Business of the Year
“Nominees in this category will have conducted their business in such a way as to distinguish him or herself in an extraordinary way and to have made through his or her business a significant contribution to the community.”
RiverWood Canoes: Kevin Carlson, Joel Carlson, Andrew Carlson, Owners
This year’s Business of the Year winner is truly a lesson in local business collaboration.
The Carlson family LOVES canoeing. They all love it so much they decided to go into partnership and “launch” their canoe rental business in 2011. Beginning on July 4th weekend of that year, the guys agreed to transport ARC (Association Retreat Center) canoeing guests in exchange for use of the ARC’s minibus, trailer and 15 canoes.
They had canoes rented over that busy weekend but there were NO reservations on the schedule for the following two weeks. They were doing Facebook ads, signage on Hwy 243, and canoes were stored at Kevin’s home, very visible to passing traffic. They needed to get more exposure. They decided to offer a Groupon ad for three days over the July 4th weekend and immediately sold out their available rentals for the rest of that summer. This campaign instantly put them on the digital map and suddenly they had customers – many who would return many times and tell their friends about their experience.
They had another great idea: take a picture of every guest as they come off the river and post it on Riverwood’s Facebook wall the same day. It was an incredible success. Lots of posts and people talking about this fantastic St. Croix River experience. Riverwood continues to offer this to their guests and the guests love it.
2012 offered another business partnership: Andrew began working at St. Croix River Inn. The inn’s owner, Ben Bruno wanted to offer a canoe rental package to his guests. Andrew would accommodate the inn’s guests in exchange for using the inn as Riverwood’s headquarters. Now the guys had a physical location with high visibility for their business. Plus, it’s a great amenity for the inn’s guests.
More connections: Riverwood plans Bending Branches’ company picnic and canoe outing each year in exchange for canoe paddles. Lucky Panda and Brickfire Pizza partner with Riverwood for coupons for good food and canoes. Riverwood needs to work closely and be accredited with both the National Park and Interstate Park. The parks are cared for and want more people to use them; Riverwood is here to help make that happen.
Their growth has been steady: they went from 15 canoes in 2011 to a total of 100 boats (15 tandem kayaks, 45 solo kayaks, 5 stand up paddle boards and 35 canoes) in 2017.
They expect 5,000 visitors from May-October. Weekends sell out but there is lots of room to grow the business during weekdays. Their rentals are also river condition dependent – flooding or even closing the river like last year. Riverwood caters to the fun, casual day-tripper.
The three partners each has their own idea of how to grow the business: Andrew wants to increase their tandem kayak rentals (no one else offers that in our area); Joel wants to expand trip options (they would then need more workers) and Kevin is eager to organize and promote overnight camping along the river.
Says Andrew, “I love the simplicity of this business. It’s a great river and we at Riverwood Canoe get to have a good time helping other people have a good time. It doesn’t feel like hard work at all.”
Andrew truly has the community spirit to support Osceola’s businesses and planned growth. He has stepped up into a leadership role for the Chamber as the new Tourism Committee Chair. We appreciate Andrew!
Stay tuned! Riverwood Canoe & Kayak will continue to be a business to watch.