MONCTON – Caroline Li’s family in China does a huge business selling inflatable watercrafts in Europe. In just one deal last year, the company sold 20,000 inflatable paddle boards to one customer. She’s now trying to expand the company’s reach to Canada through Landway Outdoor Sports in Moncton.
So far, she’s found it challenging. She sold less than 50 inflatables to customers in Canada last year.
“Sales here is not in big quantity,” says Li. “I think there’s some reason. The local people are not used to inflatable products, they’re worried about the quality and if it’s safe. But our product is marine grade with five years guarantee. It’s not the same as inflatable swimming pools.”
Li established Landway a year ago as a Moncton-based office for her family’s manufacturing plant in China. She imports inflatable boats, kayaks and paddle boards for dealers like the Kayak Exchange in Atlantic Canada.
The family business in China has been serving as an original equipment manufacturer for clients in Germany, the U.K., France Italy, Japan, Korea and the U.S. for 20 years.
“We’re a new brand here, but we’re not a new product,” she said.
So, Li wants to introduce inflatable boats, kayaks and paddle boards to more New Brunswickers. She’s done so by hosting public events at Jones Lake and other waters around the province last summer. She also lent her products to organizations like the Multicultural Association of Greater Moncton Area.
“It’s part of our marketing and I also want to do some benefit to the local people and let them test and enjoy [the products],” she said.
Li decided to bring her family’s products to New Brunswick when she moved to Canada.
“I know the local environment. There are so many good water sources. So I chose the inflatable boat for fishing and inflatable kayak and inflatable paddle board for water recreation.”
She moved to follow her dream and to ensure her daughter receives good education. She landed in Saint John in March 2016, but later moved to Moncton hoping it will be better for her business.
“In my childhood, I read many novels like the Little Mermaid, and some [others] from Western writers. So I was looking forward to seeing what the outside world is. After I graduated university, I did foreign exchange trading, so all my customers is foreigner. I [got] used to the style of Western life,” she said.
When she arrived in Moncton, Li received a lot of help from agencies like Opportunities New Brunswick.
“I think I was very impressed. If I need any information, I can get as much as I can,” she said. “I like it very much. There’s so much nature and the people is so kind. I make many friends.”
This year, she wants to host more promotional events in Saint John and Fredericton and begin to think about expanding to Ontario and Quebec.
“Because [the Toronto] area has more waters, more lakes, very suitable for this product. And also in Toronto, the people they need space. Some people just live in apartments, so they [would like the convenience] of the inflatable boats. They can be folded away in the bag and put it anywhere,” she said.