By GREG KLEIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
PORTLANDVILLE – Brent Baysinger looks over the calm waters of Goodyear Lake and the growing business empire he has built on its banks and said it feels humbling.
“I am blessed,” he said. “I think the biggest thing is I am just so thankful for the support, not only from family and friends but also the local community.”
Baysinger, a 2000 Cooperstown Central School graduate, was doing hospitality work in Vail, Colorado, in his 20s, when he said his mother, Lonetta, proposed a business idea.
“I very much grew up a water kid,” Baysinger said. “It was actually my mom who had the idea first. She was the one who was living here and had her finger on the pulse and saw there was a need for this. I was ready for a change and I always liked to be my own boss and do my own thing.
“I basically had the opportunity to start this, and being outdoors and on the water, I didn’t have to think long about it,” he continued.
Canoe & Kayak Rentals and Sales launched in 2009 in the town of Milford, along state Route 28. Although the economy was still reeling from the 2008 recession, the weather gave Baysinger’s business a break.
“It was the nicest summer I can remember,” he said. “It was a gorgeous year.”
For the first three years, Baysinger said he commuted back to Vail in season as a second job. By year four, the business had outgrown an off-season, as the down time is needed to restock and plan, he said.
The family inspiration turned to family perspiration, Baysinger said. His mom and sister, Natasha, were crucial to establishing the business, and his nephew Max, has grown up as a helper, a role Baysinger said he envisions for his own sons, Brooks, age 5, and 10-month old Ben.
Baysinger and his wife, Amanda, met dockside, when she literally paddled up to check out the new water sports store.
“She grew up in Oneonta, graduated from Oneonta schools, but we had never met until she came to see the new watersports store she had heard about,” he said.
What began in one converted house on Goodyear Lake has expanded. The Baysingers now live in the house next to the store and recently bought the building two doors away in the other direction, an old grist mill that dates back to the 1790s and was more recently an antique store. Now it is filled with canoe and kayak inventory.
“We’ve got more boats for sale than ever,” Baysinger said. “I doled out a lot of money, but it isn’t like it is going to go bad on the shelf.”
Baysinger said he liked canoes when he was a kid.
“I don’t think we even had kayaks,” he said. “It was before they really took off as an activity.”
Learning the business of other water sports was about as challenging as learning to be a businessman, he said.
“What I don’t know, I make up for in hustle and customer service,” he said.
Baysinger said he caught a break about 13 years ago when he became a vendor for Old Town, a top of the line dealer. In addition to expanding his stock, he has been expanding his products, including a high-end one-wheel skateboard and a hands-free peddle kayak, equipped for fishing.
While the coronavirus pandemic has been bad or challenging for many businesses, outdoor activities have been booming, fueling his expansion, Baysinger said. But he again mentioned his blessings: that he was able to open last spring, that he had the financial power to expand and that he had the foresight to stock up ahead of time, as boat orders are now backing up as demand outpaces production.
“Some people did not take it seriously,” he said. “I was trying to get as much product as possible. Earlier in our tenure here, we might not have been able to take advantage of it.
“We were fortunate to be able to open last year,” he continued. “We really adapted. We crafted a whole outdoor store, right here on Route 28, so you did not have to step foot inside at all. It took three or four people an hour to set it up each day. We had a card scanner, so you did not have to go inside to pay.”
Baysinger said he is exploring other business opportunities, turning his stretch of properties on Route 28 into an expanding business center. He said he hopes to turn the old mill into a showroom and use the storefront for lessons and rentals.
This season, Baysinger said he expects a bit of a lull, perhaps, depending on country’s and the county’s recovery from the pandemic, and of course, the weather.
“This season I expect we will be busy, but maybe not crazy busy,” he said. “At the end of the day, the weather determines our business. If it is sunny every day, then we are going to do well. If it is gloomy all summer, then we don’t do well. It is a real gamble.”