What you can learn from…

Lots of companies on the Inc. 500 Fastest Growing Companies list have expanded through acquisition.

Not Lenco Marine.

The manufacturer of electric trim tabs, trolling motors and hatch lifts has been on the list for two consecutive years, having grown 1,782 percent since its creation almost seven years ago.

Its growth has come from a combination of passion for the industry and a willingness to listen to customers, which has resulted in innovation, according to Richard DeVito, the company’s 40-year-old president.

“People think it’s so exciting to be in the boating business,” he explains, “but if you don’t have a passion for it, you’re probably better off selling widgets somewhere.”

His passion – and that of his partner, Sam Mullinax – came from a life of boating and fishing.

In fact, when the pair first bought the company from Lenny Saraga, they were working as fishing guides, building trolling motors on the side. Their motors used the electric trim tabs supplied by L. Saraga Inc., and when Saraga, at age 76, decided to get rid of the company, the two friends snatched it up.

By this time, Saraga had let the company’s inventory go and had almost no customers, save for one small OEM account.

“There were many, many times when we would look at the phone and think it was broken because it wouldn’t ring,” says DeVito.

Today, the company has grown to 63 employees, and about $10 million in annual sales. It has customers in just about every country in the world, according to DeVito, and in 2004 alone, its European business grew 100 percent.

Lenco Marine was originally housed in a 4,000-square-foot facility. Today, it is based in a 22,000-square-foot building, which it’s in the process of doubling to accommodate recent growth.

“A lot of people forget why they started in business and who they’re working for – the customer,” he says. “We listen to what our customers want. If there is a problem, we fix it. We stand behind everything we do. People appreciate that.”

What that means is taking the focus off of competitors and putting it on constantly improving the product based on the consumers’ wants and needs, DeVito explains.

He anticipates further growth for Lenco, but not just from the marine industry. The company is looking at entering other industries with its technology.

“If you can make it work on a boat,” he says, “you can make it work anywhere.”

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