Building a boatbuilding business

Discussion in 'Boat Design' started by chrismcg, Apr 2, 2022.

  1. chrismcg
    Joined: Oct 2008
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    Location: Cork, Ireland

    chrismcg Junior Member

    I've been building boats now for about 17 years. All kinds of fibreglass boats in a few different countries and I've been running my own boat repair business for a few years. I have a workshop with space now so I'd like to build my own boats.
    Lets imagine that I have the moulds and a design that should be popular, where do I go from there?
    I want to build small powerboats in or around the 14foot mark, but that is not too important.
    I have no problem building the boats and I'm under no illusions regarding making a lot of money out of this, it's just something I want to do. I want to build my own boats under my own brand, but I have no idea how you would go about marketing them (On a budget). I'm not looking for massive sales figures, just maybe a dozen a year for the satisfaction of having my own boats out there in the world.
    Has anyone done this? What is the best approach? Location is Ireland if that makes any difference.
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  2. bajansailor
    Joined: Oct 2007
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    bajansailor Marine Surveyor

    Re marketing them, you could set up a business Facebook page - this would not cost anything, and you can easily add to it.
    If you are on Facebook, then you post a link to your business on your personal page, and ask all your friends to share it far and wide.
    Ultimately, it would be useful to also have a 'proper' web page, set up so that if people are looking for this type of boat on Google, it will hopefully show up on the first page, rather than page 27 (or page 72).

    Here is a link to a search I just did on Apollo Duck for second hand power boats between 12' and 16', in Ireland and the UK.
    There are a LOT of them for sale. And they are 'cheap', relatively - much less cost than what you would have to charge for a new 14' boat.
    These are the boats that you are up against.
    Boats for sale UK, used boats, new boat sales, free photo ads - Apollo Duck
    Last edited: Apr 3, 2022
  3. chrismcg
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    Location: Cork, Ireland

    chrismcg Junior Member

    A web page is certainly a must. I have a friend who can sort that out for me.
    Regarding the availability of cheap second hand boats; yes, it is difficult to compete with the prices of those boats that you linked, but most of them are in the UK. There is not much available in Ireland. Since Brexit, importing boats from the UK has become a lot more difficult. is the big second hand everything market place here (a bit like craigslist) there is very little on offer second hand in Ireland.
    I also have to believe that there are enough people out there that want to buy new. What is on the market here in that size range is in terrible condition. Sooner or later people are going to have to buy new or there will be nothing available at all.
    I've spent long enough dealing with people who have got a ''great deal'' on a boat only for me to dash their dreams by telling them that the rotten stringer, transom and deck replacement that is needed is going to cost them a small fortune.
    When the time comes I'll do the facebook thing and set up a website.
    Has anyone any experience with boat shows? They are not really a big thing here. For an island nation we are not really into boats unfortunately.
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  4. TANSL
    Joined: Sep 2011
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    TANSL Senior Member

    @chrismcg, with all due respect to everyone, let me tell you that before advertising on social networks you must know what you want to advertise. A deep reflection on what you would like to build with a market study on what people want to buy, would help you define a market niche and a specific product for that niche. Then several other stages will come, such as the stage of designing it, of adapting the design to your means of production or adapting your means of production to the design. And when you have something that you really see as a possible business and you know that you are capable of building it because you have the necessary technical and material means, you will already design your marketing policy and select which media to use. Not to mention the economic study to start all that. The subject that you propose, starting a business, requires the advice of some expert, since it is very easy to give advice when it is the money or the illusions of another that are at stake.
    Good luck with your project.
    Last edited: Apr 8, 2022
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  5. waikikin
    Joined: Jan 2006
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    waikikin Senior Member

    Just some think tank..

    Something that may suit local guided fishing or if there's competition fishing you can ride the back of. Some put pretty decent money into rigs that support fishing, I'm unsure on your inshore rules there for horsepower but I'm doubting the need for ski boat power.. Even make your own comp that you sell into?
    Niche vessels that are adaptable- if that makes sense(!?), just thinking the success of OCT Offshore Cruising Tenders might be worth looking at as a case study where the available options varied but this is a very neat adaptable style of boat that appears to outperform and more durable than similar sized RIBs in similar service.
    All the best from Jeff.
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  6. chrismcg
    Joined: Oct 2008
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    Location: Cork, Ireland

    chrismcg Junior Member

    Thanks for the replies.

    Tansl, I'm not really starting a brand new business, rather I'm just branching out from my repair business. It's going to cost a fair bit of money to get this branch set up, but I'm not going to go into debt to do that. I'm not in a hurry to get set up, this is something that I can do on the side for now during quiet periods and when I have a bit of cash burning a hole in my pocket.

