AUSTIN — Business owner gives up corporate job to open boat store with friends
Chris Hackard, Steve Messana and Peter Messana, owners of Austin Canoe and Kayak • Photo by Melissa Mixon
Peter Messana and his business partners have an unwritten motto when it comes to running Austin Canoe and Kayak: The storeowners hire employees who love the two boating adventure sports. That way, their employees are fully engaged with customers and have a background in what they are trying to sell.
The northwest Austin store not only offers 300 different kinds of boats for sale at its warehouse, it also has canoeing and kayaking lessons and rentals.
Messana and his business partners also intentionally avoid strip malls when scouting places to house their stores. At strip malls, Messana said, just anyone will stroll in—even if they have no interest in canoeing or kayaking—making it crowded and difficult for genuinely interested customers to find what they need.
Take, for example, their Austin location on Burnet Road, which is tucked away off of the street in a warehouse.
“You’ve got to be looking for it to find it,” Messana said.
If it seems like Messana and his partners are running their business in an unconventional way—by avoiding busy strip malls where there is greater chance of exposure to potential customers—then that would be in keeping with Messana's already unconventional entrance into the canoe and kayaking scene.
In 2005, he was working in financial services for Dell Inc.—a good job, but one of which he was tired.
He loved the outdoors but had only been canoeing and kayaking a handful of times when he and his business partners saw that Austin Canoe and Kayak was for sale.
In May 2005, he, his brother Steve and fellow business partner Chris Hackerd bought the store.
“At first it was scary leaving the security of a corporate job,” he said.
Canoe and kayak rentals (per day) Type: 1-2 days 3+ days Single kayak $30 $25 Single fishing kayak $35 $30 Tandem (two person) $40 $35 Canoe $40 $35
When they took over the business, it was confined to Austin in a 2,500 sq. ft. building and had only one employee. Since then, the men have expanded the Austin store, hired 24 more employees and opened two more locations, one in San Marcos and another in Houston.
They sell more than 48 models of canoes and kayaks and have 3,000 of the boats available for sale at any time.
“It’s a lot of work,” Messana said from his office in the Austin store’s warehouse at 11604 Stonehollow Drive in northwest Austin. “When you go on vacation, you’re really not on vacation.”
Despite that, he said, his job feels more like a hobby than work.
He no longer has to attend committee meetings or follow a long process to get something done like he did in his corporate job.
Messana said the store has not been negatively affected by the recent drought because boaters can still get around easily in canoes and kayaks.
“Overall, we're doing better than last year,” he said.
Messana said most of the people who enter the store have never canoed or kayaked before but—with the help of staff—they learn.
Austin Canoe and Kayak, 9705 Burnet Road, Ste. 102 • 719-4386, www.austinkayak.com