Client Story - North Country Kayak
Client Name: Elijah Sobel
Business Name: North Country Kayak
Location: Bethlehem, NH
SBDC Advisor's Name: Rita Toth
It was just six years ago when NH native, Elijah Sobel (Eli), owner of North Country Kayak, was living in California and had “the moment.” You know…the kind of moment that stops you in your tracks and your life’s journey suddenly becomes all so clear.
Eli was working as a program director for an outdoor school that catered to children of a lower socio-economic background. They provided the children experiences that taught them ecology, team-building skills, and more. Taking the kids out on a boat was a standard occurrence, but this day was different.
Eli and other staff members had taken the kids out on Lake Tahoe; something these kids had never experienced before. It was a lovely evening, enjoying the gentle rock of the boat and tranquility of the water when they noticed a most beautiful sight. The sunset and the moon rise at the same time. “Wow, this is awesome! This is my job,” thought Eli as he saw the excitement on the kids’ faces and watched them have this transformative experience.
“I was so excited to share that natural moment with the kids and teachers and the formula was so simple,” shares Eli.
Eli knew he wanted to do something that would combine his people skills, along with his passion for outdoor recreation, specifically paddling. “I love sharing adventures with people, facilitating a memorable experience,” says Eli.
Now back in NH, Eli saw a lack of kayak outfitters in the western white mountains and jumped in. North Country Kayak opened this spring in Bethlehem, NH.
North Country Kayak offers guided kayak tours in the iconic White Mountains, offering flat water and river trips, along with kayak rentals on Moore Reservoir. “We love getting people out on the water, connecting with nature and their friends and family,” says Eli.
Knowing the service he wanted to provide was simple, but with no business experience, knowing the behind-the-scenes tasks of starting and running a business was a whole other story. “I was flying by the seat of my pants,” comments Eli. At the recommendation of a friend, Eli reached out to NH SBDC and was connected with business advisor Rita Toth.
Eli states, “Rita has been a rockstar with helping us get a business license, register as an LLC, set up a business checking account, and with thinking about our growth and next steps.”
While North Country Kayak and Eli are new to the business game (their first trip was May 9), they already have more business than they can handle, thanks to Eli’s excellent marketing instincts. He developed a website, profiles on Facebook, Instagram, and Google My Business, and likely the most successful approach was meeting personally with the owners of inns and B&Bs in the north country area. Now, many of North Country Kayak’s bookings come from their guests, and from beginner to experienced paddlers, Eli makes the experience as seamless as possible. All they have to do is show up!
The tour requests are flowing in, and while this is a beautiful thing, it has also presented a scheduling challenge for Eli. North Country Kayak is a one-man show and with 70 trips already booked this summer, he’s being stretched thin. And the stress of continuing to schedule trips manually is making the need for a more efficient, online scheduling system more apparent. Thankfully, Rita has been there to help with that too.
Recently, Eli has consulted with Rita about expansion and his concerns with scheduling, referring to Rita as a “sounding board to bounce things off of,” and adding, “She’s super level-headed and has an answer for everything. She’s been a real cheerleader.”
This is only the beginning for North Country Kayak as they have big plans. Next season they would like to grow into a team of three employees and expand their rental fleet at Moore Reservoir.
In addition, they will continue to update their guided trips and offer new adventures, possibly extending their season to offer fall foliage kayak tours. They also want to offer kayak trips to local schools and students with an environmental education and science component. By the 2023 summer season, they hope to have a storefront in Littleton or Bethlehem NH, and offer a full-service paddle sports retail store with guided trips and rentals departing from this location.
Big plans indeed for North Country Kayak and NH SBDC will be there, at no cost, anytime Eli needs guidance along the way.
Eli concludes, “Business owners should use these services because it will only help them grow and cover all their bases. You think you can figure it out on your own, but it is so helpful to have a professional resource where there is no judgment. Almost like a business therapist!”