Jeff Green | Apr 30, 2009
Back to HomeFeature Article - April 30, 2009 Passionate paddlers cross the 25 year markby Julie Druker
Owners of Frontenac Outfitters Larry and Chrisitine Showler and staff Matt Lemke
Frontenac Outfitters is celebrating its 25th year in business and owners Larry and Christine Showler are as passionate today about paddling as they were when they took over the business.
Their business, located kitty corner to Frontenac Provincial Park on Bedford Road just north of Sydenham, is housed in their home, a 100-year-old tenant building which over the years they have not only transformed into a beautiful home but also into one of the country’s busiest on-water canoe and kayak centres.
Karl Montgomery, who ran Frontenac Provincial Park originally, set up the business in 1984 at the site where it is still located today as a service for park visitors. Larry took over the business from him in 1993. In 1996 Larry met one of his customers, also an experienced paddler, in the canoe they were paddling together on a trip he was leading in Frontenac Park. A short time later that same customer became Larry’s wife and business partner. The couple have been paddling their boats and the business together ever since.
Larry and Christine have paddled extensively in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Belize and the Virgin Islands.
One apt motto they’ve chosen to associate with their business is “Created by paddlers for paddlers.” While a passion for paddling was instrumental in the business’s success, not everyone who loves to paddle can also run a successful business. Larry’s experience in business management, which he garnered from his years working in Alberta back in the 1980s was also a great help.
While their roles in the business are pretty much interchangeable, each providing product information, demonstrations, and conducting sales, Christine, a certified instructor, runs most of the courses which take place on Pearkes Lake, adjacent to their home.
Larry, along with their full-time employee of many years Matt Lemke (whom Larry boasts is an invaluable asset to the business), provides similar customer services and also leads guided tours of the Rideau Canal and the 100 Islands.
Besides the home office, the business boasts a storage shed and a showroom which together stock over 200 varieties of the finest canoes, kayaks and gear available worldwide.
Knowledge of their products is something that the Showlers take very seriously. Their input has made them an integral part of the manufacturing process for a number of different companies.
Their wilderness location, originally thought of as a challenge to be overcome, has proven in fact to be beneficial by providing both water and wilderness access to customers. Instead of buying a boat “off the wall”, customers can take their time testing boats and making a purchase based on comfort and fit. Larry explains, “It’s like buying a pair of pants or shoes; customers definitely want a chance to try them on before making a purchase.”
Another location advantage is Frontenac Provincial Park located right next door, which offers customers 15,000 acres of wilderness, 160 kms of hiking trials and 22 lakes to paddle.
On a sunny Friday, the day of our interview, Larry and Matt are busy setting up the showroom while Christine is wrapping up a class at the lake. The business is already in full swing for the season; their first customers appeared at 8:30 that morning and Matt and Larry have not sat down since.
And Larry assures me that business is only getting better. Recently, their booth was the busiest at the Kingston Boat show, many buyers perhaps looking for an environmentally friendly, healthy boating alternative.
Larry points out that women are becoming frequent boat buyers, choosing kayaks since they are easy to transport and maneuver.
Christine dispels the myth that paddling only strengthens the upper body. Rather, paddling involves all of the core muscles groups and looking at Christine one needs no more assurance.
Canoes are also making a comeback as families are choosing a less expensive way to holiday closer to home.
The entire staff thrive on the relationships they form with their customers. For their upcoming 25th anniversary sale on May 1, 2 and 3, many former staff and customers and friends will be offering their assistance to customers.
Anyone interested in paddling no doubt will come away more knowledgeable and perhaps more passionate about paddling, having spent some time with the staff at Frontenac Outfitters.
For more information please visit their website at www.frontenac-outfitters.com