COVID Forces Boat Builders To Innovate
As COVID-19 spread across the state in 2020 closing schools, restaurants, theaters and countless other places of employment the pandemic forced Vermonters to learn and work from their homes.
When it seemed like each and every sector of the economy was closing or slowing down, one area actually began to thrive. Vermonters wanted to get out of their homes and soon sales for bikes, basketball hoops, swimming pools and boats began to soar.
“At the very beginning of the pandemic we got a Paycheck Protection Program like everyone else because there was so much uncertainty. We figured we’d be affected like everyone else, but soon realized there was a demand for our boats,” said Justin Martin, who co-owns Adirondack Guideboat with his brother Ian Martin. Located in North Ferrisburgh, the company builds custom cedar boats and Kevlar boats.
In April 2020 the Martins wanted to hire more employees, but it was difficult finding help. At the time they thought they were just going to make do with the staff on hand, but a month later after an encounter with a customer the boat builders knew they were going to have to find a way to ramp up production without new employees.
“A guy wanted to buy a Kevlar boat, which is a quarter of the price of one of our cedar boats. I told him we are all sold out and all we had were cedar boats. He said he’d take a cedar one. The price didn’t even seem to faze him. Came in the next day and paid cash. That is the moment we knew we had to capitalize on this,” said Martin.
Although the company only had five employees on staff, the Martin brothers knew their most recent hire had experience operating a Computer Numerical Control Router. A CNC precisely cuts a variety of materials including, wood, metal and plastic into various shapes, which is all controlled and programmed through a computer.
“We knew we could increase production with a CNC, we had the space and an employee who could operate it, but a CNC is very expensive. As scary as the price was, we knew he had to do it and it has more than paid off. The demand is there,” said Martin.
Many of the parts the Martins use to contract out such as seats are now me made in house with the CNC. It used to take employees a week to make 12 oars, but with the CNC the company can make 30 oars in two days. Demand is so high Adirondack Guideboat is even making boats and parts for overseas clients and exporting them to Europe and Asia.
“Just about everything we make now is made on that CNC. The seats, handles, footrests, oars, you name it,” said Martin. “What is even crazier is we have competitors calling us to make them parts and we have all these people wanting new parts for their boats that have been stuck in their garages or backyards for the last 10 to 15 years.”
This year Adirondack Guideboat is looking to purchase an additional CNC to make more small boat parts for the industry and hopefully hire more employees to assist with finishing work.
“I don’t love that we are replacing three to four people with one machine, but its three to four people we could not hire. We are battling this weird work dynamic right now,” said Martin. “Covid forced us to become more efficient and more innovative in our process. It like Vermont weather, you have to figure it out or it’s not the place for you.”