Steady as she goes

When most people think of navigation, they think of the fast-paced world of marine electronics.

Weems and Plath is anything but fast-paced. Some of its best-selling products are 70 years old.

But neither is the company a dinosaur on the verge of extinction. The manufacturer of “fine nautical instruments” has been growing at a “steady, constant, comfortable” rate, according to Peter Trogdon, who owns the business with his wife, Cathie.

Despite the rapid growth in marine electronics, the company has no interest in making high-tech products that constantly need updating. While some of its offerings complement devices like Global Positioning Systems, its mainstay consists of products that are functional, hands-on and create an ambiance that harks back to the era of sailing ships.

These specialty products, including compasses, clocks, barometers and binoculars, aren’t found at department stores and tend to “have a tremendous weight to them and feel good because they’re heavy,” Trogdon says. The use of traditional navigation tools creates “a very rich experience on board” that you don’t get from a digital screen.

Traditional doesn’t mean out-of-date, however. Weems and Plath introduces an average of 20 new products per year, some of which are improvements to existing products and some of which are inventions.

It all comes back to balance, a quality the owners strive for in new product development and elsewhere.

“You’ve got people that have been too conservative,” he says. “Their products get stale. Other people are completely focused on developing and producing the latest new widget. They’re hell bent on tremendous growth. If you chase new product opportunities in all different directions, the company gets very strained.

“Opportunities come every year to pursue big orders at small margins. We tend to walk away from opportunities to sell truckloads of instruments to large retail chains. We’re quite happy trying not to be a large corporation.”

At 25 employees and a track record of single digit growth, it appears the company has been successful in that regard. But that doesn’t mean the company lacks plans for growth. Trogdon says Weems and Plath aims to increase its market share in Europe and continue to grow the traditional products it offers within its niche.

Not only does Trogdon believe these products offer better margins than their high-tech cousins, they remind people of the romance of the sea and provide “an opportunity to walk away from a cell phone and e-mail.”

After all, isn’t that what boating is supposed to be — an escape from the fast pace of our daily lives?

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