Independent Retailer Spotlight: La Maison du Canoë, France

12-minute read

La Maison du Canoë is a canoe and kayak shop that serves paddling enthusiasts of all skill levels in beautiful southeast France.

Lisa Tardieu, owner of La Maison du Canoë in Vogüé, France, stands with Branches paddles in her shop

Lisa Tardieu, owner of La Maison du Canoë in Vogüé, France

When most Americans think of France we immediately think of the Eiffel Tower, or maybe one of the other famous landmarks of Paris. What you may not know is that France has an active and growing paddling community and some of the most beautiful terrain you’ll find anywhere.

La Maison du Canoë is a boutique paddle shop owned and operated by Lisa Tardieu. We wanted you to get to know her and learn a little about the canoe and kayak culture in her part of France.

Here’s our conversation with Lisa:

BENDING BRANCHES: Tell us a little about yourself and why you started La Maison du Canoë.

LISA: Since my birth, I have been immersed in the world of canoeing and kayaking. My father worked in a factory that manufactured plastic canoes and kayaks—it was actually the first place I visited, just six days after I was born. Later, my father left the factory and started his own kayak repair workshop, 20 years ago. Our house quickly became known in the village as "the house with canoes" because he often brought kayaks home to repair.

I tried canoeing in a club during my youth, but being often the only girl, I turned to athletics instead. It wasn't until much later that I really began practicing kayaking.

In 2021, while working as a travel agent in Lyon, I started missing the countryside after five years in the city. I was no longer enjoying my job, and the health crisis exacerbated this feeling of suffocation.

At that time, my father had just finished re-doing a commercial building he had purchased, ideally located on a major tourist route near my hometown village. Traveling across France for his work, he noticed there was no specialized store in our region, despite its reputation for kayaking and especially for those who wanted to venture out independently.

One day during a break at work, I called him to say, “I've had enough. I need to come back.” He replied, “You might think I'm crazy, but I have an idea.” After 48 hours of consideration, I was convinced. And that's how the adventure began. I was 22 years old.

La Maison du Canoë building with kayaks in front

La Maison du Canoë attracts customers from a 200-kilometer radius

I chose the name La Maison du Canoë (The Canoe House) because I wanted this place to be perceived as the home for all practitioners, whether beginners or experts. A place where everyone would feel at home. The starting point for all adventures. I emphasized canoeing over kayaking because the store is based on the values of canoeing: disconnection, spending several days in nature with family or friends.

BRANCHES: Who is your target audience?

LISA: I cater to all canoeing and kayaking enthusiasts, whether beginners or experienced. Located in a region renowned for kayaking down the Ardèche Gorges, a must-see site in France for rental kayaking, I benefit from a privileged location.

Moreover, my region offers numerous rivers suitable for experienced kayakers, being the French department with the highest number of navigable rivers [France is divided into 96 departments or administrative units]. Thus, my clientele varies according to seasons and water levels.

kayaker on whitewater on the Lignon River paddling under an ancient stone walking bridge

The picturesque Lignon River in beautiful southeast France

My goal is to create a store that brings together all fans of this sport, regardless of their skill level. I want everyone to dream of adventure when they step through my store's door.

I also try to convey this message through my social networks by sharing humorous and accessible content. I particularly appreciate social networks as a means of communication. They are less formal than traditional advertisements and allow direct contact with the community that follows us and is interested in what we do.

BRANCHES: What are your main business endeavors?

LISA: The main activity of my business is retail sales, which represent 90% of my turnover. I am primarily a specialized store in water sports. The remaining 10% is divided between equipment rental (inflatable canoes, paddles, etc.) and repair services (sealing latex in waterproof suits, inflatable boats).

In summer, I also operate as a booking center for canoeing, kayaking and canyoning, collaborating with various bases to resell their activities. This attracts more visitors to the store. And having grown up in the region, I am well-placed to advise clients on the best activities based on their preferences and skill levels.

