MANATEE -- It all started with sore feet.
Mark and Dillon Maus have always loved big game fishing, so much so that the father and son do it professionally.
A consummate entrepreneur, Mark Dillon decided fatigue from spending all day on his feet casting for tarpon was a problem looking for someone to solve.
Since 2010, the Maus' have been making and selling durable foam traction and anti-fatigue padding under the brand name OceanGrip. The product, closed-cell foam sheeting shaped into everything from trolling platforms to gunwale fishing reel protectors, is hardly new to the boating market. But the approach the company takes to making the product has given OceanGrip a niche market with small-scale boat manufacturers.
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Operating out of a 10,000-square-foot warehouse and factory south of Lakewood Ranch in northeast Sarasota County, OceanGrip uses 3-D imaging, computer-aided design and CNC machinery to manufacture for customers who need to pad,
protect and add comfortable footing to everything from paddleboards and kayaks to fishing boats and yachts.
It's a market they know well. Mark Maus has had a long career as a professional fisherman, while his son, also a pro, has spent more than his share of long days in the tarpon boat.
Three years ago, the elder Maus started OceanGrip while Dillon was learning architectural design and engineering at Sarasota County Technical Institute. The younger Maus went to school specifically to start the business.
OceanGrip didn't open at 8121 Uzita Drive during the boating industry's best time. It had declined drastically in Florida by 2010, but Maus thought the end of the economic downturn was a good time to get into part of the industry occupied by only a couple of competitors.
"We climbed into it when the industry was either at rock bottom or slowly coming out of it," Maus said.
Now, the $1.2 million company is on track to double its revenues and its seven-person workforce in 2015.
OceanGrip has built a market for its custom-cut helm pads, casting platform pads and other foam products designed to reduce fatigue and protect delicate fishing reels. Many of its early sales came from within the Manatee-Sarasota boat-building community. OceanGrip's local clients include Yellowfin Yachts and Beaver Tail Skiffs in Bradenton and Andros Boatworks in Sarasota.
Elizabeth Leslie, president of Beaver Tail parent Aeon Marine, said she moved her padding business from a large manufacturer to OceanGrip because she was impressed with how hungry 20-year-old Dillon Maus was for her business. She also likes being able to buy OceanGrip products in small batches rather than having big orders required by other suppliers.
That's of value to her, since her 8-year-old company builds custom boats at a pace of about 10 per month.
"I can call OceanGrip and have one part made," Leslie said.
The flexibility to produce one or hundreds of pieces for a customer is built into OceanGrip's manufacturing process. OceanGrip employees travel to the client to scan the boats or boards that will get the pads. The scanned rendering is in three dimensions, which allows Dillon to use it in his CAD design process.
Finished pad designs are loaded into the company's CNC cutter, which carves blank sheets of the rubberized foam into products of any size, from a 3 millimeter hatch gasket to a 19-mm-thick faux teak decking near indistinguishable from the real thing at a distance.
Maus said OceanGrip's colorful and comfortable pads make boats more appealing.
He said they're an advance over the waterproof carpeting long used in the industry, and can easily be applied as an aftermarket add-on. For example, the company sells a full padding kit for a fishing kayak for $95.
"It gives them some bling for a very minimal investment," Maus said.
Dillon Maus, OceanGrip's vice president, said production capacity will more than triple within a few weeks when a new, faster CNC cutter arrives. Turnaround on some products can be as little as 72 hours, far faster than just a few years ago.
"Before it would take three months, now it takes three weeks," Dillon Maus said.
The company's appeal is broadening. Last month, OceanGrip picked up North Carolina kayak maker Legacy Paddlesports as a customer. Maus recently attended the IBEX boat builders conference in Tampa, where he got inquiries from domestic and foreign boat builders. OceanGrip already ships to customers in Venezuela, Mexico and Argentina.
The Maus' are looking to stay ahead of the competition by continuing to invest in innovative technology and young, productive employees. Other than Mark Maus, everyone at OceanGrip is under 28 years old.
"This is my 20-something company," he said.
Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027, or on Twitter @MattAtBradenton.