The Marquis-Larson Boat Group – Combining two great traditions

written by BVM October 17, 2017

Business View Magazine interviews Rob Parmentier, President of the Marquis-Larson Boat Group, as part of our focus on the marine and boating sector.

Located in Pulaski, Wisconsin, just northwest of Green Bay, the Marquis-Larson Boat Group is a collection of six premier, recreational boat brands: Marquis Yachts, Carver Yachts, Larson Boats, Larson FX freshwater fishing boats, Larson Escape pontoon boats, and Striper saltwater fishing boats. All brands are 100 percent American-made and sold through independent, authorized dealers in 23 and counting countries.

Larson Boats was founded in 1913 by Paul Larson of Little Falls, Minnesota. The company built a variety of wooden boats in its early days, and since then, has pioneered virtually every facet of boat design and construction since its first gas-powered outboard models were introduced in the 1920s. In the 1950s, the company made the switch to fiberglass manufacturing and deep-V hulls, making boats that were stronger, lighter, and more watertight than wood.

The Carver Boat Company was first established in 1954 by Charles Carter and George Verhagen who began building mahogany-planked, high-speed runabouts in a garage in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In the 1970s, the switch was made to fiberglass, with additional advances that included larger, twin inboard-powered cabin cruiser designs. In the 1980s and ‘90s, Carver was one of the largest manufacturers of fiberglass production yachts in the world. In 2004, the company started the Marquis Yachts line in order to manufacture a world-class yacht built with the most advanced designs, styling, and technologies.

Rob Parmentier, who has over 35 years in the boat business, and was once the President of Sea Ray Boats, which, at one time, was the largest boat company in the world, has been President of the Marquis-Larson Boat Group since 2013. He touts the uniqueness of his new company: “We’re like old school Detroit,” he says. “We have our own metal shop – we do all of our own metal and stainless steel work; we hand-build all of our own pontoons; we do all of our own upholstery; we do all of our own canvas; we have our own paint shop; I have a whole building full of very talented welders. We have a number of vendors for engines and windshields and such, but the rest of the boat is 100 percent built here in Wisconsin. A tanker truck of resin from Ashland comes in and a boat comes out the door. I know of no other facility in the world like ours. America has a very good reputation for building boats. Even though Europe and some other places overseas have been building them longer, America has a fantastic reputation for production efficiencies and quality – and our plant, in particular. A year ago, we built the boat for Lexus; we were selected from hundreds of manufacturers throughout the world.”

One of Parmentier’s recent tasks was to close down the Larson production facility in Minnesota and move all 38 of its boat lines to the Wisconsin location. “We had two facilities that were both 700,000 square feet,” he explains. “We had much too big a footprint and our engineering capabilities and the size of our facility to handle our big yachts dictated the move from Minnesota to Green Bay. Now, everything is under one roof. We build a 16-foot outboard that sells for $25,000 and we build a 72-foot Marquis motor yacht that sells for $4 million.”

Currently, the combined company has about 400 employees, and Parmentier says that he wants to hire more. “In the last year, we’ve added a hundred people, and we have 50 requisitions for 50 more employees,” he says. “A majority will be craftsmen and boat builders, but I’m looking for an engineer, I’m looking for a sales person. Our top priority is the training of our employees, getting them up to speed; bringing in Millennials and Gen-Xers and teaching them a craft; a vocational trade where they can still make very good money.”

Another current item on Parmentier’s agenda is figuring out how to export more products even as the U.S. dollar continues to be strong. “The dollar is tied to oil,” he states. “When oil is cheap, our dollar is strong; and when oil is expensive, our dollar is weak. We’ve been on a prolonged run now, where a lot of American companies are having a tough time exporting things. So, our number two priority is how can we make our boats competitive even if this dollar situation stays for awhile; because our export business is extremely important to us? And so, we are constantly looking at leaning out our processes, trying to take costs out of the boat, but still having top quality. We’re looking at new FRP (Fiberglass Reinforced Plastic) products and unique layup procedures in our boats to make them lighter, so we can put less power in them, so we can make them more affordable.”

As is true for any company, marketing is a key component of Marquis-Larson’s success, and Parmentier says that social media and the internet comprise the leading edge. “There are a lot of people who don’t like confrontation; they despise walking in a showroom and negotiating,” he asserts. “For the first time in my 35 years, we’ve now got a couple of dealers who essentially sell all of their boats on the internet. And I do see the business going more towards that in the future. That’s how the Millennials and the Gen-Xers think; that’s what they’re used to. I don’t think it will ever be a hundred percent, but I do see a day, maybe five or six years from now, where 20-25 percent of the dealers start heading down that route.”

However, there are still boat buyers who prefer a more personal touch. “When you get into the sport yachts, we do sell to the end user,” Parmentier admits. “Those types of people, in many cases, have owned eight, ten, twelve boats and they come right to the factory; our dealers bring them and then we work with them, one on one. They’re extremely knowledgeable people; they’re building very expensive boats; they want customization; they want to touch the factory. More than anything, they want my cell phone number seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day. And we give that to them.”

In addition to that cell phone number, Parmentier believes that in selling boats, Marquis-Larson is providing another very valuable asset to its customers – quality family time. “One of my best sales lines is: ‘What else can you do where a two-year-old and an eighteen-year-old have the same amount of fun? Boating!’ We’re able to make a lot of people’s dream come true and make their families happy.”

“We’re a great corporation,” he adds in summation. “We hire a lot of people, we give them great income and benefits. We have unbelievable craftsmen that build these fantastic boats that are perceived throughout the world for their high quality.”

The Marquis-Larson Boat Group: a combination of two great boating traditions.

AT A GLANCE

WHO: The Marquis-Larson Boat Group
WHAT: A seller of premier, recreational boats
WHERE: Pulaski, Wisconsin
WEBSITE: www.larsonboatgroup.com, www.marquisyachts.com

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