CHEK Upside: Victoria rowboat business sees record year amidst pandemic

WatchAt 70-years-old, Harold Aune isn't slowing down. Aune and his business partner Marie Hutchinson co-founded Whitehall Rowing and Sail in 1987.

At 70-years-old, Harold Aune isn’t slowing down.

“Don’t tell yourself how old you are, and you’re fine,” said Aune, co-owner of the Victoria-based Whitehall Rowing and Sail. “It’s challenging, and if it wasn’t challenging I wouldn’t do it.”

Aune and his business partner Marie Hutchinson co-founded Whitehall Rowing and Sail in 1987. Like most businesses in 2020, the boat building company planned for the worst. But amidst the pandemic came an unexpected stroke of good fortune.

“We were pretty lucky this time,” said Aune. “Back in April when the sales were dropping for a while, we were thinking ‘woah it’s going be a slow summer’, and then things just took right off.”

Turns out a global pandemic meant more people wanting an escape on the water.

“People are realizing, you know, they’re not going to be travelling, they’re not going be able to travel for a while, might as well enjoy their local waterways,” said Hutchinson.

“They’re enjoying staycations and social distancing and our product fits those two hashtags to a tee,” said Aune, who’s also the company’s videographer for marketing purposes.

Their hand-made rowboats and oar boards are designed and built out of their Dallas Road headquarters and then shipped all over the world.

“We do everything that a major corporation does with the same degree of effort actually, with a much smaller volume,” said Aune.

With orders reaching an all-time high this year, Whitehall Rowing and Sail became one of the few businesses looking to hire more staff. Both Hutchinson and Aune are hopeful that their record-year is more than just a byproduct of the pandemic.

“It’s almost like we’ve reached a new plateau and it could be that this will continue for a while,” said Hutchinson.

The company runs a community rowing club in Victoria and Oak Bay. For more information, click here.

Kevin CharachKevin Charach

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