From the Shop: Can I get a Magenta boat? What about Emerald and Ivory swirl?

bucket of plastic
bucket of plastic

This is the first in a semi-regular series of posts titled “From the Shop,”  focusing on the production side of things here at Blackfly Canoes.  Today’s topic:  Color.  I get asked about colors of canoes just about every day.  I know it’s important to people, and I wish Blackfly could offer every color of the rainbow.  But the reality is it’s just not possible, and to get into why, we need to look behind the scenes a bit.

First off, Blackfly is a really small company, and American industry just isn’t geared toward very small scale production.  For each color of plastic I want to use, I have to buy 1200lbs.  That’s just the size of the box it comes in.  So if I want to run four colors of plastic, I have to buy 4800 lbs of plastic.  The plastic used for Blackfly boats is specifically made for making whitewater boats, and it’s pretty pricey (but worth it), so the cost adds up pretty fast.  Sometimes I can get away with mixing two colors together to get another color- red and blue to make purple, so that helps, but it’s not always practical, or the color blend doesn’t come out as well.  Basically, it comes down to an inventory issue, not just having big boxes of plastic, but also with the canoes themselves.  Because the canoes aren’t molded in house and the company that molds them is 9 hours away from the Blackfly shop, if someone wants and blue canoe and I don’t have one, even if I have blue plastic in stock, unfortunately, I can’t just whip one up.  The minimum run is 25 boats of each model, so if I have 5 colors, that’s 5 boats of each color. If a lot of people want orange, orange will sell out pretty quickly from a run, but I need to move some of the other colors before I can make more orange- both from a cost standpoint and simply needing the space to put another run of canoes.  There’s also a funny dynamic where a color will be really popular, until all of your friends have an orange boats, and then you want something different.  So trying to guess how many canoes of each color gets complicated.  Purple seems popular, but red isn’t, and since the purple is a mix of red and blue, should I get more red plastic to make purple boats?

The other question I get asked is if I’m planning on doing any more swirls.  Again, we need to dig a little deeper into how the canoes are made.  Initially, all of the Blackfly whitewater canoes were made in fiberglass molds.  This year, I’ve transitioned the Option and Octane 85 to aluminum molds, and the big Octanes will be following.  A big part of the reason is to increase production capacity.  With the fiberglass molds, the company that molds the canoes for me wants me to essentially “babysit” during molding, but with the aluminum mold, that’s not necessary, since it’s what they’re used to doing.  Over the course of the year, it saves me a few weeks of long away from home, time I can use instead for building out canoes, or spend with my family, or even actually go canoeing once in a while.  While I was babysitting the fiberglass molds, I was able to mix plastic of the swirl canoes, adjust the cycles, etc.  It turns out that it’s not as simple as putting two colors of plastic in the mold and letting it go.  Because it’s out of the ordinary for the molding company, it’s not really something that’s feasible for them do on their own.  I wish it was, because they were fairly popular.  On top of that, it also comes down to an inventory issue again.  With three solid colors and 3 swirls of those, the chances of running out of the color or color combo a customer wants is pretty high.

Moving forward, I’m planning on trying to offer canoes in at least 4 colors at a time.   If you ask what colors are available, I’ll tell you both what I have in stock, and if I have firm plans to make other colors, and what the timeframe for making those colors looks like.  This year, I’ve offered the Option in 6 colors, and the Octane 85 in 5.  Take a quick surf to your favorite (if you have one) kayak company’s website, and see how many colors they offer for each model.  You’ll see they range from about two to seven colors, so I feel like four is a pretty good number, especially considering some of those companies sell 100 times as many boats as Blackfly.   There’s a chance you might not like any of the colors I offer.  It happens, and I try to vary the colors I offer.  That also means you might really like a color that’s not a current offering.  That’s going to happen as well.  But all your friends have that color already, and we all want to be different.

Now back to work…