Inside the La Maison du Canoë retail space

La Maison du Canoë carries product for paddlers of all skill levels

We are open year-round. I only close for the Christmas holidays and January as it’s my annual break and a quieter period.

Recently, I have received requests for private canoe and kayak lessons, and I would like to develop this service. My partner, a certified guide, loves sharing his passion and taking the time to teach.

The store is only three years old but is destined to evolve constantly based on customer demands. Nothing is set in stone. I have many ideas for the future of the store.

BRANCHES: What do canoeing and kayaking look like in your region?

LISA: There is something for everyone. The main river, the Ardèche, shares its name with our department. As mentioned earlier, this river is well-known and navigable year-round, attracting paddlers of different skill levels depending on the conditions.

A unique feature of our rivers is that each rapid is followed by a calm stretch, significantly reducing dangers compared to constant-flow mountain rivers. This makes paddling accessible to a wider range of people by minimizing the risks of capsizing.

To me, the Ardèche Gorges represent one of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. Every year, I embark in my canoe to descend the 32 km over two days, enjoying absolute calm and taking the time to carefully observe the fauna and flora that inhabit these majestic gorges. We, the locals, enjoy this route outside of summer, as tourists flood the river during the holiday season.

In winter when the river is in flood, an upstream section, nicknamed “the little Zambezi” after the African river, becomes navigable. The rushing water creates immense waves up to 3 meters high, attracting experienced kayakers from all over France.

In addition to the Ardèche, dozens of streams and rivers become true playgrounds after rains. There are routes from Class II to Class V for whitewater kayakers and canoeists.

For canoeists, the Ardèche and the Drôme (in the neighboring province) are particularly popular.

BRANCHES: Which is more popular there, canoeing or kayaking?

LISA: Kayaking is more popular here. The arrival of sit-on-top models has made kayaking accessible to more people, dominating the local market. This makes sense, as we are surrounded by rivers with rapids. We have a few lakes but they are not as vast as those in North America.

whitewater kayakers on a French river

 Experienced whitewater kayakers have many rivers to choose from in Lisa’s area

River kayaking is the main activity for more experienced paddlers who venture onto flooded rivers. Open canoeing here requires a certain skill level to avoid capsizing in rapids. However, this is beginning to change with the arrival of sturdy river inflatable canoes, like those from the Gumotex brand, making canoeing more accessible.

All the old photos from the 1930s to the 1980s show people in open canoes. Rentals did not exist yet, and locals were more interested in nature than they are today. So if you lived near a river, you had to know how to navigate. Today, many people do not know the difference between a canoe and a kayak.

However, even though I know there are more kayakers, I am starting to build a real clientele of canoeists. Customers are coming from farther away to try out the canoes and equipment in stock at the store. Kayak stores are already rare in southern France, but this is even more true of canoe shops.

Thanks to my location in the region, it is not uncommon to meet German or Swiss paddlers, who have a much more developed canoeing culture, as you do.

BRANCHES: What’s your personal favorite place to paddle near you?

LISA: In a canoe, the Ardèche Gorges are undoubtedly the flagship destination. I tear up whenever I paddle between those immense cliffs shaped over millions of years. I often lay my paddle aside to lie down on my canoe and admire the majestic Pont d'Arc as I pass underneath.

kayaker and canoeists on the Ardèche River next to Pont d'Arc

A family trip on the Ardèche and its Pont d'Arc

The Gorges are beautiful in all seasons. I particularly enjoy autumn when calm returns, we are alone, the trees change color and nature prepares for winter. In spring, nature blooms and animals reappear. The sun warms the cliffs and reflects on the water, offering a wonderful taste of summer. We take breaks to fish and explore caves accessible only from the banks. In winter, regardless of the weather, a sense of solitude prevails. We let ourselves be carried away by the often more powerful current, emerging about thirty kilometers downstream, back into civilization.

