Marine Mover & Shaker

When Southco Marine acquired Orcas Marine Products, Inc. in late 2006, it got a lot more than a successful small boat hardware manufacturer to complement its product offerings.
It got Oren Cotton.
If you didn’t know him, you might expect Cotton, the founder and former president of Orcas, to use the buyout as an opportunity to start thinking about retirement. But it has been much the opposite.
That’s good news for Southco. As the company’s director of product innovation, Cotton has become a mentor for the “two years young” Southco Marine team, particularly its engineers.
With a career that includes stints as a boat salesman, boat mechanic and boat builder, Cotton has a unique way of designing products that takes into account the needs of all the stakeholders. These often include small, simple improvements that make a big difference.
One such example is a thru-hull fitting Cotton designed. A standard fitting features little keys on the outside that allow one installer to use a tool on the inside to hold the fitting in place while another installer on the outside tightens it. Because causing molten steel to take abrupt turns often leads to a lack of density, these keys were causing a rust problem.
Cotton solved the problem by taking the keys out and replacing them with notches on the back of the fitting. Not only did this fix the rust problem, it led to a more cosmetically appealing fitting that could be installed by one person.
“You really have to understand how a boat is being put together, what kind of labor is being used,” says Cotton. “Look at the tools available today. I always design a part to fit around a common size drill hole.”
It’s the approach to designs like this – of which Cotton has many – that Southco hopes its team can learn from as they interact with him at boat shows, in the foundry and with customers. “You can learn more in a few days with him than in months without him,” says Rich Hipp, Southco Marine general manager.
Cotton has made Hipp rethink what he looks for in his employees and has also helped refine Hipp’s vision for Southco’s future.
“It’s about the total cost of ownership,” says Hipp. “It’s not just about what the boat builder is paying for the part or the installation cost. It’s not just about quality or the warranty standpoint. It’s down to the dealer who can sell more boats because they’re pinpointing t application. That’s what Southco Marine needs to be about: bringing this concept of integration and understanding all the stakeholders. Through him, we’re definitely going to be there.”

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