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Business Observer Friday, Sep. 13, 2019 5 days ago

Boat builder aims to ride big growth wave

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Kevin Prentice turned a come-as-you-are business into process-based, streamlined model.
by: Beth Luberecki Contributor

The Panga has been called “the boat that changed the world.” And since 2002, Panga Marine has taken that revolutionary design and made it both functional and appealing for American boaters.

Kevin Prentice, the new owner and president of Sarasota-based Panga Marine, has big plans to build off that past success and get even more boaters behind the controls of a panga. “No one else in the U.S. makes anything like we do,” he says. “It’s a very versatile boat.”

Panga-style boats — characterized by a narrow hull with a deep V in the front that slices through the water and a flatter profile in the back for greater stability and fuel efficiency — were first mass produced by Yamaha and distributed throughout the developing world through a partnership with the World Bank. Combining the basic hull with a tiller motor created an inexpensive fishing boat that could travel miles offshore and haul back a sizable catch.

‘I’m always trying to upgrade. Lots of other companies just leave well enough alone. And that makes me happy.’ Kevin Prentice, Panga Marine

Panga Marine founder Rob McDaniel brought the style to Sarasota; he imported hulls from Mexico and then finished them off here. When he ran into some quality issues, he bought molds from Mexico to make the entire boat in Florida. In 2016 he tweaked the hull design to give it a deeper entry for a smoother ride and a transom that could accommodate a more powerful motor.

By 2018 McDaniel was ready to retire, and Prentice sought a business to buy. He and his wife, Dede, had moved to Florida from New Jersey, where they had recently sold their tent rental and fabrication company. Panga Marine seemed like a place where Prentice, 48, could put his manufacturing experience to use.

When he bought the company, it was operating as essentially a custom shop. “There was no advertising; there were no boat shows,” Prentice says. “Every customer found Rob and basically picked everything they wanted on the boat. So every single boat over the years was made differently.”

In that model, Prentice saw unrealized potential. He has since turned the company’s offerings into more of a production-line boat and uses past customers’ build sheets to incorporate the most popular upgrades and options into Panga Marine’s standard builds. He got rid of the vinyl upholstery that had problems with pinking (stains caused by marine bacteria) and replaced it with a Silvertex fabric that’s mildew resistant and features a stylish fish-scale stitching.

After considering more than 6,000 paint chips, he chose four custom colors for the boats’ hulls. Forward seating was added in the bow to make the boats more family friendly. “That’s opened up the market of panga buyers to a wider market,” he says.

Mark Wemple. Kevin Prentice has big plans for Sarasota-based Panga Marine.

Panga Marine is now getting lots of attention at boat shows and is no longer selling boats from the factory floor. Instead, Prentice is getting the boats into dealers in Florida and other boating hotspots in the U.S. “Working with dealerships makes it a lot more streamlined, and we can just focus on building beautiful boats,” he says.

All of these changes should lead to major growth. Prentice expects to produce up to 100 boats in 2019, close to 200 in 2020, and then level off in 2021 to around 250 to 300 boats annually. He anticipates 2019 revenues — at least $4 million — will be up about 65% over 2018, and he hopes to triple company revenues over the next three years. Panga Marine’s 40,000 square feet of manufacturing space in Sarasota is big enough to support production of up to 350 boats a year, but its current staff of 18 would need to grow to around 50.

The company’s current options for buyers range from 18-footers averaging around $40,000 to $45,000 fully loaded to 29-footers that can cost up to $180,000. But Prentice isn’t stopping there. He plans to introduce 33- and 36-foot boats in 2020, followed by 39- and 42-foot options in 2021.

“Our 29-footer is the driest boat on the market because of the hull design, and it rides smoother than any other center-console on the market,” he says. “Since we have those two things working for us, it just makes sense to go bigger and try to take a bite out of the larger center-console market.”

Even with an already high-quality product, Prentice is constantly looking for ways to make it even better. “I’m always trying to upgrade,” he says. “Lots of other companies just leave well enough alone. And that makes me happy.”

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