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October 21, 2014

Owner of historic Maine canoe maker explains difficult decision to move out of state

PHOTO / TIM GREENWAY
PHOTO / TIM GREENWAY
Marc Bourgoin, co-owner of Lincoln Canoe and Kayak, in a 2012 file photo.

Lincoln Canoe and Kayak, one of the oldest canoe and kayak makers in the state, is moving out of its Freeport retail location by the end of the month and opening up shop in Massachusetts.

Marc Bourgoin, one of the co-owners, told Mainebiz that it wasn't a decision he made lightly, and that it was made after months of deliberation and after receiving full support from his employees.

Lincoln Canoe and Kayak, which has been known for its handmade and lightweight canoe and kayaks since 1959, was purchased by Marc Bourgoin and his brother Ron in 2009. The company began in Stow, Mass., and eventually moved to Freeport.

Bourgoin said leaving behind Freeport and moving into a facility in Amesbury, Mass., was a matter of survival for the business. The company's focus on running a one-stop retail stop for canoers and kayakers on 8 Varney Road in Freeport wasn't working, foot traffic from customers was way down and the rent was too expensive, he added.

"It's very important that our customers know we're not giving up on them," Bourgoin said. "It's just economically we have to move. We can't afford it."

Those factors, in part driven by the increasingly competitive retail market, was making it difficult to run a profitable business, Bourgoin said. And, he added, the company's retail operation was taking focus away from the core its business: building canoes and kayaks.

"The retail environment has changed over the years so we weren't getting the draw that we needed to sustain the expense of that location," he said.

Bourgoin said he wasn't originally looking to move out of state and that he had been looking at possible locations in southern Maine. But after reconnecting with the owner of Speedboard USA, an Amesbury-based maker of stand-up paddle boards, the two discussed the possibility of sharing Speedboard's facility. They had met at a trade show.

From an economic point of view, it made sense for both companies to share Speedboard's 4,000-square-foot space at 25 Oakland St. in Amesbury, just off Interstate 95, Bourgoin said, because rent would be far cheaper and Lincoln Canoe and Kayak would have more manufacturing space to focus on increasing boat production.

"What's driving our decision to relocate is to focus more on boat building and building our brand because that's where we've seen the growth," Bourgoin said.

So with that, Bourgoin decided to make Amesbury the company's new home, where he and others will begin to reimagine how a new retail model could work for Lincoln Canoe and Kayak.

Bourgoin said it will help that Amesbury has a very active canoe and kayaking scene and that a majority of his customers had already been coming from out of state to visit the Freeport store. He's also been living in the Boston area with his family after having lived in Maine.

"It's a hard decision to move from Maine because I'm from Maine," he said. "Our commitment was to keep boatbuilding in Maine. I know that I'm letting some customers down and we've already heard from some customers that are not happy for the move."

"We're sorry it's come to this," he continued. "But in a real sense it was either shut this thing down (because we were losing money) or take a critical look at moving — and the reality is, our season is so short in Maine, the customer base we were drawing from was very limited."

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