayon drawing complete with a testing pond, hydraulic, fountains, customer boat ramp and partking area, and future production layout that shows the future of Sawyer hangs in the shipping room which doubles as a meeting room. Newport mentions, “it will be great when employees and clients will be able to paddle and row together on our test pond. At Breedlove, we had the Breedlove Extraordinary Experience: the guitarist’s vacation, complete with the ultimate souvenir. This allowed an intimate experience throughout the year where our clients and employees could spend time together to create client’s dream guitars.” Newport plans to develop this level of interaction over the next few years and believes it will lead to another wave of innovation to further boost Sawyer’s future.
As far as growth and acquisitions, Newport intends to grow Sawyer slowly and really streamline operations so that Sawyer becomes one of the best companies in the industry to work with and to further strengthen Sawyer as a favorite among boaters around the world. “I have a history of acquiring and turning around companies. At this point, we will only consider acquiring companies that help us achieve our core mission of being the best paddle & oar company in the world”, Newport emphasizes.
About the new Owners:
The Newport family lives upstairs in the Sawyer factory in a tiny 23 x 23 foot living quarters. They have found that living the factory helps keep things clean, helps with project follow through and creates a family oriented work environment.
“The biggest thing that I learned in the last 20 years is to keep overhead low for a seasonal niche market manufacturing company”, Newport emphasizes. “I have always admired the European and Asian family business model where there may be multiple generations living together, interacting and taking on specific roles within the company. Shuska Newport serves as the webmaster, graphic designer and photographer for the company. Their son Kaden, eight years old, takes out the garbage, assists with events and will co-design the new kids paddles for 2013. Newport explains that he used to get in trouble for working to many hours because it competed with family time. Now he can work longer hours and have more time at home and spend more time with family. “Also, we have more friends come to visit and they love sleeping with hundreds of paddles and oars too” says Newport.
How to learn more about Sawyer:
Visit www.paddlesandoars.com to learn more about the 45th Anniversary and ways to join Sawyer’s celebration. Presently Sawyer is running the “Tell us your story. Design your dream oars or paddles. You could win ‘em.” campaign. Sawyer fans are encouraged to send in their stories, photos, videos, songs, tattoos, and more to connect with other Sawyer fans. Sawyer is adding to the fun by giving away many prizes and gift certificates redeemable at Sawyer dealers around the world. You can also view the stories on their facebook site and sign up for their newsletter and be put on a list for the 45th Anniversary limited edition paddles and oars or the 45th Anniversary Calendar for 2013.