Up to the Challenge

Steve and Kit Marshall don’t shy away from a challenge. They decided to open a small business when they noted that Independence, a town on the banks of the New River, didn’t have a local dealer for fishing kayaks. “People from all over the Carolinas and Northern Virginia come here to enjoy the river,” notes Steve Marshall, who is an avid kayak angler himself.

Paddleyax Kayaks opened in May 2016. The full-service retail store sells Vibe kayaks, NuCanoe kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, and paddling accessories. The store also offers gear for fishing, camping, and hiking, and they recently expanded into archery and hunting equipment. “Our biggest challenge has been that I’ve never been in retail before,” says Marshall. “There’s been some trial and error.”

The Marshalls turned to the Blue Ridge Crossroads SBDC to get help with the obstacles they faced. “The SBDC provided assistance with the business plan and gave me a great starting point with financial projections. I’m glad to say we exceeded those projections in our first season of operation,” says Marshall.

As part of the process, Paddleyax Kayaks participated in the Mount Rogers Business Challenge. The challenge was a competitive process to help foster business growth in the tourism sector in Grayson County. Organized by the Blue Ridge Crossroads SBDC and Grayson County Tourism, the challenge provided hands-on business training and networking. Each participant was required to attend classes, write a business plan, and present their business concept to a panel of judges. The challenge really paid off for the Marshalls, who won the $10,000 first prize.

Winning the prize is just the beginning for Paddleyax. “We’re less than a year old, but we are already looking into growing,” says Marshall. With plans to add at least one new line of kayaks and another employee or two, Marshall will continue to consult the SBDC as the business grows. “Just this month, we went to them to learn about social media and marketing. Our relationship with them is ongoing, and I look forward to learning more from them.”

Virginia SBDC