Live: Q&A with Simon Laing, CBK Adventures

CBK Adventures offers kayak and paddleboard hire from its HQ in Cullercoats. Founder Simon Laing was inspired to start the coastal business having returned from a year in Canada, spent hiring kayaks and exploring

Tell us about CBK Adventures? 

We help people to experience the transformative power of spending time on the water. We do this by providing kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, and coasteering adventures at the best coastal and inland venues in North East England. We work with everyone from small groups of tourists to large teams via our corporate events service.

What is the most rewarding aspect of running an independent business in the region?

North East England is a hidden gem, both in terms of its landscape and the opportunities for adventures this creates. There is also a strong emphasis on collaboration, with businesses supporting one another. ‘We rise by lifting others’ is the business culture in the region.

And the most challenging? 

We are still very much off the beaten path, and we find ourselves tackling a lot of the old cliches about the North East. As it stands, we remain the least visited region in the country, so we have a long way to go. However, this does mean we are nowhere near saturation point, unlike some other regional tourism markets, so there is growth potential.

What do you like most about living and working in the North East? 

Epic countryside and coastline, the low cost of living, and easy access to our continental neighbours when you fancy a change of scene. I emigrated to Canada in 2010, but I didn’t last long before returning to my native land!

How has your business been affected by the coronavirus pandemic? 

Despite the initial impact of the first lockdown on our revenue streams, we saw revenue growth overall in 2020. As people seek to spend more time outside, we’ve been in a great position to facilitate that. However, we miss our corporate and education clients and look forward to when local businesses can start getting their teams back together for events and team days.

Have you diversified or changed your operations to enable you to continue trading? 

Yes, we have always focused on activity provision, working directly with people. In 2020, when this stopped temporarily, we diversified our business to start selling outdoor equipment, such as paddleboards and kayaks. We made this transition over five days, using an off-the-shelf e-commerce platform. It was very successful and helped us get through the first lockdown period. As the activities business took off again, we also developed new and detailed hygiene routines to ensure everything our clients use is sanitised with antiviral products. This knowledge didn’t exist in our sector this time last year, so we had to adapt quickly.

You recently refreshed your brand as part of your growth plans. How did you find that experience?

It has been fantastic and hugely worthwhile for our business. Our brand growth partner, The Pulse Rooms, facilitated this process from start to finish. After speaking to our customers, partners, and staff, they helped us distill our brand DNA and clarify our message. We now have more confidence in who we are and what we stand for, which has meant we’ve found our swagger again. After the shock of the pandemic, this has provided a much-needed boost.

What is your long-term outlook for the business?

We’re just about to embark on writing a five-year growth strategy, as the landscape has changed massively due to COVID, so watch this space. Our blue sky scenario would be if kayaking on the Tyne became as synonymous as surfing in Cornwall. As we move towards our longer-term goals, we will be guided by our core values.

People –
To create opportunities for people to access the open water and its associated health benefits.

Partnerships –
To partner with local businesses that enable us to explore new environments sustainably and create unique adventures.

Planet –
To improve awareness of the environment and support initiatives that seek to improve it.

We are currently in the process of revamping our HQ in Cullercoats, transforming it into a sea sports store. The renovations will also see some changes designed to enhance the experience of our customers. These improvements are driven by feedback that we gathered from customers towards the end of last year.

And finally, what advice would you give to anyone with a business idea? 

You are not alone. The North East has an incredible support infrastructure, with organisations guiding businesses through pre-start to startup and even scaling up. We worked closely with TEDCO and Virgin Startup in our early days. You still have to put in all the hard yards, but they are like sherpas. They’re experts in the local area and will help you navigate the tricky bits.

CBK Adventures