    I suppose I should go into a bit more detail regarding the boats I want to build:
    The most popular angling boat here over the last while has been the warriors Warrior Boats – Quality British Leisure Boats. These boats are fine, but they are too big for a lot of people. They are heavy to tow and a lot of people would find them awkward to launch and recover single handed. They take up a lot of space in driveways too over the winter, so there is additional storage cost. The way the price of fuel is going (it only ever goes up) means that the 70hp minimum you would have on one is getting more expensive too. There is also the Brexit issue which has made these, and other boats like them, far too expensive to import to Ireland now.
    So the boat I'm thinking about building would be something like a small bass boat. something along the lines of the boats listed here Boat Showroom (
    The idea behind it is that it would be reasonably light, at least lighter than the kinds of angling boats currently used.
    It is small enough to keep at home without taking up the entire garden.
    Easy to launch and recover single handed.
    Reasonably fast with a smaller engine. I'm hoping that a 30hp outboard would be enough.
    Other than the fast warrior style angling boats a lot of people use boats like the Orkney longliner, or other heavy displacement boats. You can pick these up fairly cheap and they are tough so they require very little work. I've been fishing with an Orkney longliner now for the last 16 years or so and it is a great sea boat, but it is heavy and slow.

    The boat I want to build is the kind of boat I want to have to go out fishing and having a few beers with one or two friends or take the kids out in. It will be cheaper and easier than the bigger angling boats that most people don't actually need, and faster and lighter than the cheaper heavier slower boats.

    I know that this boat is the boat that most people should be buying, but my problem is convincing them to part with their cash and actually buy it. It is difficult to make people realise that the bigger boat is unnecessary and that the smaller boat would actually suit them better.

    Jeff, I like the idea about piggybacking onto the fishing comp scene. There are a few big angling comps here every year. I could definitely work in some exposure there. I don't know why I hadn't thought about that. Thanks
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  7. Will Gilmore
    Joined: Aug 2017
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    Will Gilmore Senior Member

    Chrismcg, it sounds like your plan is a natural extention of what you already have going. My understanding is, you are looking ways of promoting a new design, not actually how to setup such a business?!

    I am a member of the Mariner Class Association, an organization focused on the O'Day Mariner 19 sailboat. One of the interesting things about this little boat is that the boat has been under production since the 1960s. There are a lot of used Mariners around that range in price from $500 US all the way up to new at nearly 40,000. As you point out, a lot of these cheap used boats need a fortune dumped into them to make them serviceable to the buyer. I have such a boat in my driveway and am considering buying up to jump right into a boat I can sail immediately.

    I want to stay with the Mariner, but I can't afford a new one, so I have to wait for a used one to appear on Facebook or Craigslist, etc. The thing is, Stuart Marine Stuart Marine Corp., the current producers of new Mariners are somehow selling their boats at well over ten times the average used price. They build and sell other O'Day models based on the same Rhodes 19 hull and they have a thriving used sales and repair business. I doubt they are making money hand over fist, but they have been "afloat" doing exactly what you are proposing for your fishing boat, for a lot of years.

    Their advantage is customers, like me, are completely taken with the Mariner and want that boat. The Association is not driven by Stuart Marine. We don't host them or advertise for them, but everyone thinks of them when looking for parts. So, it is certainly possible to succeed at what you are trying to do.

    As far as inexpensive promotions goes, you should capitalize on the sport of fishing by hosting an annual fishing regatta, wave the entrance fee for your brand boat or just make it known that your company is hosting. Plan events that show off the advantages of your design. Perhaps a contest that requires launch and retrieval of your easily trailered vessel in multiple bodies of water.

    Design accessories around you boat. Dodgers, biminis, coolers, fly fishing/ net casting platforms, trolling motor attachments, ... There must be a big group of avid fly fisherman in Ireland who might like to have a better floating platform to cast from.

    You have the advantage of time. You don't need to do it all at once. Build the boat to show off, then build another one to sell. Take them to boat shows. Online is great for things people don't need to see in person, but a new production boat design needs to be experienced.

    Good luck, -Will, the know nothing ;)
  8. chrismcg
    Joined: Oct 2008
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    Location: Cork, Ireland

    chrismcg Junior Member

    Will, Yes, more about promoting a new boat than the nuts and bolts of setting up a business.
    That is interesting about the O'Day boats. Has anyone any idea about how they have managed to be successful? I know time probably has a lot to do with it and quality design. Building a boat that can generate such loyalty is something I would like to replicate, though I imagine it takes years to get to that stage, so for the time being I need to worry about getting the brand into people's minds.
    It seems like fishing competitions would be a good place to start.
    Any other methods of putting a new boat design out there where people can see it. I know that once I have sold a decent number of them then they will be out there in the world for people to see and word of mouth will do a lot, but it's getting to that stage that poses the problems. what is the best way to get the first say 20 boats sold?
  9. sharpii2
    Joined: May 2004
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    sharpii2 Senior Member

    I suggest that, before you spend money you don't have on advertising an promotion, you build two or three boats.

