- July 5, 2013
For the Love of Boats
Entrepreneurs by Janet Leiser | Senior Editor
Why not? That question came up often when Donald Eggebrecht and his two sons, Andy and Danny, discussed creating a boat building business.
The family's best memories involved boating and fishing, and they'd previously built their own boat with their own hands. Why not find a way to meet market demand for the increasingly popular fuel-efficient Panga-style boat by offering a top-of-the-line product?
Eggebrecht, a 1999 Ringling School of Art and Design graduate and founder of Sarasota-based advertising firm AE Design Group, set about designing the Tarpon 26, now the signature boat for Andros Boatworks Inc. The 26-foot boat retails for about $60,000, depending on the extras. Last month, the first Tarpon 26 made its debut at a Boca Grande tarpon tournament.
But even before it hit the water, Andros Boatworks, with eight fulltime employees, including the father and two sons, was working to fill 35 orders that have rolled in since the company launched its Web site, Androsboats.com, last year. Of course, the orders aren't just for the Tarpon 26. They're also for the other three boats made by the company.
"It really has been a labor of love, and it has turned out to be something everyone wanted," Eggebrecht, 28, says during a tour of the small Andros factory at 6503 19th St., E. in Sarasota.
"We got orders right off the bat," he adds. "Our customers that have bought them have never seen them."
Demand for the boats is due in part to their fuel efficiency. With gas going for nearly $3 a gallon at the pumps, the Andros boats get up to 8 MPG.
Donald Eggebrecht is a hands-on craftsman, while Danny Eggebrecht takes care of accounting, Web design and other business functions.
The family expected the company to sell 20 boats this year. Instead, it looks like Andros Boatworks will do three times as much,, Eggebrecht says.
Panga-style boats have been popular in other countries, especially South America, for decades, he says. More refined, upscale versions have just become popular in the United States.
The company's target customer is a second- or third-time boat buyer who typically pays cash, he says, adding, "They've had other boats and now they want a quality fishing boat."
Even with the quick success, Eggebrecht cautions that starting a boutique boat-making business is more than just the quaint and romantic idea of creating great looking boats. It's still a business.
"It cost about twice as much as you think it's going to," he says. "Plan to spend long before you make any money. We're still paying back our debt."
About two years ago, Andy Eggebrecht sat down with paper and pencil to draw the Tarpon 26, one of four designs now built by Andros Boatworks. He took the design to Sarasota naval architectural firm Milam Designs, which worked with Eggebrecht to ensure it would perform optimally in the water.
"That's important," Eggebrecht says. "Don't try to do the engineering yourself. We have a competitor who just came up with design and when they put it in the water, it didn't work. They've been trying to fix it for four years."
Eggebrecht estimates he and his family have invested $500,000 so far in getting the business going. He relies in part on the $1.5 million revenue generated by his Rosemary District ad agency, whose biggest client is Atlanta-based RaceTrac Petroleum, he says.
Eggebrecht has a hectic schedule. He spends much of his time on work for the agency, checking with the boat makers each morning and evening. On weekends, he's the Andros Boatworks salesman, giving the sales people the weekends off.
The mold and plug used to make an Andros boat costs about $100,000 for both. And the mold typically holds up long enough to build 400 to 1,000 boats. Hulls for Andros Boatworks are made by Coconut Brothers , a Sarasota fiberglass shop that Eggebrecht says has a "history of building great boats."
From there, the hull goes to the Andros factory where it's finished, usually within a few weeks.
Eggebrecht says customer service is the most important element in competing efficiently in the tight-margin boat making business.
"A lot of people buy boats because of referrals," he says. "As a custom boat builder, you have to take your time building them so they don't have to come back for warranty work."
There are about 10 to 20 custom boat makers in the Sarasota area, Eggebrecht says, adding: "Everyone is good friends and they help each other out."
Andros Boatworks' competitors include Panga Marine and Panga.com. Panga Marine claims it built the original American-built Panga.
In February, Andros Boatworks purchased Tortuga boats from Robert Helmick, the developer of the Tides 23. Helmick is now a consultant to Andros.
The 22-foot boat, now called the Permit 22, starts in the low $20,000s.
No matter how many boat orders come in, the company doesn't plan to become a mass producer, he says.
That's not its niche, at least now for now.