With Walton investment, growing Washington kayak maker eyes NWA for distribution center

by Paul Gatling ([email protected]) 4,213 views 

Recreational kayak manufacturer Eddyline Kayaks has picked up a minority growth investment from Bentonville investment firm RZC Investments. The investment will support various growth initiatives, including the company’s plans to set up a physical presence in Northwest Arkansas.

In a Thursday (Jan. 20) news release, Eddyline announced the investment but did not disclose the amount.

RZC Investments is the direct investment firm of Runway Group, a Bentonville holding company led by Steuart Walton and Tom Walton. They are grandsons of Walmart founder Sam Walton and the sons of Jim Walton, chairman and CEO of Arvest Bank Group Inc.

Matt Tarver and Don Huffner manage RZC Investments. Huffner will join Eddyline’s board of directors as part of the investment.

“We’re excited about partnering with Eddyline Kayaks,” Huffner said in a statement. “RZC is passionate about investing in marquee outdoor brands, and we’re thrilled to be working with another fast-growing premium outdoor manufacturer like Eddyline. Paddlesport participation is growing as consumers look for healthy ways to access outdoor recreation, and Eddyline is uniquely positioned in the market to service that need well into the future.”

Founded in 1971, Eddyline is headquartered in Burlington, Wash., and makes kayaks and accessories. The first thermoformed kayaks were introduced by Eddyline in 1996, revolutionizing the industry. During thermoforming, a plastic molding technique, a sheet of plastic is heated to a pliable shape, molded into a specific shape and then trimmed to make a final product.

In addition, Eddyline is the first company to use advanced aerospace technologies like vacuum bagging to construct sea kayaks.

In 2017, founders Tom and Lisa Derrer closed a deal to sell the business to three longtime employees and a few other investors, including president Scott Holley.

“RZC Investments has a track record of investing in and growing premium outdoor brands, and members of the Walton family have been a tremendous supporter of outdoor conservation and recreation,” Holley said in the release. “We are thrilled to be RZC’s first investment in the paddlesport market.

“As a 50-year-old company, Eddyline was looking for a partner with a long-term orientation and a commitment to outdoor recreation, and we found that in RZC. This investment will allow us to continue to grow our production of high-quality, lightweight kayaks for paddlers everywhere.”

In an interview with the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal, Holley said a tangible result of the RZC investment would be establishing a distribution center in Northwest Arkansas to support existing and future dealer partners.

Currently, Eddyline distributes 100% of its products from its Washington headquarters to a dealer network throughout the country, representing approximately 100 dealers and 150 store locations. The closest store to Northwest Arkansas is in Overland Park, Kan.

“We’d love to have the first option at a distribution space opened in Northwest Arkansas by the end of the year,” Holley said. “We may also look to have some other corporate functions there over time.”

Eddyline employs nearly 50 workers. It has a production facility in Washington and another in central Mexico. The Queretaro facility went online last year and is in the same industrial park where Bombardier makes Sea-Doo jet skis, and Samsung builds washers and dryers.

Holley said the company isn’t offshoring jobs or outsourcing production. It’s simply building products in two locations to meet growing demand.

In 2021, paddling.com named Eddyline “Best Touring Kayak Brand” according to customer reviews. Prices for Eddyline kayaks range from approximately $1,300 to $3,000.

“We’re a relatively tiny player in the kayak marketplace, but our product has many advantages,” Holley said. “It’s extremely lightweight, very durable and very easy to paddle. It’s a sexy product. That’s what consumers are looking for.”

Eddyline is having trouble keeping up with the popularity, even with added production capacity. Holley said many consumers discovered kayaking during the global pandemic, resulting in a surge in outdoor recreation. As a result of increased interest in kayaking and Eddyline’s ongoing popularity, demand has reached record levels.

“Right now, we’re sold out nationwide,” Holley said. “All of our dealers are maintaining waiting lists of customers. We’re a seasonal business. We build up inventory in the fall and winter, and dealers stock up in the spring.

“We have doubled in size in production the past 24 months, and we expect to double again over the next 24 months.”

Holley said the Southeastern U.S. would continue to be a significant growth area for Eddyline.