Past and Present in the Maritime Industry >> Scuttlebutt Sailing News

0

The RCR Yachts newsletter is a trusted source of information on the Great Lakes, and as a company that sells new and used sailboats and powerboats, operates several shipyards and marinas, and provides of service and repair work, they have seen and done a lot.

As RCR Yachts celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2022, this report from CEO and owner Don Finkle takes a look at the past and present:


I promised myself that during the Christmas break I would take care of the batteries and boxes that we have accumulated at RCR Headquarters over the past 50 years. As my family could attest, I’m not the best when it comes to throwing things away. They even accused me of being a hoarder, but it’s a bit harsh.

Browsing through this material brings back so many memories to me. The boat builders we have represented, most of whom are no longer in business. The boats we have sold, the boats we owned, the races we have done, the projects we have participated in, many regattas, the ups and downs of the industry over the past 50 years. The people who worked here and those who still work here.

Of course, there are all the people we have met and done business with, and many have become friends. We got to know some of the big names in the boating industry personally, those who were there because of their love of boats as opposed to the bean counters that came later.

It is striking to see the change from what the company looked like in 1972 to what it looks like today. We were fortunate to be in the thick of it during the heyday of the fiberglass boat building boom of the 1970s and 1980s.

My parents’ first two boats in the 1950s and 1960s were made of wood. Then in 1966 we got our first fiberglass sailboat, a used 24ft Shark which was built by George Hinterhoeller across the Niagara River. We were like so many other families who took advantage of the access to boating made possible by the nascent fiberglass boat building industry.

When we started at RCR, customer demand was there and so was the availability of new boats. Builders have proliferated in both the United States and Canada. There were few used boats to compete with, so it was much easier to sell new boats than afterwards.

It was fun delivering beautiful shiny new boats to people who were just getting into the sport and learning to enjoy what we all love. The boats were simpler and cheaper then, and we often sold them to young families. When you look at a 50 year old boat today, it is easy to see why boats were so much cheaper back then.

Sailors did not expect all of the features that are now considered “must have” in today’s boats. The equipment was basic, the boats were so much smaller in all other dimensions for their length. They might not compare to what is built today (or anything else since the 1970s), but the sailors loved them and so did we.

Along with all of the many positives that we have enjoyed over the past half century, there are a few negatives as well. From a business standpoint, the loss of much of the North American nautical industry ranks near the top. We could fill an entire newsletter with just the names of companies that were key players at the time but no longer exist.

Above all, we miss the many contacts that we had in these companies. From the designers and managers at the top to the men and women on the shop floor, these were usually very strong people doing a good job. We have come to know many of them personally. Our frequent visits to factories have broadened our knowledge of shipbuilding and materials.

A combination of shifting market dynamics, bad ownership resulting from the sale of businesses to the wrong people, government actions, and saturation (too many players) was more than most businesses could handle.

The stupid US federal luxury tax of the early 1990s was the death knell for many companies. A purely political ploy that in fact cost the United States a lot of money and brought in virtually nothing in taxes. The “rich” refused to get soaked and simply bought and kept boats offshore.

Factories closed and lost the taxes that businesses and employees would have paid. We were among the many dealers whose sales were penalized as a result. This idea is apparently going to be tested in Canada now and we expect it will not have the expected consequences there either.

How do I do with my organization and purge project? Well, progress is being made, but it won’t be finished immediately. As I get more courageous about the throw, I keep coming across things that are too important (at least for us) to shred.

Half a century of history can be found in the boxes and files, much of it before we ran the business primarily by computer. They will no doubt contain stories that we can bring to our readers as we go along.

Note on consolidation:
The boating industry follows the same path as most business elsewhere, with businesses being swallowed up, merged or in some cases dissolved. Almost every day, our industry news feeds report that another company has been bought out.

The result is that we are going to see less choice, especially in the hardware. The products will be there, but fewer companies will manufacture them. Are you old enough to remember the Barient or Barlow winches? Kenyon and Hall spars? Some of the names you have come to know over the years will be gone.

There are usually two sides to every story, and in this case, the companies that remain will be stronger and hopefully have more ability to innovate and spend R&D dollars. Customers sometimes complain that boating lags behind other areas when it comes to technical progress. The truth is, sailing is only a very small segment of the entire leisure industry and money is pouring into the more profitable areas.

Share.

Comments are closed.