Four generations of the entrepreneurial Huggins family have operated Huggins Outboard in Albany, Ga., since it was founded 73 years ago. Huggins Outboard has become the largest boat and motor dealer in an 85-mile radius of Albany.
Frank Huggins started Huggins Outboard in 1941 in a one-car, dirt-floor and galvanized-tin garage. He kept his day job as a machine shop foreman while he was getting the new venture established.
“Dad was a natural mechanic,”son and second-generation owner Bill Huggins said. “He could fix anything. Local fishermen would bring their outboards to his shop, usually in their car trunks, as few of them had their own boats and trailers in those years. These were World War II years, and replacement parts were scarce to nonexistent, so Dad purchased a used 6-inch Atlas lathe for his shop and started turning out propeller shafts and drive shafts for his repair work.”
Word soon reached Johnson Outboards in Waukegan, Ill., that parts were being manufactured in Georgia, so the company sent a rep down to investigate. This resulted in Frank Huggins becoming the authorized Johnson dealer in Albany. However, no outboards were shipped to the dealership until after World War II ended.
In 1947, he moved his dealership out of the small garage to a downtown storefront. Bill’s mother kept the store open during the day, and his dad, who still had his day job, would do motor repairing and sales at night and on Saturdays. Soon the business grew to a point at which Frank could quit his day job and become a full-time marine dealer.
After serving in the Korean War, son Bill became the next generation to join the dealership in 1954, moving it to its present location on four acres.
Son Richard Huggins took over in 1992, growing sales to $5 million. As it did with boat dealers all over North America, the Great Recession put a damper on business, but Huggins Outboard not only survived, it is also rebounding nicely.
Sadly, Richard died last March, 18 months after he was diagnosed with bladder cancer.
Huggins Outboard is the only franchised dealership within 85 miles of Albany. “For an in-town dealership, it is very profitable,”says Bill, “so profitable we can’t let it die. We have 17 employees and families to take care of.”
Richard’s son Matthew, a certified public accountant, recently resigned from Draffin & Tucker, a corporate accounting firm, to take the helm.
Bill is now 84 and has been in the boat business for 73 of those years. “It is hard to get the marine business out of your system,”he says. “My wife and I feel blessed that our grandson Matthew has joined the company as the fourth-generation leader.”
Huggins Outboard is a Tracker dealer and also handles several other boat lines, including Hurricane deck boats, Chaparral, Alumacraft jonboats, Sweetwater pontoon boats and others. Outboard brands include Evinrude, Mercury and Yamaha.
Read more about Huggins Outboard in the September issue of Soundings Trade Only.
Ben Sherwood, a 50-year veteran of the marine industry, was head of sales and marketing at Evinrude and Johnson for several years during his career at Outboard Marine Corp. After retiring from OMC he was a marine trade magazine columnist for 18 years and a consultant in the industry. He authored the book “How to Succeed in Marine Retailing.”He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.