If he could see it today, Walter C. Meloon would undoubtedly be proud of what has become of the company he began 81 years ago.
Orlando-based boat maker Correct Craft has experienced a 74-percent sales increase over the past five years and won four consecutive awards from J. D. Power and Associates for customer satisfaction in the ski/wakeboarding category. In addition, this June Correct Craft’s 360 employees relocated to a new 217,000-square-foot facility about 14 miles southeast of its former location’s four buildings.
The new plant, which cost the company $22 million, is situated on 137 acres and includes a 20-acre lake where the company’s boats are tested, as well as a 30-acre tournament lake. Its Ski Nautique boats and skiers will really be put to the test there, starting this month with the finals of The Ski Nautique Big Dawg Slalom Series that Correct Craft launched this year.
Meloon, who was known by his initials, “W.C.,” also would be proud that his company remains family-owned and privately held, with a fourth generation of Meloons working at Correct Craft alongside many clusters of non-Meloons: siblings, sons and daughters, nieces and nephews of other employees.
Mike Crimmins, manufacturing manager, is a great example of the close-knit family atmosphere that pervades Correct Craft. Crimmins, who assumed the top manufacturing job following the unexpected death of production vice president Mike Elrod in December, has been with the company 23 years this month, just six months fewer than his brother Pete Crimmins, who serves as purchasing supervisor.
“It’s a great company to work for,” Crimmins says. “Correct Craft is employee-oriented, family-oriented and goes out of its way for employees.”
Ron Nace, the company’s first quality services manager, who joined Correct Craft in January after 19 years with Sea Ray, says he was drawn to the manufacturer because of its values as a family-owned, Christian-based company. The Correct Craft philosophy statement espouses honor to God and giving at least 10 percent of pre-tax profits to Christian charities.
Relief in sight
Crimmins, Nace and scores of other employees worked long hours to facilitate the transition to the new plant, building up boat inventory to cover the annual plant shutdown and the extra time required to put all equipment in place.
At the old plant, boats were built in batch fashion, which resulted in significant idle time in the production process. Boats manufactured in the new facility move through it in a synchronous flow, combining the work of several departments in each section of the line, thus speeding the assembly process.
Company officials believe they can make 70 percent more boats at the new international headquarters. Crimmins says the goal is to increase production in each of the next seven years.
Correct Craft often has sold out of certain Nautique models over the past several years, but the new plant should bring relief to its dealer network, says Buzz Watkins, vice president at Sail & Ski Center, with stores in Austin, San Antonio and Lakeway, Texas. Sail & Ski Center is on track to sell 100 Nautique boats this year. The retailer was Correct Craft’s top dealer in 1999 and 2000 and has been its No. 2 dealer for the past couple of years, Watkins notes.
“We’re excited about the new facility,” Watkins says. “The product quality is second to none. When a Correct Craft arrives, you pull it out of the shrink wrap, do a little final assembly of the tower, and it’s ready to go.”
Quality likely will improve even further under Nace’s leadership, with his efforts to bring a perpetual inspection process to manufacturing. His department includes nine inspectors, three supervisors and four customer service/warranty employees.
“Warranty claims are less than 1 percent of sales - 0.7 percent - so that’s world class,” Nace says. “The quality has been outstanding, but these processes should help to improve quality even more.”
While company officials always have been receptive to receiving input and ideas, Watkins says that commitment has improved dramatically since the company reconstituted its dealer roundtable in 2000. Watkins is part of the roundtable, as is David deAndrade, general manager of White Lake Marine, Correct Craft’s oldest dealer. The retailer, with locations in White Lake and Graham, N.C., has been selling the line for 51 years.
“That’s the bread-and-butter of our line,” says deAndrade, whose company consistently sells between 45 and 50 Nautiques a year. “Correct Craft has a strong following and a reputation for quality and excellence.”
Watkins and deAndrade both report great relationships with the company. They say they receive top-notch dealer support and know exactly who to call for help with owners’ reunions or other special events, because many of the employees have been with Correct Craft for years.
