Wooden boat production slows in Walworth County | Michigan News

By BARRY ADAMS, Wisconsin State Journal

GENOA CITY, Wisconsin (AP) – Patrick Gallagher was looking for a change, perhaps as a widget maker.

For most of his professional career he worked in the family asphalt business. So, after selling his shares in the suburban Chicago company, Gallagher began looking for a business he could grow using his marketing and sales skills. He wasn’t attached to a particular product, but knew he had to involve manufacturing.

He found the answer in Holland, Michigan.

Only, it turns out his gadgets are hand-built mahogany and teak motorboats that can cost anywhere from $ 250,000 to $ 500,000.

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In early 2021, Gallagher and his wife, Rose, purchased Grand Craft Boats. In June, the couple moved the business to this Walworth County village that daytime viewers associate with the soap opera “The Young and the Restless,” set in a fictional version of the community just north of the UK border. ‘State.

But instead of building just one or two boats a year like the previous owner did, the Gallagheres are ramping up production dramatically and building boats before there are any orders, Wisconsin reported. State Journal. The sparkling luxury boats will be marketed to those who live in high-end properties like those bordering nearby lakes Geneva, Delavan and Como. Homeowners of lakeside homes in the Lake District of Waukesha County, some lakes in northern Wisconsin and Lake Tahoe, Nevada, and Lake Minnetonka, just west of the Twin Cities, are also seen.

“It’s a distilled and identifiable audience,” said Patrick Gallagher of his potential clients.

Grand Craft is believed to be one of the few wooden boat manufacturing companies in the country, including Hacker-Craft, established in 1908 in Lake George, New York, and StanCraft, founded in 1933 on Flathead Lake in Montana. but now based in Hayden, Idaho.

Streblow Custom Boats, founded in 1950 in Kenosha but located since 1987 on Lake Geneva, stopped producing boats about ten years ago and has since focused on restoration and storage work. Now, under a new owner, the company has just started building a 26-foot twin-engine boat at its facilities east of the Bay of Geneva. The boat, built to spec, will ultimately cost around $ 400,000 with its engines combined to produce over 800 horsepower.

“We’re back in the game,” said Ed Cox, who worked at Streblow for 15 years before buying the company in 2020. “We’ve put down the keel and the transom is laid. It’s gonna be awesome when it gets done.

The name Streblow is synonymous with the culture of wooden boating on Lake Geneva, where Cox estimates that, of the 870 piers on the lake, more than 170 are connected to a Streblow boat. Like Gallagher, Cox is keen to expand his boatbuilding business but follows a less ambitious pace.

” I wish him good luck. It’s a tough business, ”Cox said. “And, when you build handmade wooden boats, that particular customer is very knowledgeable and aware of the quality that they are getting.”

Patrick Gallagher is familiar with Streblow boats and the quality craftsmanship that goes into a handmade motorboat. He spent his summers in his family’s second home on Lake Geneva where, as a teenager, he often drove a Streblow. These memories fueled his passion and desire to buy the Grand Craft company and move it to southern Wisconsin.

The Gallagher’s small team of craftsmen have completed one boat, which was largely finished when they bought the company, are working on two more and plan to build 32 more boats over the next three years. The company also has an order from a Florida resort for a 36-foot-long commuter boat that can accommodate 19 people to ferry guests to and from Little Palm Island Resort in the Florida Keys. Unlike most other Grand Craft boats, its hull is fiberglass and built in Florida. Once the hull is complete, the boat will be shipped to Genoa City, where it will be completed.

But the majority of boats are in the 22 to 26 foot range, designed for non-commercial use and inspired by the classic wooden boats made by Chris-Craft, which switched to fiberglass boats in the early 1970s.

“I think it’s going to work because we have our priorities in line,” said Gallagher. “We recognize that in order to grow the operation and sell more boats, we need to develop the culture of the company and make sure we hire the right people.”

According to the Holland Sentinel, Grand Craft was founded in 1979 by Steve Northuis and Chris Smith, grandson of Christopher Columbus Smith, the founder of Chris-Craft. The company had multiple owners and actually ceased production in 2009, a year after a glowing profile in Forbes in which the magazine reported that the company was in negotiations with the Abu Dhabi Royal Family to build a fleet of at less 100 boats.

The company was bought in 2010 by Jeff Cavanagh, owner of a nearby boat service and restoration business, and began manufacturing the prototype of his sports powerboat in 2016. But in recent years, the company he company only made one or two boats a year. and only had two dedicated employees.

In February, Gallagher cold called Cavanagh about the sale of the business. Less than a month later, he and Rose owned it. From the start, their plan was to move the business to Wisconsin, as the Chicago couple had a second home on Lake Geneva and knew the landscape and culture of the area.

“We knew the finished carpentry, boat building, upholstery, marine technicians – all of these skills are in the DNA of Walworth County,” said Gallagher. “Lake Geneva can and probably will be our biggest market, hands down for customers. He has always had a great legacy of wooden boat owners and enthusiasts, and that really cemented him so that we were in the backyard of a warm market.

The two employees of Grand Craft in Michigan moved to Wisconsin, but Gallagher has since hired three more finish carpenters, two marine technicians, and Jeff Podhajsky, who is vice president of operations. He spent 20 years with Bombardier Recreational Products of Sturtevant, manufacturer of Ski-Doo snowmobiles, Sea-Doo watercraft and Alumacraft, Manitou and Quintrex boats.

By 2025, the Gallagheres hope to have 20 to 22 employees and have successfully resurrected a brand in a state where shipbuilding has a long tradition.

Wisconsin is where Native Americans over 1,200 years ago made pirogues and canoes out of birch bark, and in the 1830s white settlers began building boats along Lake Michigan . Today huge Littoral combat ships are produced at Marinette, luxury $ 50 million yachts are handcrafted by Burger Boat Company in Manitowoc, and barges, ferries and dredges are built by Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding at Sturgeon Bay.

Grand Craft’s production facility occupies 25,000 square feet of leased space in a new building on the east side of Highway 12. The main production facility is essentially a huge carpentry shop, while an adjoining space is devoid of sawdust. This is where the boats are finished by marine technicians who install the 430 horsepower engines, electronics, chrome hardware, and brass propellers. Each boat receives several coats of epoxy which makes them waterproof.

The rebranding effort includes the renaming of all boats in the company’s catalog. For example, the Grand Sport is now the Dearborn; the Luxury Sport is the Wrightwood; Super Sport is Burnham; and the Classic, a triple cockpit boat that resembles a boat driven by former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, is now the Roosevelt.

“We wanted to give them beautiful, majestic sounding names,” said Gallagher. “They are no longer going to be confused with Pontiacs now.”

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