Mark Raubenbush's first telephone call last fall when he bought Naples' Wolcott Marine went to Chad Kavorik at Action Craft High Performance Fishing Boats in Cape Coral.
The former general contractor wanted a strong start to his venture into the marine sales business. He could get that, he says, from a reputation Action Craft gained for a durable, stable and light craft that can glide quietly into a foot of water inside tidal flats and perform well in deeper waters.
He also had experience to go on. “I have an 18-year-old Action Craft that is still as solid as the day I bought it,” Raubenbush says.
“I felt that boat was underserved in the market,” he adds. “I felt it was a great boat to start building my business on.”
Action Craft in Wolcott's inventory would give the dealership the 17-foot vessels suited for shallow waters of places like Pine Island Sound. And with such models as the 24-foot Coastline 1910 Coastal Bay, Wolcott could sell customers a boat to traverse shallow water as well as deeper depths of the Gulf of Mexico.
But Raubenbush had to be patient.
Kavorik had taken over the idled Action Craft manufacturing operation in 2012, but was still ramping up when Raubenbush began calling.
“They are not getting ahead of themselves,” Raubenbush says of Action Craft, which agreed to a 10-boat order.
As for Kavorik, he would say that not getting ahead of himself is how he stays ahead of the game.
The 45-year-old Ohio native who holds a master's degree in manufacturing acquired Action Craft after a career working with Japanese automakers.
He first had to hire back some of the former owner's skilled workers, refresh some of the molds, refurbish equipment and re-establish a supply chain with more than 200 suppliers, most of which are in the U.S.
Unlike what Kavorik calls the “cookie-cutter” manufacturers that sell their fishing boats for half the price of his — Action Craft boats retail from $25,000 to $165,000, depending on customization — Kavorik says Action Craft uses “brain and muscle power” in place of automation. The work is done at a 15,000-square-foot plant in Cape Coral and 10,000-square-foot plant in Perry.
“It is especially hard to automate when the products in front and behind are different,” he says. “About 92% of our boats are customized.”
For some of the larger models, a typical build can run more than 1,000 labor hours, he says.
Kavorik kept the former owner's established lineup of boats but added some later. “When I took over Action Craft in 2012, we had 12 models in the flats and bay segments. Now we have 14 models, the 12 original, a 2050 GCX crossover boat and a 17cc, which is coming later this summer.”
Kavorik says the company sold 81 boats last year and is on pace to sell 100 boats in 2017.
While most of the boats are customized, they share such characteristics as stability, smoothness in motion, limited water displacement and shallow drafts, Kavorik says.
That ability to navigate shallow water is important to Rick Gassert of Snook Fin-Addict Guide Service Inc. in Sarasota.
“It will float in 8 inches of water and handle a moderate chop,” says Gassert, who has owned five Action Craft boats since 1995.
“It's a great boat for the type of fishing I do,” he says.
Kavorik is mum on the intricacies of his manufacturing process, but notes one key is a gel-coated fiberglass cloth applied to the boat's wide beam. The result is a slighter draft and increased stability.
“Most boat builders use chopper guns, chopping up the fabric and spraying it on the boat hull,” he says.
“We use a cloth roll on 100% of the boat. I can tell you the competition uses cloth on only parts of the boat.”
A “Qui-Dry” hull design lets the boat glide without slapping the water. The hull's flares push the water out instead of in. Driver and passengers stay drier this way, Kavorik says.
And with “Qui,” which denotes “quiet,” it's easier to sneak up on schools of fish, he adds.
“They don't hear you coming.”
The wideness and stability of the boats make customizing them easier, providing design flexibly on console placement and other features.
Wolcott Marine's Raubenbush said he thinks Action Craft dismantled one of competitor Pathfinder's top-selling 24-foot boats to find its weaknesses. “It responded to those weaknesses and built a better boat,” he says. He estimates Action Craft gives 10% to 20% more boat for the dollar.
“The contender always has to fight harder than the champion,” Raubenbush says. “Pathfinder is the champion in the market right now. Action Craft is the contender.”