“[The Meloon family] tries to foster that,” deAndrade says. “Employees I’ve talked to say it’s a great place to work.”
Correct Craft’s sales network includes 90 domestic dealers and 40 international dealers. International hot spots include Canada, Australia and New Zealand, a market that the company describes as up and coming. It’s no surprise that top U.S. markets include central Florida and Southern California.
“We have the best dealers out there, and it shows in winning the J. D. Power award four times in a row,” says Gary Meloon, vice president of sales, and great-grandson of W.C. Meloon, who will mark 23 years with Correct Craft in November. “It reflects not just the quality of the product but the quality of the dealer.”
In addition to conducting dealer meetings, the company has resurrected Correct Craft University, where dealers participate in two-and-one-half days of intensive sales training. The dealer roundtable and dealer focus groups are vital to gain insight into consumer desires, and the company recently expanded its online customer survey program to hear directly from boat buyers.
The Correct Craft way
deAndrade admits that Correct Craft might be viewed as staid compared with other manufacturers because its boats often don’t contain the latest bells and whistles.
“Some other brands have the bling factor that Correct Craft doesn’t have,” deAndrade says. “The company takes a conservative approach, believing that if any item won’t be a good fit for the entire life of the boat, they won’t do it.”
However, the manufacturer did unveil such changes as customized dashes and wood-grain looks at the last dealer meeting, the result of younger staffers in Correct Craft’s product design and development department.
“They’re going in the right direction, but they’re doing it in the Correct Craft way, which is thoughtful,” deAndrade says.
The company’s Ski Nautique and Air Nautique boats are widely recognized for their superior performance in ski and wakeboard competitions, respectively, but its relatively new SV-211 and Nautique 216 crossover models resonate well with families who want an all-around activity boat, says Meloon.
“We saw more and more families getting involved in boating after 9/11,” Meloon says of the development of the crossover lineup, “not just fathers and sons or sons and their buddies, but families who were using the boats and didn’t want multiple boats or to sacrifice the activities that they love.”
The SV-211 features a SportShift system that allows the driver to change the boat from a wakeboarding machine to a skiing machine at the flip of a switch, which helps accommodate active users. This crossover boat is the company’s top seller, says Meloon, adding that wakeboard boats comprise 75 percent of sales, with ski boats taking the rest.
“As far as the product goes, we’re dedicated to innovation and dedicated to quality first and foremost in everything we do,” adds Angela Pilkington, logistics and office manager who’s in charge of IT, boat transportation and the order department. Pilkington, who celebrated her silver anniversary at Correct Craft in August, also is assistant secretary of the corporation.
The new facility is creating efficiencies beyond the boat-building process, Pilkington says. Having employees under one roof will increase collaboration by keeping employees from driving between buildings. Correct Craft upgraded its manufacturing software during the move and now has a common computer network that everyone uses.
Challenges that Pilkington sees include adjusting to the new manufacturing processes and finding the right employees as the company grows. The new facility can only be accessed via toll road, and the company is spending $200,000 annually to pay for employee tolls.
The company also is seeking a new president after Terry McNew returned to Sea Ray in May after running Correct Craft for less than two years.
“Obviously, we’re sad to see him go, but he was offered an opportunity he couldn’t refuse,” Pilkington says. “He put the processes in place … and we feel we have the right people in the right jobs to continue to move the company forward.”
More than 80 years after its founding, the move of Correct Craft into its new world headquarters and manufacturing facility will long be remembered in company lore.
Tales of the move will join the story of how W. C. Meloon produced 300 boats in fewer than 20 days during World War II — all without working Sundays; how Meloon’s sons Walter O. and Ralph filed for bankruptcy in 1958 rather than pay a bribe to a federal inspector; and how the company’s fortunes took a turn for the better when it pioneered the water ski boat in the early 1960s.
“As a Nautique dealer, I can tell you that people want this product and walk into the dealership ready to buy,” says Watkins from Sail & Ski Center. “It’s like shooting fish in a barrel. We have a nice dealership and a product line that everyone wants — we just don’t want to screw it up.”
And that’s yet another thing that would make W.C. Meloon proud.