considering starting a part time boat building business

Discussion in 'Fiberglass and Composite Boat Building' started by srimes, Sep 20, 2010.

  1. srimes
    Joined: Sep 2008
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    srimes Senior Member

    Hopefully I won't come across as just another ignorant dreamer, but I'd appreciate advice about starting a boat building business.

    I'll start with some personal background. My degree is in Industrial Engineering and I've worked in manufacturing since graduating a few years ago. I built my first "boat" while I was in school because even used canoes were out of my budget (it was a great little thing). I have a negative net worth (marriage, kids, medical bills, student loans), but I have a good job.

    I'd love to run my own business, and I like boats and want more, maybe I can combine the two.

    My idea is to build a boat that a) I want, and b) I think others would want too. And instead of building it as just a one off (i.e, s+g), I would set up for production, i.e.: mold, patterns, jigs and fixtures, procedure documentation, etc.

    I'm hoping that the dollar value of the first hull and the mold (if I were to sell both) would be worth at least the dollar outlay, and the value of the experience/education is worth my time investment. So if I had to cut my losses at this point it wouldn't hurt too badly.

    But if I am able to sell the things, the following boats would be much quicker and cheaper to produce, and if there is enough demand I could hire labor and grow the business organically. And even if there isn't that much demand, it could still be a side business that brings in some extra money, and I would learn a lot.


    Does this sound like a good basic idea? Please offer your critiques and suggestions, and if it possibly is a decent idea, I'd like to explore the details.

    Thanks
     
  2. Submarine Tom

    Submarine Tom Previous Member

    Great idea.

    How are you going to make it work?

    -Tom
     
  3. PAR
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    PAR Yacht Designer/Builder

    Boats: yep we love 'um. Yacht design, boat building, boat repair, boat maintenance and yacht restoration are all discretionary funds dependent. In slow economic times, discretionary funds all but dry up. If you're good and have an establish customer and client base, you can survive the few years it takes to recover from these sort of things. If you're starting off, attempting to start up or have a small business base, you're pretty much screwed until discretionary fund expenditures return to the industry. Lets face it, boats are luxury items, even if it is Jim Bob's bass boat. You see, Jim Bob might have brought his boat in for service this year, because he knew it needed it, but he couldn't afford it. So he'll wait, like most do, until they have some extra cash not tied up in cases of beer or putting new 35" tires on the old pickup. The same is true at the other end of the market, where a custom design or full up restoration will be postponed until they feel better about releasing hunks of cash.
     
  4. SamSam
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    SamSam Senior Member

    It's too vague a proposition to make a statement about it's validity. What's the boat, a canoe or a 139' yacht? Have you got a place to work on it? Any tools? Any skills?
     
  5. mydauphin
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    mydauphin Senior Member

    There is always opportunity but right now it is especially tough. It takes a long time to develop a business. Do you have the money to live and support your business for a couple of years as you build clientel. Many of us have had to get jobs to keep putting food on the table. Better times will come and we follow our dreams again later.
     
  6. ondarvr
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    ondarvr Senior Member

    There was a time when if you had a 4" brush and coffee can you were in the fiberglass business, these days just getting a permit to open a pail of resin in the shop can take many thousands of dollars and several years to obtain. Although starting something at home as a project is still somewhat easy if you don't live where people will complain about the smell, its the trying to turn it into a business that will create the biggest road blocks.
     
  7. jim lee
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    jim lee Senior Member

    There's a permit?

    -jim lee
     
  8. Landlubber
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    Landlubber Senior Member

    ....just as an example mate, the plug and mould will cost between three to five times the cost of the first set of parts that come off them...it will be at least 5 boats sold before you start making money....you need to factor in those costs before starting out.
     
  9. srimes
    Joined: Sep 2008
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    srimes Senior Member

    Wow, quick responses, thanks.

    I guess what I'm asking about first is the viability of this business model. I'm not talking about starting with $200k and building a profitable business. I'm talking about a _side_ business. To many would look like a hobby, but I would approach it in a much more professional and methodical manner.

    Some people have a little vegetable garden in their back yard. Others have access to more land (say 1 acre) and will produce enough to make some extra money. Yes, they are farming, but they aren't full-time farmers, and their livelihood doesn't depend on it. This is what I'd like to try with boats.



    Tom: There are a lot of blanks in my plan, I'm hoping y'all will help me figure them out :D. If this business model has legs we can move on to the type of boat.

    PAR: True. But I won't depend positive cash flow for quite a while. The idea is to keep outlays low and live off the 9-5.

