Q&A with Gordon Connell of ABBRA

From launching a new conference to an increased emphasis on education, the American Boat Builders & Repairers Association continues to work to improve its members’ businesses.

We talked to ABBRA executive director Gordon Connell, who took over in 2012, about how the association is changing and what it offers members.

Boating Industry: Tell us a little about the organization and your goals.

Connell: ABBRA has been around since 1943. Like most organizations it’s had its high points and its challenges over the years. I would say when I took over in 2012 … it was probably not at one of its highest points. It was challenged to meet some of the basic expectations of an association – communication with its members, consistent programming and so on.

Over the years, ABBRA has provided benefits in the form of training and education for professional development and professionalization of the boatyard and boat builder segment of the marine industry.

Our membership base is not the typical manufacturer making thousands boats. We’re talking about custom boat builders that typically produce less than 10 or sometimes less than five of a particular boat model in a year. We also represent boatyards of all stripes.

Boating Industry: What are some of the benefits of being a member of ABBRA?

Connell: I want to mention advocacy – we pay close attention to legislative and regulatory issues that are impacting the industry. When I say that, we work closely with NMMA … and with our regional trade association partners on issues where our support might help.

As a member, a benefit is having us come forward and help in either commenting or meeting with elected officials or regulatory officials as it may be necessary to bring the perspective of the boatyard/boat builder segment to bear so that they can as best as possible have a working environment that allows them to comply … but doesn’t bring unreasonable burden to the business.

We provide information to our members, by our member newsletter, by our website, by our emails to the membership, by our discussions on social media. We try to keep the members abreast of the things that are going on in the industry.

The conference historically has also been a forum for camaraderie in the industry and relationship building. A lot of the ABBRA members you would talk to would say that a lot of the growth we experience as an owner or a general manager in their business came from the opportunity to meet with others who are in like positions.

[Editor’s note: The ABBRA conference will be January 22-24, 2014, in Fort Lauderdale. Visit abbra.org for more info.]

Boating Industry: What can people expect if they attend the annual conference?

Connell: One of the things that our conference committee took note of as we were planning the conference for 2014 was what was going on on a day-to-day basis in the marine industry. That’s how we came up with the theme Reflect, Rethink & Refocus.

The topics will again be primarily targeting the owners and managers of boatyards and boat building companies. Reflecting on the recent recession – what were the things that were learned? Are you applying those lessons? As you look forward, what are the things you need to focus on as a business leader?

We want to talk about boatyard businesses not simply on the challenges they face on a day-to-day basis. Everyone knows the challenges. We want them to understand and to start to look differently at their businesses and what they’ve learned.

If there’s one thing ABBRA has been good at over the years, it’s taking successful concepts and sharing them with the membership so that they can be replicated or, conversely to that, taking the pitfalls that folks have encountered and sharing what those were so others can learn from them.

Boating Industry: What do you see as the top challenges for your members in 2014 and how are you trying to help them with that?

Connell: A topic that our board and our members have been talking about for a while now is that a lot of marine businesses are small, family-owned operations. Starting at the conference and likely through the year, the topic of business succession and transition planning is a topic that keeps coming back. That’s one of the things we want to help our businesses do a better job of.

We’re doing our best to encourage professionalism in the industry. There are a lot of people who find their way into service and repair jobs in the industry and our job is to make sure there is a fairly high level of ethical practices and professionalism. One of the things we’re going to do in 2014 is promote our marine service manager course a little bit more and encourage greater professional development in our industry.



  1. ABBRA represents a unique sector of the boating community, and is an important part of the network of lobbyists that represent the marine industry before state and federal agencies and governments. Best of success with the conference!

  2. We've been ABBRA members for years and have participated in (and taught) many training sessions in the past.
    It's a great organization and we encourage all marinas, builders and repairers in the U.S. to join!

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