Editor’s Note: This article is part two of a three-part WAFB digital series about people who started a business in the Baton Rouge area during the coronavirus pandemic.
BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Brock Miller, 21, is the youngest entrepreneur WAFB spoke with about this story but has no lack of fishing experience.
He has been kayak fishing in south Louisiana for more than nine years, has won many fishing tournaments, and previously sold kayaks for a sporting-goods store.
Being a competitive angler, Miller started to work on customizing his own kayaks and helping friends in the Bayou Coast Kayak Fishing Club customize their kayaks.
Miller was in his second year at LSU in March 2020. The coronavirus would move Miller and other students would move from classrooms on campus to classrooms online.
When the pandemic began he says he immediately noticed a huge uptick in activity in boat launches he would normally frequent. Most weekends out of the month Miller would fish out of Grand Isle, Golden Meadow, Leeville, or Port Fourchon, La.
“In March and April the boat launches were packed,” Miller says.
With modern life as we knew it coming to a screeching halt in those first few months, a record number of both Louisianans and Americans turned to fishing as a safe, socially distant activity to keep your mind off the horrors of a global pandemic.
Fishing license sales in Louisiana skyrocketed as well as sales of bait and tackle at sporting goods stores nationwide. The sales were so high it created supply chain issues for some products.
Miller says all of the activity was “great for the fishing industry.”
As the pandemic waged on, Miller began to be contacted by people because some retail stores were closed.
By summertime, it was clear the coronavirus wasn’t going to just go away overnight and people wanted to fish more than ever. So, on July 6, 2020, Miller launched his business Louisiana Custom Kayaks.
Miller says he would have started the business whether or not the coronavirus appeared. He says the idea for the business had been brewing in his mind for some time but the pandemic pushed him to start it faster than he originally anticipated.
The business, which started as a repair/install service, sells custom parts online that optimize kayaks for fishing, particularly in marshy areas.
“2020 was a crazy year to start a business, but I think it definitely helped me gain traction in the industry as so many people were looking to get on the water,” Miller says.
Miller acts as a distributor of those parts that are hard or impossible to find in sporting goods stores. He says he likes to keep his selection unique by featuring products from local and small businesses that bigger retail stores don’t normally carry in stock.
Some of the custom parts Louisiana Custom Kayaks sells include a kneel guard, which protects the front of the kayak from being damaged, and a kayak cushion, which gives comfort to anglers who spend hours on the water.
Initially, in July, Miller used word-of-mouth advertising and his business’s Facebook page to reach customers. He used the money he made in the first few months to re-invest back into the business to building e-commerce infrastructure for his website, so he could reach customers in other states.
When asked about start-up costs, Miller says he spent about $1,000 on licenses and tools. Some of the costs included registering the business as a limited liability corporation (LLC) and getting a sales tax certificate for his business.
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Louisiana Custom Kayaks launched online ordering in November 2020. Filing online orders takes less time and is a better return on time. He says since he already has the parts from manufacturers, all he has to do is ship them to the customer.
He says eCommerce also gives him a larger presence in the kayak industry because he can sell to customers outside of Louisiana. Before, he could only attract customers in south Louisiana who were looking for installs of custom parts and repairs on their kayaks.
Miller also offers services such as installing electronic fish finders which use sonar technology, anchoring systems, and protective mats known as Marine Mats on kayaks.
He also provides a service of plastic welding for other parts and cleans pedal systems for kayaks that use foot pedals instead of paddles.
However, those services are only offered to customers in the Baton Rouge and New Orleans areas.
The new year brought in an uptick in business. At his busiest point, Miller says he was working on four or five boats a week compared to his average of two to three. Miller says now he is working on trying to find a balance with installs, eCommerce orders, as well as, going to LSU, working with his father’s landscaping business, and enjoying life itself.
Even though Miller has averaged two to three boat work orders per week and some steady online hours, he says he has yet to pay himself from the business.
He explains he did not Louisiana Custom Kayaks to become his nine-to-five job. The business serves as both a side business and resume.
“I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit so combining my passion for kayak fishing with a business that would give me real-world experience was a no-brainer,” he says.
Miller is a digital marketing major at LSU and hopes to build and grow other businesses in the future. It also serves a great networking opportunity for him to meet other anglers in the competitive fishing community he is deeply involved with.
“The support I have received in the past seven months has been incredible. I have been blessed to meet a ton of new people and work on some amazing projects. There is no way I could have grown as fast as I have without a great group of customers,” Miller says.
Louisiana Custom Kayaks has custom kayak parts is available to purchase online by clicking here and offers installation services in south Louisiana.
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