    SamSam: Yes it's vague, I haven't nailed down the boat yet. It needs to at least be trailerable, so we're talking something in the canoe to 32' range :)

    ondarvr: I'm planning on using epoxy so the smell should be ok (my wife couldn't stand poly anyways, much less the neighbors). If I have to move the business to grow it that would be great, but if I can start with a few boats from home I'll be in a much better position to open up a real shop.

    Landlubber: These are important details: what kind of material costs would I be looking at for making a plug and molds? This could limit the size of the boat I start with.
     
  10. Submarine Tom

    Submarine Tom Previous Member

    I feel the odds are against you but who am I to discourage you.

    So, what's the plan?

    -Tom
     
  11. SamSam
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    SamSam Senior Member

    A lot of businesses start as a hobby, a lot end as a dream.

    It's best to make a boat and get that the way you want it and use it as a plug. That way you somewhat eliminate the plug costs in time and material and end up with a usable

    boat. More important is you get to perfect the boat and make changes before making the mold. Once you get the boat right, you fair and finish it to the nth degree and then make

    a mold off it. Of course, it might depend on what boat you want, as some shapes can only be made with composites and you almost have to make a plug to get a

    prototype boat to start from.

    So, what kind of boat do you want to make? What are your boat building facilities? Tools? Skills? Do you have spare time? Spare money?
     
  12. keysdisease
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    keysdisease Senior Member

    Down here in Florida there are lots of very small boat builders doing just one small step above your garage / hobby /part time concept building flats skiffs in mini warehouse bays.

    It works (worked) because the boats are small, simple, have very few parts, and are somewhat specialized to a particular region in the State. For example the guys near the Cape will specialize in boats that work well in the Indian River Lagoon. The guys on the West Coast build larger boats for chasing Tarpon on the Gulf beaches and the guys near Florida Bay will build a more "technical poling skiff."

    If you had a niche market in mind for a small boat you might be able to make it work. Small is good for what you are looking for, small space, cost, investment, price, parts, complexity, and losses if it doesn't work.

    In the current climate used boats are increadibly cheap and even then moving slowly. It sounds like you only need to sell a few boats a year, but even that may be difficult unless you have something pretty innovative. The fact you're planning on epoxy should lead you to something ultralight, you might think in that direction.

    Steve
     
  13. Landlubber
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    Landlubber Senior Member

    ...material costs are done by weight, so you simply multiply the weight of the raw boat by the cost of resin and cloth. Check out your local supplier for cost /kg of resin amd material. Simple really mate.
     
  14. srimes
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    srimes Senior Member

    The rough plan, which in practice won't be perfectly linear:

    1) Make a plan :D
    Somewhat circular process that involves picking a boat, figuring how I would produce it and what resources that would take, and comparing that with the resources available and what I could sell it for.

    2) Set up shop and make the boat.
    Make the plug, mold, patterns, jigs, and basic documentation when I build the first one. Keep costs low (I have a 12' x 30' shop and a 2 car garage, scrounge materials where acceptable) while still doing it right.

    3) Sell it and make another (or take an order for #2)


    keysdisease: That's encouraging. I know it's done, I just don't know details. I agree that small is the way to go. My wife wants a 30' cruiser, but I think that's out of reach. I know I could afford to set up for a canoe or kayak, but I think there's too much competition and the niche would be too small.

    I was actually thinking about flats skiffs and scooters. It's all bass and jon boats here, but it seems like a flats skiff would work well here and would be pretty cool. I agree that it needs to be a niche boat. Why buy from me when you can get the same thing from the established dealer?

    SamSam: Good idea about building a prototype first. That would lower risk. I expect that it would cost more in materials and time than just building a plug. But ending up with a better product could make it worth the extra investment.
    I have a 12 x 30 shop and a 2 car garage, and more tools than most, but I'm sure I could use a few more. Skills: I don't consider myself a craftsman but I'll get the job done, it'll just take me a while. I think my skills will lie in the work design and costing side of things. Very little spare money, not a lot of spare time, so I expect things will progress slowly for a time.

    Landlubber: I am very familiar with estimating material cost, I'm just not familiar with making plugs and molds. Say I'm looking at a 500 lb boat. About how much would the mold weigh, and how much of that is fiberglass?

    Tom: I know the odds are long, that's why I place a lot of emphasis on a good plan. I won't jump in head first unless I'm confident I can swim.
     

  15. Landlubber
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    Landlubber Senior Member

    The mold is about 3 times the cost of a boat to make, it is far stronger and needs to be reinforced to support itself.

    A 500lb boat has 500lbs of materials, in glass it would be something like 50% resin and 50% glass for handwork.
     
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