There’s a quiet confidence lifting from the foothills of North Carolina’s Bluegrass Mountains.
It’s the type of quiet that you find in motivation and determination, in leadership and control, in honest focus and fruitful direction.
Walking through the expansive, old textile factory that houses Mako Marine International’s manufacturing efforts along Hwy. 74 in Forest City, N.C., quiet might be the last thing that comes to mind. Until you notice the subtle ways that management works hand-in-hand with its laborers on the floor.
Quiet might also be the last thing you think of while enjoying dinner with a group of the company’s employees. The story telling, laughing and camaraderie would suggest the group had been working side-by-side for years, when, in fact, many of them didn’t even know each other a few weeks prior.
Dave Jarvis shakes his head and laughs as the jokes roll out and the stories keep getting better. Knowing that Jarvis joined the company just seven weeks prior, his head shaking makes you wonder if he’s merely enjoying the humor, or if he’s reveling in the fact that he suddenly realized he made the right choice in joining Mako.
Sitting at the opposite table is Jarvis’ counterpart, Curt Jarson, who joined the company just a few short weeks prior to Jarvis’ arrival. While Jarvis has been named plant manager, Jarson has been named Mako’s director of sales/brand manager, and both have been charged with what many might consider re-establishing the Mako brand.
Their positions are quite different and demand diverse responsibilities. But they understand, says Jarson, that while they know nothing of an organizational chart at the factory, if they were to create one, there would be a dotted line connecting the two of them.
As a team, Jarvis and Jarson are instilling the confidence back into Mako Marine, which also manufactures the SeaCraft boat brand. The duo brings saltwater knowledge and experience to the organization, qualities their predecessors didn’t necessarily capitalize on. Ultimately, though, they bring new perspectives, new ideas and new hope for a company that has watched its market share dwindle and its once-coveted name slowly lose its reputation.
“We’ve recognized,” Jarson says, “that we need the industry, as a whole, to know that we’re not going to let these names slide.”
Spend a few hours with Jarson and Jarvis, and it’s easy to recognize the many similarities they share. Even before getting the two of them together, however, Tracker Marine Group, Mako’s parent company, must have believed the two were cut from the same mold.
As Jarson talked through his background, and Jarvis through his, each summarized his abilities, his confidence and his plans for restoring Mako to its once well-respected stature with one simple phrase: “Boat building is not rocket science.”
The similarities don’t end with their simple philosophy. Figure in their easily approachable personalities, their love for building boats and their parallel backgrounds (which had them working at the same companies at the same time without knowing it) and it’s easy to understand why they “hit it off from the very first phone call.”
It appears that Tracker Marine Group has found its dynamic duo for rebuilding the brand.
At the company’s dealer meeting last October, Tracker Marine Group Advertising Manager Beverly Rouse likened the emerging Mako team to a world-class baseball line-up, touting such Hall of Famers as Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Joe Dimaggio, and such current stars as Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Bernie Williams. On paper, Mako’s new team might not be too far off.
Jarson and Jarvis have been quick to add key players in key positions. Jarson has added three regional sales managers to “build a network that supports the product that Dave is about to build.” Jarvis, who Jarson says has “the real pressure,” has hired more top talent than George Steinbrenner. There are new managers heading up operations, lamination, tooling, assembly, warranty and customer service, materials, engineering and products. Most have joined the team within the last year, some within the last few weeks, and at least one was en route as Boating Industry magazine met with Mako.
Tackling the issues
John Bower understands the commitment Tracker has made to improve Mako. He has worked with the company in one capacity or another for the last seven years. He left the company, though, and became a consultant when he felt Mako wasn’t headed in the right direction. Many attempts to lure him back failed — until Jarson and Jarvis arrived.
“We’ve needed some key personnel so that we have plans we can put in place,” Bower says with a look of excitement in his eyes. “We’ve got a lot of small issues to iron out and having dedicated staff to do that will really help us out. We have a clearly designed plan, and it’s simply a matter of executing that.
“I’ve got a lot invested in this thing, so I’d really like to be here when we turn the corner.”
No one on this team believes that the transition will be tough. They all say that “the challenge and opportunity” is what brought them to Mako. And while everyone has his own list of issues that the company needs to confront, they all boil it down to one common theme: product quality.
“Mako, to me, means durability, safety and all that relates to quality,” Jarvis says. “You should be able to get in it and run it 50 miles offshore and not be concerned. It’s about confidence in the product.”
Jarson sees a series of things to overcome: a perception that there are issues with the product, the attitude of the dealers in terms of respecting the product (some dealers dropped Mako and told the manufacturer to call them when it got things “straightened up”), updating individual models and developing a sales training program.
Even the Yankees know, though, that having an all-star line-up doesn’t equate to championship-caliber performance.
“When we get it all together, I don’t believe it’s reinventing a brand or a brand name because I don’t believe that has been injured,” Jarson says. “What we need to do is bring back some of the things that made it so big.
“The logo and brand identity is there. We need to freshen up the product and put training in place so people are comfortable with it and know how to sell the product.”
“The biggest challenge is to mold the opportunity into consistently predictable facility, training, and quality issues,” Jarvis adds. “But talk is cheap. The proof will be in what we do and not in what we say we’re going to do.”
Fourteen years ago, Jarson never would have thought that he’d be running the show at Mako Marine. Or that the company’s reputation would have slipped.
At the time, he told a colleague that if he ever left his current job with AquaSport, it would have to be to go to “a company like Mako” because of the name. And here he is, as happy as can be living a dream come true.
He’s left Florida behind for an acreage in the mountains and the opportunity of a lifetime.
“My job description is very brief,” he explains. “It says, ‘sell boats.’ I came here for the opportunity to work on a major line and have true control of my destiny. If this doesn’t work, it’s because I failed.”
In a way, Jarvis’ move to North Carolina is a coming home. He grew up there and always hoped to retire there. This is a big step in that direction.
But his decision to take over the reigns at Mako was most closely tied to the challenge and the opportunity. During his years at Boston Whaler, competitive analysis showed Mako slowly drop down the list, until it eventually fell off the radar.
“What impressed me the most about Tracker was that they were very open about where the company is and where it needs to go,” Jarvis says. “And that they were willing to put the team together. Now we have a strong group, and my game plan is to give them clear direction on what the goals are and the tools they need to carry them out.
“Boat building is not rocket science. It’s a lot of basics and processess put in place with clear direction and guidance.”
With that team in place – and still growing — both Jarson and Jarvis believe that they can accomplish great things. From an insider’s perspective, Bower agrees with them. He says he’s happy to know that Mako has committed to adding to a good crew that brings all the tools necessary.
Jarson can put those expectations into words. He says that he wants to quickly grow the dealer body from a total of 30 to more than 50. And if that can happen, he believes Mako will “more than triple its current size” in dollars and units.
He’s optimistic about those chances.
“At this moment in time, I can’t imagine things any better,” he says. “I actually feel like if I won the lottery tomorrow, it’d screw up everything I’ve got going.” – Matt Gruhn