    Make one of them your personal boat. Use it yourself in the way you expect others to use it. Go to some fishing tournaments yourself and enter them.

    After about one year, put the boat up for sale as a used boat. If it sells, make one of the two, or the other boat your personal boat. Do the same thing with that one.

    If the boat really has some extra merit of some kind, you should start getting inquiries on where you got it. These inquiries could easily turn into orders. If they do, then it may be time to ramp up production.

    Using this system, you insure you have more boats out in the field than you have in stock, or atleast an equal number.

    Your boat may catch on locally. Then you won't even have to advertise.
  10. Squidly-Diddly
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    Squidly-Diddly Senior Member

    I'd dig into the MacGregor story. IIRC he started his company or at least wrote his Business Plan as his Master's thesis for Stanford U. (California) business school.

    Of course that was then and this is now but seems like would be obvious starting point.
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  11. chrismcg
    Joined: Oct 2008
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    Location: Cork, Ireland

    chrismcg Junior Member

    That approach makes a lot of sense Sharpii2. It's probably going to be the route I'll take, I was just looking for other ideas and suggestions that might speed the process along ie. get more exposure quicker than simply using the boat myself. My usual fishing ground is very quiet so very few people would see the boat there. I know I will have to travel around a good bit with the new boat.
  12. chrismcg
    Joined: Oct 2008
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    Location: Cork, Ireland

    chrismcg Junior Member

    Squidly, The MacGregor story is quite interesting. I didn't know much about it until you mentioned it. As you say that was then, but there are some comparable factors at the moment.
    At that time most of the existing old wooden boats were rotting away, and almost all demanded replacement. Fibreglass boats are not rotting away at the moment, but the timber inside of them is. A large part of my business is deck and stringer replacement on boats that are not even that old. I come across so many with rotten transoms too. For the boats in the size range I'm contemplating, it does not make sense for most people to spend the kind of money required to bring these boats up to a safe standard. Added to that, upholstery costs a lot to replace and that is also a problem on older fibreglass boats.
    Roger MacGregor started out building the tooling in his garage in his spare time, kinda what I intend. He also bought the land on which his factory was built. I own my workshop outright and therefore pay no rent.
    Other favourable factors now as opposed to a few years ago. Brexit has made the importing of boats from the UK too expensive and that was where nearly all of the boats in Ireland came from. Importing from further afield like France or Poland is possible, but there is language barriers and a lack of brand recognition or dealer networks.
    The rising cost of fuel means that the bigger boats previously popular which need bigger engines and bigger cars to pull them may be less attractive.
    I haven't gone and done massive business plans for this like MacGregor did, but I don't intend to be building 40000 of these. I'd be happy if I saw some of my boats out on the water in different places around the country, or overhear strangers talking favourably about my boats. I'm not looking to turn this into a huge business, If I sold a hundred or so over the next ten years I'd be delighted.

    It sounds like I'm trying to justify it all to myself and the rest of you, but it is more to check and see if my thinking is logical and I'm not making assumptions and fooling myself.
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  13. Ike
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    Ike Senior Member

    Some very good ideas here. You are currently running your own business so we don't need to tell you how to run a business. You need to capitalize on that. You already have a customer base. (presumably a satisfied customer base) You can use that base to get the word out about you, and how you do quality work. Nothing sells like word of mouth from satisfied customers and it costs you next to nothing. Ask them to tell their friends about you. You can tell your customers what you are doing through email, text, Facebook, or even old time snail mail. Some of them might even buy a boat from you.
  14. chrismcg
    Joined: Oct 2008
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    Location: Cork, Ireland

    chrismcg Junior Member

    Thanks for all the input. I appreciate it.
    So the plan will be to build one boat and show it off, tell all my existing customers about it while building a second. Hope that the first will sell to pay for the third and so on. All the while pushing it into fishing comps and just generally getting out there on the water in busy spots to show it off . Hopefully the boats sell themselves after a while.
    All I have to do now is build them. It will probably be next year before I have something worth showing off. Summer is coming now so repairs are going mad and I won't have much time to dedicate to this project until the winter again.

  15. bajansailor
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    bajansailor Marine Surveyor

    I suppose that the difficult decision now is to decide on the size, type, design..... or have you got this all planned out already?
    If you have, would you have any sketches to show what the first boat might look like?
    Will it be similar design wise to the secondhand generic types of 'small' fishing boat out there that are currently being advertised, or wil it have some unique features?

    If you tell us more about your proposed boats, I don't think that the Moderator would consider this to be advertising - but somebody in Ireland reading this might like what they see, and be your first customer.
    Will Gilmore likes this.
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