As the U.S. leader in kayak manufacturing, Perception Inc., based in Easley, S.C., has done more than just stay afloat during its 20 years in business. In 1995, Perception realized that although it had a prime dealer network and the broadest distribution in the industry, the company still lacked interaction with customers.

Bill Masters, Perception's president, challenged the company to become fully interactive with customers. both end-users and retailers, in a way that went beyond just reading surveys. Perception now has a professional call center, an interactive Web page, and most important, two technical field reps whose mission is to promote the sport of kayaking through education. The field reps, both skilled kayakers, travel around the country to train retail store personnel and demonstrate kayaking at festivals, competitions, and other special events.

Perception's education effort is working. Retailers are better trained to help kayak buyers, and fewer customers are calling in for answers to basic questions. In the other direction, the field reps get immediate feedback on customers' reactions to kayak comfort and even the latest colors. The reps' experience and enthusiasm also engages customers in a way that store employees can't. Coaching from a skilled trainer--and the opportunity to try any of 30 kayak designs--help people push past their doubts and get out on the water, paddling closer to a future kayak purchase.

Copyright 1997 G+J USA Publishing