McConks were founded by Andy and Jen, a couple who share a love for all things water and nature, and with a passion to challenge the elitist nature of watersports.
As a young(ish) couple with a couple of children, we felt that the big brands no longer ‘spoke’ to us. And from talking to the people we met on beaches and at breaks, on river and in lakes, it became clear that we weren’t the only ones who no longer felt a connection with the big brands. The traditional methods of manufacturer to distributor to retailer to end-user puts distance between the brand and their customers, and increases prices. Like lots of regular paddlers, we felt that the big brands focus on surf SUP and young kids ripping it up didn't represent the majority of paddlers. We've even been contacted by paddlers who've been turned down as ambassadors by these brands because they're too old, or only paddle on rivers or flatwater. And the established brands still focus on the elite end of the market not really catering for ‘normal’ people with ‘normal’ budgets
So we designed a new business model that would break down the old-school way of doing things.
We wanted to work with our customers, understand what they need, and make those products. And by only selling stuff that ‘normal’ people need, rather than spending lots of money to persuade people that they need stuff, we’re also doing our bit to reduce the impact on the environment.
We design all of our products in house in the Cotswolds. We choose exactly which parts we want to put on our kit, down to the smallest of details. For example, we choose which high pressure SUP valve to use, which paddle clasps have the greatest strength, which fins give the best balance between resilience, ease of use and performance, what glues and polymers give the best hold, longevity and UV resilience, and much more. So our boards and paddles use the same or better materials than the likes of Red Paddle Co, Starboard, Naish and JP.
And unlike most direct to customer SUP brands, or brands that sell exclusively on ebay or Amazon, we don’t accept off the shelf products of variable quality and slap our brand logo and colours on them. We design from the bottom up, to provide the best shape for the environment the board is aimed at.
To date, no-one is successfully manufacturing inflatable paddleboards outside of South East Asia. In due course we would really love to bring the manufacturing in house in the Cotswolds, but for now, we use our strong relationships with overseas suppliers to deliver the best products with the best materials and the best spec. And all this at the lowest cost to the customer, the environment and with the highest worker welfare standards we can secure.
So our small team is responsible for design, manufacturing and quality control, logistics, order fulfilment and customer service. With such a tight relationship between design, manufacture, retail and customer service, our customer’s feedback goes straight in to the next batch of boards. And because the team is so focussed, our pricing is surprisingly good. Everyone expects small, niche companies with top quality products to have the highest prices. But we’ve demonstrated that this doesn’t have to be the case.
We started the brand after an idea or two, some cash scraped from what limited savings two watersports and travel fans with two children can amass, and some lovely messages of good luck and goodwill from those with similar passions and frustrations as ours. Just over a year later our products have won plaudits from instructors, magazines, experts and customers alike for their design, function, quality and value.
We’ve been put up against the big boys who’ve been in the game a lot longer than we have, and who have much deeper pockets and yet we’re holding our own. And with our new 2017 range beating all of our sales forecasts, we’re confident we’ll come out on top in 2017. We may not sell the most boards, we won’t make the most money or have the biggest turnover, we won’t win the most competitions, we won’t have the youngest and prettiest models modelling our kit. But that’s OK, because we will have the best reviews, the most satisfied customers and have made lots more friends.
We’re incredibly proud of what we’ve achieved. But we’re still learning and we’re still the little guy. Of course, we want to grow and we want to be bigger and better than we are. But we want to always keep the little guy feel and principles. Only by doing so can we keep close to our customers.