It’s all about the boats

Randy Kent of Marine Concepts loves his boats, but each weekend when he faced cleaning them, it took the fun out of it. “It’s a five-hour ordeal to clean the boats so you could use them,” he says. Spiders, pollen, leaves and other debris are a real headache for boat owners in the Lake of the Ozarks, Mo., area where Kent lives, so he set out to fix the problem. It ultimately took him from his other businesses with several hundred employees to just himself, his patented ideas and his laptop.

The boat cover design he has now perfected is so effective that “you literally wash the boat once a year,” he says. “And it takes less than 60 seconds to cover a boat by yourself.” But success in the end took time and money up front.

The digital concept

After initially working in partnership, Kent went solo and redesigned his cover from top to bottom. His research led him to IFAI Expo in Charlotte, N.C., in 2008 to buy a digital cutter. “I wanted to figure out how to take this product nationwide, and I can’t do it if the shop has to physically have the boat to make the cover,” he says.

He eventually found a company in the U.K. that had something close to the equipment he needed and was willing to adjust to accommodate his idea. “After a couple thousand hours of research, we did our first boat—totally designed by computer, cut by computer, sewed by hand,” he says. “I felt like I had cured cancer. It fit like shrink wrap.”

At his first boat show he sold out for the entire year and now can’t make the covers fast enough. “We’re having a record year,” he says. “What’s nice about this is I have no overhead; I have no employees,” he says. “I can install it by myself—track and all—in about an hour and a half. I don’t even need an office. “

Franchising the package

He now teams up with Advanced Canvas at Lake of the Ozarks—an experienced shop with a good reputation—to do the sewing, but his vision is to franchise the whole package as “a turnkey business” and take it global. That’s his next move—and a leap from high school graduation when he headed for the Lake of the Ozarks where he grew up and started designing and building his own boats. “I was in school for one reason,” he says. “To get out.”

He raced jet skis for a few years, and tried offshore powerboat racing professionally, too, winning the national Super Cat Light class in 2006. He doesn’t race anymore—at least not professionally—but “I like to go fast on the water,” he says. “My 40-foot will do 140 miles per hour.”

He also spends as much time as he can with his two daughters, ages 9 and 13, who share their dad’s love of the water and perform with a water ski club. “Three days a week they’re out doing pyramids, jumps and wakeboard,” he says.

The rest of the time, “I’m all about boats,” he says. “I love ‘em, but they gotta be special. They either gotta be stupid fast or beautiful.”

By Janet Preus, editor, Specialty Fabrics Review.