A kayak trip with her kids 12 years ago has turned into a new business venture for Jenny Southall Bartlett of Wild River Kayak Co. Noting that there isn’t a lot for younger people to do, and how much her children enjoyed kayaking, Bartlett noticed an unfilled niche in the local outdoor adventure industry. She always wanted to own her own business and the timing finally came together for her to pursue it. With the help of her children naming the business, she went out on a limb and opened up shop.
“The most challenging part about starting my own business was overcoming my own fears of becoming a business owner and finding the resources,” she said. “Traditional kayak rental stores usually have set routes where they drop you off and pick you up. We let you pick where you want to go and we deliver the kayaks. Not everyone has a vehicle where they can haul kayaks and we want everyone to enjoy kayaking.”
This year, Bartlett is focusing on strategic growth, but the vision for her business evolves daily. Next year, she hopes to have a fleet of at least 50 kayaks with a broader delivery zone. Currently, Bartlett delivers all over the Mid-Ohio Valley and as far as Seneca Lake in Ohio.
“In regards to expansion, this year we are keeping things small. We have a facility we are looking into for the start of next summer and have plans to become a reseller for a well known kayak company,” she said.
My favorite part about calling the Mid-Ohio Valley home is just that, it’s home. I’ve traveled quite a lot and you just can’t beat the view of our local area.
Bartlett is a born-and-raised native of the Mid-Ohio Valley growing up in Washington County, Ohio and graduating with a degree in business and accounting from Washington State Community College. There, she has raised her four children into adulthood and works full-time as an inventory specialist for a local HVAC company.
“My favorite part about calling the Mid-Ohio Valley home is just that, it’s home. I’ve traveled quite a lot and you just can’t beat the view of our local area. In my free time, I love being outside camping and hanging out with my children, their significant others, and my dogs” she said.
For Bartlett, the love of the Mid-Ohio Valley is what inspires her to grow her business here.
“We have so many different bodies of water and so many areas to explore, we have already had people from out of town book with us, so it’s an additional recreational activity we can offer people coming to visit our area,” Bartlett said.
Bartlett is a strong proponent of shopping and supporting local in her own business. All of her marketing materials are produced locally as well as the t-shirts and stickers for Wild River Kayak Co. Bartlett even made a point to purchase her kayak fleet from another local business. The reciprocity of giving between local businesses and the community is part of the small business experience for her.
“The most rewarding part of this journey has been the support from my family, friends, and many others in the community. Just knowing people want to see you be successful is very rewarding,” Bartlett said. “I’ve truly been surprised by the amount of people excited to see us bringing this to the area. I knew there was a need, but I did not realize how many people were hoping for this very thing.”
Bartlett thinks the “very thing” is the experience of being in nature and exploring it from a different perspective and one of the reasons she fell in love with the activity. Additionally, with people making their way out of their houses, she thinks the community is ready for some outdoor activities that are cost effective and family friendly.
You can see more wildlife from the water than you can from the banks. Some of my favorite spots are the Little Muskingum River, Veto Lake, or the AEP Ponds out SR 83.
“My favorite part about kayaking is the peacefulness and being so close to nature. You can see more wildlife from the water than you can from the banks,” she said. “Some of my favorite spots are the Little Muskingum River, Veto Lake, or the AEP Ponds out SR 83.”
For those who are unfamiliar with kayaking, Bartlett offers lessons. She loves showing people her love of the activity and thinks that teaching someone is one of the most rewarding parts of operating her business.
“On opening day we had a young man who was terrified of water and ended up out on a kayak for three hours. It took him about five minutes to learn the ropes and now he is buying his own. If you don’t have experience, but want to go, we will send a guide to accompany you. Basically, no experience necessary,” she said.
Wild River Kayak Co.’s pricing structure is:
- Hourly: $10
- Half Day (five hours): $45
- Full Day (8-10 hours): $65
- Two Day Rental: $100