How Fergs Kayaks used online marketing to make a bigger splash in the leisure marketplace.

Fergs Kayaks is a business with a lot going for it. It has an iconic brand name, dating back to 1990 when Olympic legend Ian Ferguson first began offering kayak expeditions in the Waitemata Harbour.

It’s based in two stunning, high profile locations – on the Wellington waterfront and on Tamaki Drive in Auckland’s Okahu Bay.

It has a strong and diverse product line-up, including kayak tours, surf skis, roller skate and bike rentals, and Stand-Up Paddleboard (SUP) sales, as well as an Olympic-class indoor rock-climbing wall at the Wellington site.

But in 2015, when Simon Hughes bought the business, it also had significant unrealised potential.


The challenge: Capture more business online.

Simon identified several opportunities to streamline operations and grow sales. Many of these centred on the company’s website, which was not optimised for mobile browsers and not operating as an effective sales channel.

“The first summer, I didn’t change anything,” says Simon. “I wanted to get a feel for the business and work out where I could best add value.”

By early 2016 Simon was ready to invest in a new website. The brief was a mobile-friendly site that provided a portal to all the company’s products and services, and included an e-commerce module to capture bookings and sell product.

Simon engaged web developers Brown Paper Bag, who rebuilt the site to his specifications. They also alerted him to the need for search optimisation and online advertising, and recommended he talk to Chris Price at Ark Advance.

“I didn’t know anything about online marketing but Chris made it sound simple. He explained the process and helped work out the best options for my budget.”


AdWords and banners to drive traffic and convert the curious.

Ark Advance’s first priority was to ensure the website was optimised for the highest possible organic search ranking. Chris also set up Google Analytics so traffic could be tracked and measured.

Next, Chris and Simon agreed on a programme of paid advertising, using Google AdWords to target people searching for the kind of experience that Fergs Kayaks can deliver.

“We created an AdWords campaign for SUP boards and kayak trips, focussing on the Auckland business,” says Chris. Buying search terms such as ‘Rangitoto kayak trips’ meant we could target people in our key markets. Each time they clicked we delivered them to a booking link.”

The other main focus was kayak and SUP sales. Simon knew he had an ace up his sleeve with the business’s unique sales proposition: Try before you buy.

“We’re one of the biggest sellers of premium inflatable SUP boards in Auckland,” he says. “People who are looking at buying a SUP or kayak will research them online but they’re reluctant to spend $2,000 before they’ve had the chance to try it on the water.

“With our location on Tamaki Drive, they can come in and see what’s available, then pay for a few hours rental, and launch directly into Okahu Bay from our store. Try doing that in a mall!”

To capitalise on this sales model, Ark Advance set up an online remarketing campaign. Visitors who browsed Fergs’ range of kayaks and SUP boards on the website were subsequently targeted by web banners inviting them to ‘Try before you buy.’ This simple but effective technique ensured potential customers who had entered the sales funnel were prompted to visit the waterfront premises, where the personal selling skills of Simon and his team could take over.

“If we can get people into the store I know we can give them a great experience,” says Simon. “When the sun is shining and people can get out on the water, they fall in love with the product. It’s a great way of selling a premium product.”


Getting results whatever the weather.

The Wellington business has its rock-climbing wall to deliver revenue throughout the year. In Auckland, by contrast, the business is highly seasonal. From April to November, Fergs’ Kayaks is at the mercy of the weather and tides.

“The first thing I look at every day is the weather forecast,” says Simon. If it’s fine and calm, he knows business will be good.

Unfortunately, the summer of 2016-17 was one of the worst on record. Weekend after weekend was blighted by rain and dreary conditions. So how did the online marketing campaign perform?

“In Auckland, we were up 20% on retail sales year on year,” Simon says. “Imagine how good it would have been in a good summer.

Simon sees opportunities to make more use of social media, in addition to his ongoing investment in AdWords and banners that convert curiosity into enquiries.

“I’m looking forward to working with Ark Advance, to understand how we can get the best results for our budget. We’ve got one of the premium entertainment locations on the waterfront, so there’s plenty of room to take things to the next level.”