Building brand through beauty and technology


You want to be successful in this business? Start by building or selling boats that are beautiful (or handsome), reliable and seaworthy.

There is integrity in boats, engines and equipment that are dependable — even better, those that develop a reputation for being “bulletproof” — and in the companies that build them. That is, in part, how great brands are established.

Simple is usually better, and these days functionality is its own form of luxury. But simple does not mean easy, especially when it involves streamlining or redoing overly complicated systems, designs, installations and so on.

In today’s world, simple is not a synonym for bare-bones, either. Rather, it is making the difficult appear easy; it is taking complex technology and causing it to disappear, leaving in its wake a smooth, intuitive consumer experience. It can take the form of a joystick; a clean, uncluttered helm; neat, intelligible wiring; ample engine space; and cleats and deck hardware that are properly sized and in the right place.

Innovation, technology and even traditional practices should create magic with the customer rather than convolution and impenetrability. “Now why in the hell did they do that?” is not what you want to hear out of the buyer or his mechanic.

Technology for technology’s sake is a fool’s game, particularly in the salt, which in time makes mincemeat of inferior products and workmanship. It’s a great proving ground, and the best boats and gear rise to the top year after year for decades.

I don’t think you can place too much emphasis on creating the right look, the right aesthetic, which usually means breaking from the pack. The test for me has always been this: When your boat has been put away for the day and you’re walking down the dock, do you stop and look back? Do you turn your head and look back twice? Three times?

There was a bumper sticker kicking around Maine a bunch of years ago that proclaimed: “Life’s too short to own an ugly boat.” You want to be selling boats that owners never get tired of looking at. Boats that are gorgeous.

“The first duty of a boat is to be beautiful.” That was Shep McKenney’s guiding philosophy behind the creation of the Hinckley Picnic Boat in 1994, back when he owned the company.

Talk about the essence of a successful design. That seminal Down Easter with the lovely lines and just-right proportions was the melding of two things McKenney really loves: beauty and technology. And here’s something to mull over: McKenney says what really interests him in the creative process is providing consumers with something that they aren’t even aware they wanted yet. That’s a definition of being out front.

Getting out on the water shouldn’t be as complicated as it is. Boats and equipment need to be more durable, reliable and easier to maintain. Smart thinking and engineering and real-world experience should permeate systems, rigging, layout and the choices of equipment. And the design and overall look should be such that you always turn around and gaze back admiringly at least twice.

(The illustrations in today’s blog were done by designer Jim Ewing.)


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