Friday, March 18, 2011

Field trip day two: Werner Paddles

The Pacific Northwest is still home to many great paddlesports manufacturers, including several of our favorites. We couldn’t resist a visit to Werner Paddles, which have propelled us all over the Great Lakes, along parts of both coasts, and down several rivers and whitewater courses.

The road to Werner.
 Even the drive there is beautiful, with snowy peaks in the distance and drive-through espresso shacks every few miles. At the recommendation of Werner rep Danny Mongno, we stopped at the Sultan Bakery, where we saw the largest “bear claws” ever.

We recommend the apple-cinnamon muffins.
You could easily drive by the Werner faculty without noticing it, not because it’s small but because it’s nondescript.

Welcome to Werner.
 Inside we were greeted by Shannon Davis, who warmly welcomed us and handed us off to Keith Krueger, production manager, for a tour. Werner has spent decades perfecting its paddles and the procedures by which they are made, so understandably we were asked not to photograph the actual production processes. The surprise, for us, was how much of the process is still done by hand. 

Shannon in Customer Service.
Keith, Production Manager, holding what will soon become a paddle blade.
 Werner employs about 50 people in this factory. During the winter, they build up inventory. In the spring, he says, “It just starts rocketing out the door.”

Paddles, ready to "rocket out the door."
Stand-up paddling has been good for Werner. “The sport has taken off,” he notes, and Werner now offers several models of stand-up paddles.

We walked through the process with him, from the making of straight and bent shafts (if you wonder why bend shafts are so much more expensive, here’s a quick fact: a worker can make 60 to 70 straight shafts in a day, but only 13 bent shafts), to the blade production area, to assembly, to finishing and quality control, to shipping. In parts of the factory, the workers wear ear protection, and in others they wear coveralls, but nearly everywhere they wear smiles. “It’s a great culture here and a fun industry and a cool end product,” Keith says.

End of the line: Shipping.
The women in customer service share that enthusiasm, and talk about the customer loyalty they see when people send a paddle in for a retrofit years or even decades after purchasing it.  As loyal customers ourselves, we realize how easy it is to overlook the value doing that.

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