PETOSKEY — Petoskey’s own Little Bay Boards recently upgraded its workspace following a move into the old Kilwins candy factory, allowing the paddle board manufacturer to produce even more boards.
The ever-growing company started in the spring of 2012 when owner Jason Thelen challenged himself with making a paddle board for his then 9-year-old daughter. She wanted a paddle board but not one from a retail store.
“It all really started as an accident. I knew I wanted to make her an eco-friendly board and I just kept working on it and kept building. Now, here we are,” said Thelen.
Thelen found himself then swamped building board after board for friends and family all while honing his skills and creating handmade one-of-a-kind boards from scratch.
The paddle board company started with Thelen working out of a garage before moving to a space on on Sheridan Street in Petoskey where he was able to stretch out a little bit with 2,500 square feet of space to work in. However, even the new space wasn’t able to keep up with the business and customer demand for boards.
“Right before the pandemic I was able to partner with some brothers who helped back the business and I was able to move into our new space here,” said Thelen.
Throughout the pandemic, Thelen and his team were still building boards but didn’t fully move into their new space until December of 2020 and didn’t really start building boards out of the new location until March of this year.
However, it was partially thanks to the pandemic that Little Bay Boards was able to acquire the new space to keep up with demand.
“We got so busy,” said Thelen.
“Paddle boarding is a socially distant sport and when China locked up you just couldn’t find paddle boards anywhere. That only helped us as we were still building boards and shipping them all over the world,” he said.
Demand for boards and the growth of the company led Thelen to look for a new location. Initially, he looked into using a space in the building along M-119 which is home to B. May Bags. However, the space didn’t fit all of his needs for the company.
“It was a beautiful location and the owner was great to work with and I talked with him about purchasing the building but we just couldn’t come to terms on a few things,” he said.
“It was shortly after that though that I was driving past this old Kilwins building that I thought about reaching out to them.”
Thelen had a previous relationship with Kilwins owner Don McCarty — whose company is now headquartered along Bay View Road near the Petoskey waterfront — having worked together on some charitable events.
Thelen gave him a call and the rest was history.
“I had originally asked about leasing the building but he told me he didn’t want to be a landlord and to make an offer. We settled on a price and he sold it to me,” said Thelen.
“It’s such a blessing and upturn for us as we are now able to do so much more,” he said.
The new home for Little Bay Boards — at 335 N. Division Road in Petoskey — is more than double the size of Thelen’s last workspace and allows him and his team to finish about five boards a week.
Little Bay Boards team members are still getting their feet under them at the new location, but expect to keep building and growing through 2021.
“We are working on finding that balance but as we get more manpower I wanted to get my whole team trained so when we bring on more people I don’t necessarily have to train them all and we can keep cranking out boards,” said Thelen.
With the new space, Little Bay Boards is able to work on about 10 boards at a time, with half of them getting put together and framed up in the main workspace while the other half are finished in what’s called the glass room.
In total, it takes about two weeks to complete a board from start to finish to get the product ready to ship.
Beyond the stress of owning a business and the daily grind, Thelen is grateful for his “accident of a business” and being able to thrive in Petoskey while providing eco-friendly built boards.
“I’m just so blessed to watch this all unfold,” he said.
“Its not all rainbows and butterflies but we have a promising future to look forward to here,” Thelen added.