Outside Business Journal

Innovation Project: Rutabaga

How do you turn your customers into a family? In The Innovation Project's 17th episode, Rutabaga's owner Darren Bush talks about fostering his huge community of paddling die-hards.

Ryan Wichelns

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Rutabaga Paddlesports’ owner and “chief paddling evangelist,” Darren Bush, likes to say he’s one of the only shop owners in the country who gets hugged every day by his customers.

“We facilitate them falling in love with an activity and falling in love with the outdoors,” Bush says. “When you do that, people love you.”

Fostering a strong, tight-knit group of paddlesports enthusiasts is central to his shop’s mission. “We provide a really good place for people to come and gather as a community,” Bush says. That community gets a major jump start every year before the water even unfreezes with Rutabaga’s Canoecopia event, which brings in 20,000 paddlers for what Bush says is the world’s largest consumer paddlesports show. Featuring 80 speakers, hundreds of exhibitors, guides and vendors, it’s the shop’s big way of welcoming another season.

Last November, Bush announced plans to launch Paddlesports Retailer, a brand new trade show aimed at paddlesports companies who have a hard time leaving their shops during the height of the selling season, when Outdoor Retailer falls. The first show is scheduled for September 12-14 at the Alliant Center in Madison, Wisconsin.

At Rutabaga, the family just keeps growing.

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