Ocean River Sports charts future course

Ocean River Sports is sailing south along Store Street as its owner marks 35 years in the outdoor and paddling supply business and charts a future course.

Relocating Ocean River Sports to 1630 Store St., moving its docks and revamping its online presence are part of owner Brian Henry’s strategy to keep the business competitive.

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Businesses must reinvent themselves over the years to avoid becoming obsolete, Henry said Tuesday. “This is my chance really to put a great effort in here so I can look at my staff for a succession plan, to be able to pass over something that is really something special.”

Henry, 64, is still at the helm. But he is planning for the future armed with strategic and succession options developed for the company by students with the University of Victoria’s Peter B. Gustavson school of business.

Although his existing location at 1824 Store St. is close to 5,000 square feet, similar to the new site, he is hoping to use the layout in the new location more efficiently and add more office space. The company has nearly 40 full- and part-time staff.

Upgrades are underway on the ground floor of the 1912 building that was renovated in 2007.

The Standard Furniture Group owns the building. Its second floor is rented to Redbrick, a software development company.

Ocean River’s first day of business in its new location is scheduled for Nov. 1, Henry said.

Its 200 linear feet of docks will be floated south, to leased space at Canoe Brewpub at 450 Swift St., where boat storage will also be available, he said.

Last year, Ocean River “put 6,500 people on the water,” said Henry. He expects the store to benefit at its new location from foot traffic generated by nearby projects such as condominiums at the Union, running between the 500 block of Fisgard Street and Pandora Avenue, and the Janion at 1612 Store St.

Henry launched Ocean River in just 250 square feet in Market Square on Nov. 1, 1981, and then moved to a larger location in the square. The company moved to its current spot between Capital Iron and Value Village in 2001.

Paddling sports have long been popular in the region. Ocean River products include kayaks, standup paddle boards, canoes, accessories and outdoor wear and shoes. The company stages monthly paddling events and Henry is aiming to increase that.

Along with retail sales, Ocean River offers lessons, tours and rentals. In the summer, Ocean River teams up with a local instructor for standup paddling yoga classes.

Ocean River is one of three Victoria companies named as finalists in the Tourism Industry Association of Canada Awards, to be handed out in November.

Brentwood Bay Lodge and Spa is a finalist for the Business of the Year Award, while Ocean River has been named a finalist in the Small- or Medium-Sized Business of the Year category. Eagle Wing Tours is a finalist for the Sustainable Tourism Award.

The paddling sector is active in Greater Victoria where outdoor enthusiasts and visitors support a wide range of companies and recreational groups.

Vancouver Island is the base for 31 per cent of the 2,200 outdoor adventure businesses in B.C., according to a Destination B.C. report. Total annual outdoor adventure tourism spending in the province stands at $1.2 billion.

A new adventure is being developed to support paddling. The 257-kilometre Salish Sea Marine Trail runs from Clover Point to part-way up the east side of Vancouver Island, over to Lasqueti and Texada islands, and includes the Sunshine Coast.

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