Jackson Kayak

Rapid results with iPad and iPhone.

iPad and iPhone keep business running smoothly for this leading kayak manufacturer.

Keeping any business afloat is a challenge — but for Eric Jackson, it’s an extreme balancing act. As a champion kayaker, he spends half of each year following competitions and events from river to river throughout North America. As president of Jackson Kayak, the leading whitewater kayak manufacturer, he also needs to stay in constant contact with his 120-person company. iPad and iPhone let him do both.

“For my business, the one-two punch is iPhone and iPad,” Jackson says. “With these two devices, I can run the entire company. I’ve literally got my office with me at all times.”

From an RV equipped with Wi-Fi, Jackson keeps connected with Jackson Kayak’s headquarters in Sparta, Tennessee. “And when I’m not on Wi-Fi, my iPad has a 3G connection,” he says. “I just grab my iPad and I’m already online.”

Jackson isn’t alone in relying on iPad and iPhone at this thriving company. In fact, he and his management team consider these devices so indispensable that they’ve outfitted their entire workforce — from customer service to design to quality control — with iPhones, and many with iPads as well.

“We’ve been surprised how people have responded when we've given them iPhones and iPads,” says Dave Olson, Chief Financial Officer. “We were getting more time and more engagement from every employee that had an iPhone. So we got everyone an iPhone.”

The iPad Office

For Jackson, a four-time freestyle kayaking world champion and U.S. Olympic Kayaking Team member, it’s essential to participate in athletic events, monitor industry trends in the field, and meet directly with dealers and customers. Jackson’s strong customer focus has helped propel the company to international success, with distribution on six continents.

Managing the business remotely wasn’t always such smooth sailing. “There's no way I could have run the company this way until very recently,” says Jackson. “iPad is a godsend for me and Jackson Kayak. I’m connected all the time. It's just as effective as having an office inside the factory.”

Whether he’s analyzing customer data, refreshing website content, or approving new designs, Jackson uses his iPad to get instant access to his entire operation.

“I get my work done way faster,” he says. “There’s no booting up — I’ve got my calendar, emails are already in. With iPad I've got all the tools I need to communicate with the home office, my dealers, and my customers.”

iPad and iPhone Everywhere

Back at the shop, Jackson Kayak’s management team and employees find iPad and iPhone equally invaluable.

“I use my iPad all day long,” says John Ratliff, Chief Operations Officer. “It's fast. It's compact. It's convenient. The battery life is exceptional. It's what you want to see, when you want to see it.”

Instant-on power and the large, clear iPad display make it especially useful in a factory environment. For example, Ratliff can compare Jackson Kayak’s manufacturing equipment side-by-side with images of replacement parts on iPad to make sure he’s getting the correct pieces. “Even under the bright lights of manufacturing, you’ve got excellent visibility and resolution,” he says. “You can zoom in and see great detail. It’s the perfect alternative to having a laptop on the shop floor.”

With one-touch access to email and other resources, iPad and iPhone have transformed interoffice communication. Both devices are simple to configure through the company’s Exchange server, keeping contacts, calendars, and email continuously updated over the air. “Once you set the settings, you’re done,” Ratliff says. “There’s nothing to tweak, nothing to configure.”

Above all, these devices inspire Jackson Kayak employees to deliver great results. “iPhone and iPad have changed the way our people work,” Olson says. “Even employees who aren’t technology-inclined are eager to use iPad and iPhone. It's simple, it's intuitive, and it gets them the information they need with just a tap.”

Making Connections with Apps

From finance to marketing to manufacturing, business apps for iPad and iPhone keep Jackson Kayak on course. Apps like Pages, Numbers, and Keynote allow Jackson and his team to create and edit documents, spreadsheets, and presentations anywhere — and the built-in AirPrint feature in these apps lets them print directly to a wireless printer. “With Keynote on iPad, I can easily import from PowerPoint and deliver rich multimedia presentations. Dealers love it,” says Ratliff.

Jackson uses WordPress to remotely manage content on the company website, and Analytics HD on iPad to monitor site traffic. “One tap and you’ve got a dashboard with an overview of traffic for the last month,” he says. “I can directly relate this activity to sales of specific products at the dealer level.”

Other top apps include Square, for mobile credit card processing; Air Sharing HD, for wireless storage and transfer of business files; and Duplicam for iPad, which allows users to view an image from the iPhone camera live on an iPad screen. “We can reach into a tight place with an iPhone and actually see inside the boat,” Ratliff says.

The Portable Kayaker

Jackson Kayak has also begun developing its own iPhone and iPad apps, including Jackson Kayak Mobile, an app for the whitewater kayaking community. The app delivers the latest company news, community forums, product information, and videos.

“My customers are very mobile,” says Jackson. “They’re tech savvy, but they’re outdoors people. They’re not always in front of a laptop, but they’ve always got their iPhones with them. So we’re in touch with our customers at all times.”

Jackson and his team worked with a third-party developer to create the app. “In one conversation with them, I knew what was going to be financially feasible, what we could do in our time schedule, and what our next steps were,” he says. Working via email, they were able to quickly fine-tune the app’s features, functionality, and appearance, then test it with a soft launch in the App Store before promoting it to Jackson Kayak’s customer base. From start to finish, the process took about five weeks.

Customer response has been enthusiastic. “Everybody was super fired up,” Jackson reports. “We get a lot of ‘coolest thing ever, awesome’ comments” Online videos are the most popular app content, followed by company news. Jackson sees the app as part of an integrated marketing strategy that has pushed dealer orders 50% higher than a year ago. “In today’s market, you’ve got to reach end users on their terms,” he says. “This app is another tool to make sure we’re in everybody’s pocket.”

Success Ahead

As they head into their most successful year to date, Jackson and his team plan to create additional customer and in-house apps, including an app for kayak fishing and an internal dashboard of key management metrics. They also intend to keep expanding their pool of iPhones and iPads.

“We’re a small company that’s growing very fast, and we have to be careful where we invest our resources,” says Olson. “We’re investing in iPhones and iPads because we’ve found that employees with these devices are much more valuable. All of a sudden we’ve tapped into this potential, tapped into the employees, and we've become a great company.”

iPad and iPhone help Jackson Kayak smooth the course of business and meet its most important goals: connecting with customers, expanding markets, ensuring high product quality, and most of all, maintaining a balance between work and the rest of life.

“Quality of life is my number-one priority: for myself, my family, my employees,” Jackson says. “iPad and iPhone allow me to enjoy that quality of life, and pass it on to my team at Jackson Kayak as well.”

Company Snapshot

  • Founded in 2004
  • 120 employees
  • Based in Sparta, Tennessee
  • Products for whitewater kayaking, kayak fishing, and recreational kayaking
  • www.jacksonkayak.com

“With iPhone and iPad I can run the entire company. I’ve literally got my office with me at all times.”

Eric Jackson, President, Jackson Kayak


“I use my iPad all day long. It's fast. It's compact. It's convenient. The battery life is exceptional. It's what you want to see, when you want to see it.”

John Ratliff, Chief Operations Officer, Jackson Kayak

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