In a kayak, there are too many choices. Each river is different. Some turn into beautiful turquoise waters, like the Ibie River. Others flow between basalt cliffs resulting from volcanic eruptions, like the Lignon River. Others are simpler, but I spent my childhood swimming with my friends and family there, making them particularly precious to me.

A small waterfall across the Ibie River in southeast France

The lovely Ibie River

BRANCHES: Why do you carry Bending Branches paddles?

LISA: I was looking for paddles that would inspire, and it was a real crush when I discovered the Bending Branches brand. I wanted to offer my clients paddles that would look great on their living room walls when not on the water, and that's how Bending Branches caught my eye. Additionally, I needed sturdy paddles capable of withstanding frequent impacts with the river bottom. The meticulous construction of the models convinced me.

After studying their products, I contacted the Bending Branches team and knew I had knocked on the right door. They welcomed me with open arms and agreed to work with me, even though I am not a large store. We met at the Paddle Sports Show in Strasbourg [France] a few months later. It was a human crush. Everyone knew who I was and supported my small business.

Lisa Tardieu with the Bending Branches crew at the Paddle Sports Show in Strasbourg, France

 Lisa (center) with the Branches crew at Strasbourg

I don't just like the products because they satisfy my clients, but also because I share values with the brands I resell. That's the case with Bending Branches. Working with people on the other side of the planet who share the same values is amazing to me. The Bending Branches team is one of the reasons I love my job.

BRANCHES: Where do you envision La Maison du Canoë heading?

LISA: May 19, 2024 marks three years since the boutique opened its doors and it has continued to grow steadily. There was indeed a need for a specialized store in our region. While most of my customers come from the local area, I've noticed an increasing number traveling from farther away. I would say the boutique has an impact within a 200-kilometer radius.

People seem delighted to find a store that offers quality products, a good inventory and knowledgeable advice. My biggest sacrifice in the early years was constantly reinvesting in the business to maintain a permanent stock, allowing everyone to leave with their product without needing to place an order.

Lisa Tardeu, owner, canoeing the Ardeche Gorges

Lisa enjoys an annual canoe trip through the Ardèche Gorges

Over these three years, I've seen people achieve their adventure dreams, continue paddling, and progress even if they knew little about the sport when they first walked into the store. Nothing makes me happier than receiving photos of my customers on their adventures or having them stop by the store to share highlights from their escapades.

I plan to launch a website soon but will always prioritize the physical store. I enjoy meeting people, advising them and engaging with them. You never know who will walk through the boutique door or for what reason—that deeply inspires me.

Opening this store seems to have been a successful gamble. However, there is still much to do to raise awareness and promote my products. I offer products ranging from medium to high-end quality that cater to all budgets. This approach takes time to establish in the market and build trust with customers. Once that trust is established, it paves the way for deeper and more meaningful collaborations between my clients and me.

Looking to the future of the boutique, my goal is to continue inspiring paddlers of all levels. I appreciate this diversity and am particularly delighted to see more canoeists stepping through the store doors and marveling at Bending Branches paddles.

I want to emphasize that I am officially the sole manager of the store, but none of this would be possible without my dear father. Although he continues with his profession, he has supported me every step of the way in creating the boutique.

Together, we decorated and designed the space. In truth, he has done much more than that—he crafted every piece of furniture from wood or iron with his own hands, giving the boutique a true soul. It's an adventure we share together. My father also embodies the typical Sunday paddler profile, always seizing the opportunity to go paddling with the beavers. That makes him my best customer too, hahaha!

Lisa Tardieu with her father in front of La Maison du Canoë, holding Bending Branches paddles

 Lisa with her father at La Maison du Canoë

A big thank you to Lisa Tardieu for her service to her regional paddling community, for taking the time to talk with us—and for her photos!

To learn more about La Maison du Canoë visit the Facebook page. You can contact Lisa at [email protected]—and keep an eye out for her upcoming website.

What paddling questions can our friendly Customer Service team help you with? Contact us here: 715-755-3405 or [email protected]

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