Posted on Leave a comment

Thinking of starting an inflatable stand up paddle board business? A few things to consider…

SUP‘s unprecedented popularity in 2020 has led a few entrepreneurial types to consider getting in on the action themselves – why wouldn’t you? Inflatable stand up paddle boards are perceived as being easy products to ship, store and sell with the previous two attractions being good for owners also. We’ve seen a few messages from potential new iSUP brands and even been asked ourselves how to go about it, and to be honest it’s something we do like seeing believe it or not.

The bigger the market for stand up paddle boarding the better in our opinion. Not everyone wants to shell out for premium boards initially so in some instances a cheaper option will the way to go. In time, when those paddlers come to upgrade or add to their quiver, perhaps they’ll come to McConks. This has happened already and will again.

If you’re considering setting up an inflatable stand up paddle board business there’re a few things to consider before jumping in.

Not all iSUP manufacturers are the same

Here at McConks we’ve spent long hours researching where to get our boards made and who by. Due to manufacturing facilities being a long way away we have to mostly rely on what we read, see and hear online, although we do have feet on the ground in China (a QA person who helps us out). Then it’s a case of making contact, asking questions and seeing how much more info we can get. And you can sometimes tell from their answers on quality control, environment, worker welfare etc whether they’re worth considering further, but its not always the case. Some manufacturers are extremely good with great attention to detail and top notch quality control, and don’t shout about it. Others are very good at telling you what they do, but aren’t very good at delivering. So it’s tricky determining who’s who – there are hundreds of facilities knocking out inflatable products these days. And just a word of warning for anyone considering using Alibaba as their buying platform. The very best factories in China have no need to use Alibaba. It’s only the poor quality ones who need to advertise their services.

Samples and prototyping

Once you’ve decided which manufacturer to use it’s a case of getting samples. In our experience their basic model first to see how quality is. You’ll have to pay as these don’t come free. There’s usually a deal off the final unit price to be negotiated though. Having (literally) set foot on a sample board it’s time to bite the bullet if it’s good enough quality. But be warned, many factories have their samples made by the A team, and then production boards for small customers made by the Z team! You may have a specific design in mind so tweaks to the sample model may be necessary. The generic shapes they use tend not to be particularly well optimised. So your design information info should be relayed to the manufacturer in as clear and as simple terms as possible. You’re dealing with people who have a different language and culture so all the ‘I’s need to be dotted and ‘T’s crossed. You’ll then need to see one of your prototypes in the flesh to make sure everything’s been communicated accurately.

Ordering and storage

Having sorted the above you place the order, which will be a number of ‘pieces’ usually. This needs to be taken into account as storage at your destination needs to be thought about. Whilst inflatables do pack down to relatively small packages having a container load still takes up space!

Marketing and demos

Unfortunately keeping your gear locked up and expecting buyers to rely on what you’re telling them regarding your product won’t cut the mustard. Breaking stock is needed so potential customers can experience your kit for themselves. In some instances you can choose to get the SUP media involved. Most of the mags conduct reviews/tests so sending something to them can be a big help in terms of marketing. Be aware, however, that most expect advertising support first before they will review your kit. Likewise, attending demo events around the country can also be a winner, but you’ll need to ‘pay to play’ here also. Of course, you’re free to employ other methods, such as relying on social media but to be really effective at getting your brand message and wares out there a variety of streams will need to be utilised.

Customer service

It should go without saying, no matter what price point you target or customer demographic, customer service needs to be at the forefront of everything you do. Poor customer service results in poor brand perception. And there’ll be problems, of course, there always are. How you deal with this is what’ll set you apart, encourage return custom and solidify your brand as a reputable one.


Ultimately all the above takes time – and plenty of it. If you’re aiming to do things right then it won’t be an overnight win. We’re not sure how SUP‘s growth will pan out in the future. Hopefully the unprecedented nature of 2020, due to COVID, won’t be repeated in terms of pandemics. And of course, there’s the brexit uncertainty to deal with. So maybe the growth spurt stand up paddling‘s receiving currently won’t last. In which case you may have missed the boat. But to quote a much love sitcom; ‘he who dares…’ and all that.