Old fashioned innovation

Bob and Stephen Dougherty love to build stuff.

While the father and son hold the titles of Everglades Boats CEO and president, respectively, they enjoy the creative elements of their jobs the most. And it shows.

Three boats built by the duo have won NMMA Innovation Awards, two of which have been awarded since Everglades Boats’ inception in 2000. And Everglades’ business has doubled every year since then, the ultimate test of the boats’ appeal.

“A lot of our competition is being bought up by people with a business degree that couldn’t hang a picture on the wall straight,” explains Stephen. “Coming up with an innovative product, they would have to hire people to do that. That’s where I think boat building in general is changing. Boat builders used to be guys like us.”

Their method for new product development isn’t exactly scientific — they go boating, they go to boat shows, they listen to customers and then they brainstorm together — but it’s all they’ve ever known, and it seems to be working.

Rapid expansion
Everglades is selling boats “almost faster than we can build them,” says Stephen.

Because of their success, the Doughertys are spending about $3 million to construct a new building that will more than double the company’s footprint. At 50,000 square feet, it will include an assembly department, a welding shop, a stock room, a loading area, a powder coating department and additional office space. The existing building will accommodate molding, finishing and R&D, as well as office space.

The new building is expected to allow the company to increase production by 250 percent and hire an additional 100 workers. Once it’s complete, Everglades plans to add another 100,000 square feet, which will double production and mean yet another 100 new jobs.

The Dougherty’s passion for building doesn’t just include boats. In fact, they left EdgeWater Powerboats, which they founded in 1990, with a noncompete, so they started a fiberglass parts business, making hardtops and swim platforms for other boat builders such as Regal, Grady-White, Wellcraft and Correct Craft. This business is based around the patented RAMCAP process they developed for building the parts. They continue that business today; it makes up about 15 percent of their overall revenue.

Their love of building also extends into their boat factory. Unlike many boat builders, they make all of the stainless-steel features on their boats in-house. And, of course, they make their own swim platforms and hardtops. With the new addition, they will be able to powder coat in-house as well.

Treating them right
It is no surprise that Everglades Boats’ methods for managing relationships with its customers, employees and dealer network are also somewhat old-fashioned. The boat builder doesn’t track customer satisfaction in any official manner, but Everglades is making sure “we have happy customers,” according to Stephen. “That starts with building a good product.”

While he says boats are always going to have some problems, Everglades stands out by making sure customers get a quick response, whether it’s from the dealer or the manufacturer. The company often goes beyond its warranty to make sure the customer is satisfied.

“You have to be persistent and consistent,” says Stephen. “It’s a small industry. If you build a bad product, you’ll end up with a bad reputation.”

Everglades has 40 dealers in its network, and its top executives are “very close” to them. Though when it first signed some of its dealers, the company’s products made up a small part of their operations, Everglades boats have become a strong profit center for many of them.

The Everglades’ president explains that while the company’s dealer agreements are shorter than some of its competitors, “the only time you get into an issue with a contract is when someone isn’t happy,” which hasn’t happened. He adds that the company pays fairly for warranty claims and asks its dealers to be fair in coming up with solutions for fixing Everglades’ boats.

“Our dealers right now are selling boats for us,” says Stephen. “They’re making money, and at the end of the day, everyone is pretty happy with that.”

The executive also says Everglades Boats is a good company to work for. He and his father know all 120 employees’ names, recognize their assets and understand their needs. When an employee has a problem, they know they can come to Bob and Stephen, and it won’t cost them their job. At other boat builders, you can’t get a job without a high school education, and if your child gets sick too many times, you get fired, he says.

“We don’t operate that way,” Stephen explains. “We put a lot of effort into training them and want to hold onto them.”

The Doughertys plan to continue expanding their boat line-up. Everglades has been introducing two new boats a year — one at the Miami International Boat Show and one in September in time for its dealer meeting. This year, that was the Everglades 290 Pilot, which won an Innovation Award, and a 26-foot model in September. Going forward, the company expects to introduce a 23, a 35 and a 32.

With the Dougherty’s love of creating and building, other products will likely follow. Stephen says he and his father have “lots on the drawing board.”

“We have no limitations. Only how far our imagination can go,” says Stephen. “That’s a good thing.”

A family tradition
Everglades Boats has become a true family business, with CEO Robert Dougherty’s sons and daughter-in-law in top positions.

Stephen Dougherty has always worked with his father.

The president of Everglades Boats has been building boats since he was 17. He went to work at Boston Whaler, where his father was vice president of engineering, right out of high school.

The duo left the company in 1990 to start EdgeWater Powerboats, which they owned and operated until 1994. They left in 1995, shortly after taking on partners who “wanted to take control of the company,” Stephen explains.

Since then, they’ve been operating RJ Dougherty & Associates, which began as a fiberglass parts business serving boat builders and now also does business as Everglades Boats.

“It’s a lot more freedom,” explains CEO Robert J. Dougherty. “Even at EdgeWater, I had a partner looking over my shoulder. This is much neater, cleaner.”

Robert says he would never work for a corporation again, though he admits that running a family business has its challenges.

“The younger generation [thinks it] knows more than the older generation,” he says. “But it’s satisfying when I see Stephen talking to other people and words I told him years ago come out of his mouth.”

Robert designs the hulls and runs the R&D department, while Stephen runs the business. Not only are the two working together, Stephen’s brother Robert Jr. has recently joined the company to manage Everglades’ assembly plant, and Stephen’s wife, Jamie, is the company’s CFO. — by Liz Walz

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