TALLEVAST -- As boat builders go, Kevin Barker is a little flashy.
Since May, the former Yellowfin Yachts executive has been starting up his new bay boat company, Barker Boatworks. He hasn't gone the low-key route, namely building a few boats in an inconspicuous warehouse alongside several other small-scale boatworks in the Tallevast industrial area and then waiting for sales volume to build.
Instead, Barker and business partner Justin Vick have gone all in. Since breaking with their former employer just up the road, they've put $700,000 into their startup. They're two weeks away from having finished hull molds and will be ready early next year to put their first boats into a glass-fronted showroom at the new SRQ Commerce Park on U.S. 301.
Barker says he wants to draw attention to a 26-foot luxury fiberglass composite boat he promises to be faster, more efficient and a little more comfortable than similar craft on the market. After all, he wants the chance to tell his prospective customers why they should spend more than $100,000 on one of his boats over those made by over a dozen other boat builders in Manatee and Sarasota counties.
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"We're not trying to reinvent the wheel, we're just to make the wheel a little better," Barker said. "I think we've moved forward fairly untypically."
This week, Barker and Vick did close-up inspections of their hull molds at Bradenton mold maker Marine Concepts. Fresh off making two sales over the weekend at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, the partners are taking a total of eight pre-orders into the start of production next month.
That's a quick start, says Todd Biddison, the Marine Concepts project manager who is working with Barker Boatworks. Marine Concepts has constructed molds for hundreds of boat builders, but few have come to the company as prepared to start building as Barker.
"They're doing it very quickly," he said.
Barker has chosen to get into building pleasure boats at a good time. The market has been building sales volume both locally and nationwide over the past two years. That's a far cry from 2008, when large-scale boat builder Wellcraft closed 1 million square feet of manufacturing space and laid off about 800 people from its Tallevast boatworks.
Local boat dealers have cited increased sales over the past two years, especially in the power boat sector. That's good news for Barker. He said his center-console boats will appeal to high-net-worth buyers who like to use their craft in both protected and open waters for fishing and leisure activities.
Once production begins, Barker Boatworks will operate in two locations. The showroom and a final rigging shop will cover 8,000 square feet in the SRQ Commerce Center. Hull lamination, assembly and finishing will be done in a 10,000-square-foot space at a Rivolta Yachts facility just south of University Parkway.
Barker said he is separating production and from sales because wants potential clients shopping for a boat with his company to have a pleasant showroom experience.
"We'll keep the clean away from the dirty," he said. "We're just going about it in a different way."
Boat line to expand
The first Barker boat to roll off the assembly line will have a fiberglass and composite hull designed by Sarasota draftsman Michael Peters. At more than 9 feet wide, the "Calibogue Bay" model will have a little extra room across the beam compared to other boats in its class, Barker said. It will also be fuel-efficient, estimated to get about 4.2 miles to the gallon at 40 mph. With its 90-gallon fuel tank, the boat will have a range of about 350 miles.
Barker said his company will expand the boat line quickly by offering a second, flatter deck style. The company's production goal is one boat per week.
All the boats the company builds will be customizable, from finishes to electronics to a choice between four models of Mercury and Yamaha motors. One option will even allow for a built-in head.
As production startup approaches, Barker said he will get things going with a work force of about 15. Barker Boatworks will begin hiring within the next two weeks.
The first Barker boat will roll off the assembly line in mid-January. The initial production goal is to have two finished boats ready to take to the Miami International Boat Show in early February.
Once full production begins, the plan is for Barker Boats to take a client's boat from initial order to completion in about nine weeks. Barker said actual completion times will vary depending on options.
Those interested in applying for positions with Barker Boatworks may contact Barker at 941-232-8646.
Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027, or on Twitter @MattAtBradenton.