Traditional boatbuilders and suppliers
are finding that to thrive or survive, the answer might lie
BACK IN 1932 WHEN GEORGE BLAISDELL founded the Zippo Manufacturing lighter company to sell a line of windproof light- ers that were popular with the military, he probably couldn’t have nvisioned a time when people didn’t smoke. Fast forward several decades, when health concerns and legislation were taking a big
bite out of Zippo’s revenues. They diversified and soon were selling lighters for
fireplaces and grills, designer pens, watches, handbags, and accessories.
David McConnell was a door-to-door book salesman who got more women’s attention by
offering perfume samples. Soon the perfume was outselling the books, and Avon was born.
Global giant 3M was a mining company known as Minnesota Mining & Manufacturing before
selling sandpaper and Scotch tape as a sideline. Today they market over 55,000 different products including car-care solutions and touchscreens. And Tiffany & Company started out as a
stationer before switching to jewelry.
Marine companies are no exception to evolution. When the economic downturn hit five
years ago, many realized they had to adapt to survive. Some had already been on a path to
diversification and fared better when the marine industry stalled. Several fast, outboard-driven
boatbuilders have tailored designs to government and paramilitary users. Parker Boats builds
for police and natural resources departments; Fountain Powerboats has worked with the Drug
Enforcement Agency; Boston Whaler provides vessels for numerous arms of the government.
David Glenn, marketing director at S2 Yachts, which builds Pursuit and Tiara, says they’ve
provided police boats to places such as Lake Victoria in Uganda, and will work with agencies
so long as there is a reasonable amount of customization required, beyond which it’s not
profitable. “Our reach beyond recreational marine started before the recession with strategic
planning in 2006. We’ve built products for wind energy and other markets. Today, about 20
percent of our business is in non-marine applications.” Building boats for state, federal, and
BY ZUZANA PROCHAZKA
BUILD IT &