About Us - The History of Canoe Shops Group
The Canoe Shops Group was not formed as such, it evolved. The first kayak to come Duffer’s way was a PBK in the early sixties – by the way Duffer is our MD and founder of Canoe Shops Group. The kayak was not canvas on wood but battleship grey PVC on wood. Grand Duffer allegedly purchased the PVC in the Ministry of Defence Surplus stores in Plymouth.
Duffer was called Duffer as a child because he excelled at school; the ageing process converted his handle to The Old Duffer – He does not do political correctness that steals the fun out of life.
In the 1960’s young Duffer paddled anything he could get his hands on in search of food - mainly fish and edible crabs. He tells tales about 40lb conger eels slithering over his legs inside a PVC kayak: an evolution that will sort kayak anglers from kayakers.
Time passed, as it does. Life’s little twists and turns were navigated and to everyone’s surprise Duffer and the Fridge Fairy’s son Chris asked for a kayak for his twelfth birthday. Good parenting skills kicked in and Chris was presented with a Laser 2-350 kayak; the seed of The Canoe Shops Group was well and truly planted. Anyone old enough will know that a Laser 2-350 is a huge kayak and not really suitable for a child to paddle. A grumpy Old Duffer not being pleased with the service he had received set about adding kayak retail to his day job.
Attached to the birthday present was a One Star course with the Port of Plymouth Canoeing Association (PPCA). The PPCA taught Chris to paddle and taught Old Duffer to paddle and swim. The debt owed by Canoe Shops to the PPCA is priceless. Their tuition and encouragement changed lives and fortunes far beyond the scope of the BCU Star Scheme. Duffer was armed with a 4 Star Sea qualification and a brand new North Shore Meridian so it was time to form Kayaks and Paddles (Plymouth) Ltd. Andy joined Old Duffer at Kayaks and Paddles as our first member of staff. They sold canoes and kayaks and created new words and phrases like Kermuffitypuff, Zing Zang Zooly and what’s in the Box Andy – they were having too much fun. Duffer taught Andy to stuff insulation pads as Duffer had a contracting business to fund Canoe Shops start up. Andy went walk about for three months each year to paddle the world. Still armed with the same BCU 4 Star Sea and a Prijon Hurricane in a tasteful shade of Pink it was time to form Bournemouth Canoes near Poole Harbour in Dorset. Chris was paddling white water and surf whilst the Fridge Fairy was either being sea kayak sick or sometimes stranded out back on a two foot and clean day awaiting her next beating in the surf (ankle snappers).
We all camped on and paddled around the Scilly’s to prepare us for our adventure in Alaska. Capitan Flag collected us from the airport in Anchorage and opened our eyes to wilderness paddling. Another lasting impression for life, we will return to Alaska again in the mother of all luxury liners! Bears, whales, sea lions, orca, sea otters, land otters, bald eagles, humming birds, salmon, the biggest mosquito on the planet and ice. Tidewater glaciers, ice, more ice, growlers, strange strange weather and twenty rolls of film all showing ice – it was indeed an adventure of a lifetime.
By now, Simon was inching towards his degree in Control Systems Engineering and needed a sensible career path. Old Duffer saved Engineering from Simon by getting him to manage Brighton Canoes. Chris is now working at Bournemouth Canoes.
Chris and Simon are now Directors and shareholders and their training had begun as Saturday boys working the school holidays and paddling with the PPCA.
It was about now that kayak angling took off and was added to sea kayaking so where did the Old Duffer and Fridge Fairy go to satisfy this need? Ireland. It seemed daft to drive all that way and not take a van and trailer load of kayaks with them, so Bantry Bay Canoes in West Cork became our first overseas canoe shop – Cornwall does not count as overseas.
What else is a must to go with a canoe and kayak business apart from a paddle? Answer is a roof rack. Thule do make exceedingly bad cakes but make the best roof racks available. Duffer, Chris and Simon worked on adding roof racks whilst the Fridge Fairy shopped for Britain.
Simon was restless and wanted to spend time with his fiancée who was an engineer in Cornwall, so a deal was struck. Simon could go to Cornwall once he had done the techy stuff on roof racks. Simon’s fiancée is now his wife and mother of their children and together they are wholly responsible for the formation of Cornwall Canoes.
The collective name for a Duffer and a Fridge Fairy is Wrinklies! The Wrinklies are twitcher’s of a sort and kayak bird watching brings with it an viewing advantage none kayaking birders never see. We know you can see Kites and Kingfishers from the land but up close and personal in a kayak with spoonbills in Cornwall is brilliant.
Having enjoyed paddling and bird watching on the Norfolk Broads and along the coast of East Anglia we found ourselves drawn to Norwich. The Fridge Fairy “tested the shops in Norwich” and found them “satisfactory” so Norfolk Canoes was formed.
The crash in 2008 did not help any of us and then came the recession. If ever you needed another reason to get out there and paddle this was it. There are no economic tales of woe in your head whilst paddling.
Canoe Shops Group is great fun but some adjustments had to be made in 2011 to better equip it for the future – it still has to be run as a business.
One of the happy adjustments around this time is called Manchester Canoes. The group has always had a need for a good size store in the North. The North is a relative term when your head office is in Cornwall – Exeter is actually in the North!
In 2015 more happy adjustments were made and it looks like being another promising year for Canoe Shops. Manchester Canoes is now established and happy as a box of happy things going zing zang zooly we’re happy. Dazz has dumped Bournemouth Canoes and is off to manage Southampton Canoes. There was a coup d’état (succession planning) and now Simon and Chris own Manchester Canoes, Norfolk Canoes and Southampton Canoes. They are inching Duffers wheelchair nearer to the care home door – irrespective of Duffer's protestation, Chris says his care home will be as cheap as possible! The Fridge Fairy is still shopping for Britain and will defeat the retail recession on her own!
There could still be a plan behind the evolution of Canoe Shops and part of that plan is to open Cheltenham and Gloucester Canoes in the spring of 2017 .
The Canoe Shops Group Limited has a Mission Statement:
“To supply great toys of the best quality and at the right price that we would happily paddle ourselves to people who want to buy them. To do this work in such a manner as to leave our customers with a smile on their faces and help launch them into a lifetime of paddlesport”.
The business has grown steadily and managing it takes a lot of effort and dedication. We needed a Top Dog to oversee the continued growth of the business and after much head hunting Not Again got the job.
We hope you have enjoyed the read.
Another of Duffer's mantra’s is “Find a job you love and you never have to go to work again”.