Sometimes the difference between winning and losing comes down to the quality of the equipment in your hand. As two-times K1 Welsh Canoe Slalom Champion, Toby Jones knows exactly how true that can be.
In the world of professional kayaking quality is critical to gaining that competitive edge, as a delaminated or warped blade, or even a snapped paddle shaft, can cost you critical seconds or the whole race.
Toby is a former under-23 Team GB kayaker who started his career at just 14. He moved to Llanelltyd near Dolgellau, Wales in 2000 and joined the Bala Canoe Club, where he trained under Richard Lee, a coach with Team GB and National Performance Manager at Canoe Wales.
In November 2015, he set up TJ Composites, a small business that builds and develops performance kayaks and equipment, catering specifically for the competitive market of up and coming ‘paddlers', all looking to make a name for themselves and for that competitive edge.
Growing up around kayaking, he knows all too well the demands of the sport and critically, the needs and challenges experienced every day by his customers. For them, quality of equipment is vital to achieving the very best course times. The kayak's build quality is critical to how it cuts through the water and keeping drag to a minimum, while the weight and strength of the paddle affects the power of each stroke and the athlete's line down the course, all adding or reducing vital seconds on a run.
Brand loyalty is never easy to achieve in any business but in competitive sport, it can be even more challenging. The best professional kayakers can attract lucrative sponsorship deals from global manufacturers, which means athletes have little choice but to commit to a brand for the duration of their deal, whether that it for a season or even longer.
This makes them unlikely to shop around so capturing the customer base early is critical. By targeting the up and coming paddlers, Toby hopes his brand will get noticed for its quality.
Toby said: "One of the ways I have been quite successful compared to other new start-ups in the slalom market is all athletes and coaches I met during my paddling career. I have been able to put my brand in front of them and show off the quality."
The manufacturing of kayaks is equally competitive as the racing and in Toby's world there is a lot of pressure from Eastern Europe, where many companies are looking to drive down costs and provide ever-cheaper goods. As a small business, he needed to be able to offer customers a local, high-end alternative. With his experience as a champion kayaker, he could offer a bespoke service, utilising the best materials manufacturers in the UK. So, when Toby needed a supplier who could match his customer's demand for the very best product, Custom Composites stepped in.
Custom Composites is a provider of bespoke composite tubes and is part of the Attwater Group. The company supplied Toby hybrid tubes for the shafts of a new range of high-end, tapered and parallel kayak paddles. These contained a black epoxy glass inner and a carbon fibre outer, making them extremely light and very strong - perfect for the job in hand.
"It doesn't matter how good the paddles are if the shaft isn't right," Toby said. "This is particularly important for a new start-up business like mine where there is a lot of high quality competition out there. It means my products have got to be right first time because customers rarely look twice. Paddles can actually de-laminate with use over time and cheaper materials can even snap if you hit a rock."
He went on to say that having the chance to meet the team at Custom Composites and tour the factory gave him a lot of confidence in the product.
He concluded by saying: "Visiting the factory and meeting the guys at Custom Composites really helped me understand how they work and how their tubes are made, which helps me speak to my customers with more confidence. It also gives them a better idea of my needs and the needs of my customers to get the product right first time. Their depth of knowledge in the composites industry and specifically tubes means they're useful people to know!"