Here at Cottage Life, we realize how hard the COVID-19 pandemic has hit local businesses. To do our part, we’ll be highlighting the stories of different businesses in cottage country. This week, we spoke with Chris and Nancy Knight who own Boatfix.ca in Haliburton, Ont.
What is Boatfix.ca?
Chris: We’re a small boat repair and restoration company. Initially, we started the business as a means to deal with resorts and youth camps. It did very well for us at the beginning. There’s not a lot of services—in fact, I don’t know if there are any—that do this. When we approached youth camps, they were totally in awe. The staff who are required to keep those boats afloat often have no idea how to properly repair them. I’ve seen them use bits of hockey sticks bound with duct tape and twisted metal to repair them.
With the resorts and youth camps, we generally pull their boats out at the end of the season and do work on them during the wintertime. They have lots and lots of boats. It’s not crazy to see a camp with 100 or 200 boats, and those boats can be in pretty sad shape. Currently, I believe we have about 50 boats sitting in our yard to be worked on.
How did the business get started?
Chris: We started doing one-off canoes and other boats for locals beginning in 2014. We didn’t officially incorporate until 2018. We were building up quite the client base in advance of all that. At the time, we were in Pefferlaw near north Simcoe, but we knew we couldn’t stay there forever because all of our business was northeast of us. We then applied for and received a sizable federal grant from the Haliburton County Development Corporation, which motivated us to move. So, in September 2019, we finally moved to Haliburton, which was a strategic advantage for us because it’s right in the middle of where all of our clientele are.
What inspired the name?
Chris: There are other companies around the world also called Boatfix. There’s one in Australia and New Zealand, and I think there’s one in Britain. They’re all over the place, but there was not one in Canada. So, we decided to go with Boatfix.ca. And that was because, when we incorporated, I was thinking that the word boatfix is not just about repairing boats but also having a fixation with boats.
What kind of boats do you work with?
Chris: We basically focus on canoes, kayaks, and other small boats: wooden, fiberglass, Kevlar, plastic, that sort of thing. Aluminum canoes are out there and we’ve done small aluminum boats that you put a little outboard motor on, but aluminum is a very ugly duckling to work with and can be really messy.
Working with the types of boats we do, there’s definitely a void in the market. Regular marinas won’t touch small boats, like canoes, kayaks, that sort of thing. Most marinas are more interested in insurance claims from larger boats, even small power boats. So, they don’t touch the type of material we’re dealing with.
What’s the most common repair you see?
Chris: Broken seats, and hulls that are ripped right open, so patchwork and broken seats, those are big ones.
Nancy: And lots of rotten wood. The old cedar strip canoes and old fiberglass ones that have wood gunnels, usually they’re in pretty rough shape. It depends on how they’re stored. If people store them upside down on the ground, they’re going to rot.
How has the pandemic affected your business?
Chris: When the pandemic came along, it washed everybody out. All of our clients just kind of disappeared.
Nancy: The camps didn’t open and most of the resorts didn’t do anything until the end of the summer, so we were going, ‘Okay, what do we do now?’
Chris: What’s interesting, is when spring came last year, Haliburton flooded with all sorts of people, many who’d never been here before, and seeing the volume of traffic coming to cottage country to get out of the big city, we found ourselves doing a lot more work for people in the local area rather than reaching out to resorts.
Nancy: What we did was we ran an advertising campaign starting in June of last year. We did a radio ad on Moose FM and Canoe FM here locally, and we ran an ad in the local paper, The Highlander, a few times as well, and we just got slammed with people wanting us to fix their boats. It just exploded.
Chris: Our name is getting out there. Places that I go, people see me wearing my hat and they go, ‘Oh, you’re the Boatfix guy. You want to fix my boat?’ I can’t believe the amount of work we’ve gotten. I’ve had to turn work away.
What does the future look like for Boatfix.ca?
Chris: Expansion, expansion, expansion. We really could open up shops in outlying regions of cottage areas and we know that we’d be just as successful there as we are here. So, getting our foot in the door here in Haliburton is a real feather in our cap. It’s a good way to spread the word and get our branding out there, and hopefully in the next few years, we’ll see ourselves blossom into something much bigger.
I also design and build my own small sailboats. One of the things I want to do somewhere down the line is bring in my own line of sailboats. That’s something I’ve been working on for years, getting the bugs out and building prototypes. My plan is to bring a design from the Cape Cod area and introduce it into the lake district here. Those boats have been around since the middle 1800s and they haven’t changed the design since then. So, I wanted to integrate one of my own.
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