so you must be out canoeing all the time right?
… are words I hear often when greeting new arrivals at the canoe office …
but this is actually quite far from the truth. Not because I don’t want to go canoeing – that would be weird. I absolutely love canoeing and being on and by the river… but because the business is seasonal we get limited time to enjoy the river ourselves when there are customers to look after plus, compared to the rest of the team I’m not very good at it! 🙃
The other thing is, like many children I just didn’t have the opportunity to do any paddlesport when I was a child and it wasn’t until I met Aubrey (who grew up on the banks of the Wye boating and fishing all the time) that I got into a boat. My first experience was in a hire-kayak on the Wye and it wasn’t great, I capsized and my future mother-in-law paddled it onto Hay while I sat in the front of Aubreys canoe in a grump!
Fast forward a few years and it’s suggested (by my legendary kayak rescue-ing mother-in-law no less) that we all go in together and buy the canoe business by the bridge that has come up for sale to further diversify the farm; you can imagine my reaction(!)… but here we are; and boy I thank our lucky stars every day that not only do I get to live next to this ecologists dream but I get to work in it, work on it, speak for it, speak to it, respect and protect it too . . . plus my first boat-hire scenario, bad as it was, has deeply fed into the way we run the business today . . .
Experience can not be taught!
In 2014, our first year of running the canoes, we intended to run things similarly to how the previous owners had – on paper it seemed to work so why not. They had instructed an Independent Technical advisor, Richard, just prior to the sale and so we continued with this arrangement and met with Rich several times ahead of the start of the canoe season in order to get our ‘ducks in a row’. Little did I realise at the time that Rich alongside other freelance instructors that we gradually brought into the operation over the following few years would be so pivotal to funnelling my understanding and the development of our work on the Wye, particularly from a customer-experience and risk-management perspective.
The juxtaposition showed its face early doors – our developing team which includes some of the very best open canoe paddlers in the uk coupled with Aubreys’ heritage and deep rooted understanding of the Wye and then little me, the infrequent, VERY novice paddler. How was it ever going to work? How can someone who hardly gets out in a canoe be the first point of contact?
Well the key to it all all was that my perspective was in fact WAY more valuable than you would at first think. It very quickly became clear that most of our clients are exactly the same as me – having only canoed maybe once or twice at best – so I understand exactly how they are thinking and feeling – coming from a place of very little knowledge, not knowing how it all works, what’s round the next corner, how it’s going to feel… putting the safety of yourself and your loved ones entirely into the hands of a group of people that you’ve only just met. Putting all your trust into the unknown. I get it. That for many people is scary.
So that made me realise that in order to treat others how I want to be treated, to run our business in a way that puts the customer at the centre, safety at the heart of it all and from a concrete moral standpoint we had to offer canoeing that was the very best it could possibly be here on our little patch of the Wye. So that’s what we do…
so let's get YOU out on the river . . .
We have spent seven years now refining our offering to steer away from high volume canoe hire and creating a more bespoke service that relies on heavy amounts of fact-finding at the enquiry stage. I spend as much time as I can talking and or emailing through suitable options for each couple, group or family to nail down exactly what trip will suit them best.
A key part of our offering is that we price our Guided Trips the same as our unaccompanied canoe hire. This means the customer can decide which option is the best suited to them rather than being led by price (unaccompanied trips elsewhere are less expensive than Guided options but that can mean this option is chosen at the detriment to safety).
Another great aspect of our Guided trips is that because our instructors are first class open-canoe coaches with experience all around the globe as well as close to home on the Wye we can cater for ALL abilities… even if you’re a confident and talented paddler they will have something to offer and can tailor the session to suit – they aren’t just designed for beginners and novice paddlers – each trip is different because every group dynamic is different – we adapt to the needs and wants of you on the day itself. This is also how we run our unaccompanied canoe-hire briefings and support, some clients need very little support and some have a very comprehensive on-the-water coaching session before heading off down river.
Our Guided Trips have now for many families become an annual tradition. For some they have been the gateway to more regular, confident, unaccompanied time out on other waterways or joining their local club or an overnight expedition. And finally in some cases they have led to the purchases of own canoes! This couldn’t make us happier… to have introduced a person to canoeing in such a safe, comprehensive and bespoke way that they decide they need a canoe of their own – it’s just brilliant.
it's a team effort
So now I’ll take us full circle and admit that despite singing the praises of my novice insight, empathy and understanding in this article it all ticks along so well here because of a big team effort. Our highly talented, experienced instructors and particularly Rich in his role of Tech Advisor have depths of patience I never imagined I would have the pleasure to work with. The dreamy staff team of young people that are a credit to their generation, have often taught me a thing or two and some of whom are the up and coming paddlesport instructors of tomorrow. And finally family . . . being a small family business and never getting too big for our boots and forgetting that; continuously reworking and improving our offering whilst always having the upmost respect and awareness of the ultimate boss in our whole equation – the River Wye.