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When economy collapsed, he ‘built the reputation’

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In another lifetime, when Scott Hanson was in corporate advertising and communications, he did an analysis for a bank comparing the post-recession performance of companies that dramatically cut their marketing during downturns with those that didn’t.

Not surprisingly, businesses that stayed in the market and continued to toot their horn did significantly better when things turned around than those that went completely dark on the marketing front. That lesson has not been lost on Hanson, who bought boatbuilder Rossiter Boats of Markdale, Ontario, in 2007, not long before the bottom fell out of the market.

Like the rest of the industry, Hanson pulled back on the spending reins but did not hunker down to the point that he stopped bringing boats to shows or talking to potential customers. He maintained a presence in the market, and Rossiter has grown in each of the six years since Hanson purchased the small company. It has seven employees, including the boss. “We kept the name out there and built the reputation,” says Hanson, 47, whose company builds several lines of pulling boats and small powerboats (www.rossiterboats.com).

It’s been a busy summer for the Canadian boatbuilder. When Hanson visited the Trade Only offices in Essex, Conn., in July, with his new 17-foot runabout in tow, he’d already logged about 12,000 miles in six weeks on his pickup truck, delivering boats, visiting customers, giving demo rides and so forth.

Like all builders, Hanson understands the economic challenges only too well but remains optimistic about the future of recreational boating. “Boating is part of a life and a lifestyle, and people are not going to give it up,” says Hanson, a lifelong boater who grew up as a self-described “river rat” in the Thousand Islands, where he learned to row his grandparents’ St. Lawrence skiff and operated a Windsurfer shop as a teenager. “But how can we do it more economically? We need to think of affordability and efficiency without compromising seaworthiness and quality.”

And that brings us to the new boat that was on the trailer behind Hanson’s truck. The 17-footer is the largest powerboat the company has built to date; it is available as either a runabout with a closed foredeck and windshield or a center console. The hull is unique in that it has 22 degrees of deadrise at the transom (more than one typically finds in a boat this size), a design feature that gives it a better ride in sloppy conditions. The power ranges from a modest 90 outboard to a 115, with top speeds from 43 mph to upward of 50, depending on the horsepower. Rossiter introduced it last fall in a “soft launch” at boat shows in Annapolis, Toronto, Boston and Miami.

The concept is Hanson’s, but he also talked with and listened to boaters and dealers. “I would always ask, ‘What is the marketplace not giving you?’ ”

So what is the market saying? “The market told me there is this void,” he continues. “The market today is looking for more value for money. People will pay for quality.”

But remember, he says, “Exceed expectations.”

In terms of the development of the 17-footer, Hanson summarized consumer comments thusly: “I want to run efficiently and safely, but without ‘big Detroit iron.’ ”

Rossiter sells primarily to baby boomers. “Our clientele was born in 1965 or earlier,” he notes. Some are downsizing; some are looking for a second boat; others are looking for a boat for their kids.

Hanson is transiting Rossiter from a direct-to-customer model by building a small network that now consists of about a half-dozen dealers. “We have a model that works,” he says. “We’ll share in the cost of building the brand together.” The last thing Hanson says he wants to do is burden dealers with too much inventory or too small a territory.

The back story about how Hanson came to own and operate a boatbuilding company is an interesting one. The passion he developed for boating as a boy stayed with him through his non-marine career. After a dozen years in business, he and his wife moved to Maine about 20 years ago so Hanson could attend The Landing School and pursue his dream. He graduated in two years with honors in yacht design and boatbuilding, but he also graduated in the midst of an industry downturn.

So it was back to the buttoned-up world of corporate marketing until the Rossiter opportunity came up about six years ago. “I could never get it out of my system,” he says.

The boats carry a limited lifetime warranty and Hanson says the company and its dealers are in business to serve the customer. “We’re all human beings,” the builder says. “Things can go wrong. We stand behind the product, not the legalese. We’re not there to hide behind a piece of paper.”

This article originally appeared in the August 2012 issue.

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