Scout Boats president and CEO Steve Potts launched the South Carolina company with $50,000 he managed to scrimp and save while working a night job repairing fiberglass bathtubs, and a day job as plant manager at American Sail. He and his wife, Dianne, began building 14- and 15-foot boats out of a brick barn in 1989. Hurricane Hugo leveled the barn, and son Stevie, only 12 at the time, helped his parents salvage what they could.
Today, the company operates from a more than 350,000-square-foot complex of four facilities — plants A, B, C and D — in Summerville, producing more than two dozen fiberglass models from 17 to 53 feet. The company’s most recent expansion, a $13 million project, is for production of the 530 LXF flagship. Another facility is planned that, at roughly 22,000 square feet, would nearly double the company’s research and development space. The company also intends to add a second five-axis router to its existing one, and to the two, three-axis routers it uses.
“Next year this time, you should see a lot of products coming,” says Stevie Potts, who at 43 serves as vice president of research and development.
Scout has been growing market share, too. The company is up around 12.5 percent year-over-year, while its nearest competitive group is up around 3 percent, says sales manager Alan Lang. “Considering the new models we have coming out, our inventory levels and what’s already presold coming down the pipeline,” Lang says, “we’re in a very optimistic situation.”
How has your role at Scout Boats evolved over the years?
Potts Jr.: I started at Scout in high school, after school and during summers or spring break. I was really trying to earn money to buy a car. It started with sweeping the floor to grinding molds outside — a lot of the nasty work, but I certainly appreciated a job. When I graduated high school, I didn’t go to college. I knew this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
The biggest thing for me is not having the title of the boss’s son and being privileged to get to a management position. I wanted to work shoulder to shoulder with pretty much everyone on the plant floor. I started in lamination, worked there for a few years starting with small-part lamination, and then went to consoles and decks and hulls. I worked in the rigging department for a few years, and then I worked in warranty. I went through pretty much every department learning the ropes and earning the respect from the few employees we had at the time. Then I just sort of fell into R&D working with my dad and one other guy sanding plugs. It evolved from there. I had a huge passion with design.
What was it like to have your son take such a large role?
Potts Sr.: Stevie and I have not always seen eye to eye. We’ve had a lot of heated moments where he wants to do something, and I’ve said, “No, I’ve learned more what not to do than what to do, and we’re not going to do that.” Over time, I’ve basically succumbed to him. He’s actually better at design and design cues than I am, which, not too long ago, I wouldn’t have admitted. It wasn’t that long ago, I can remember Stevie wanted a hydraulic platform on the side of this center console and I said, “That is ridiculous. Nobody would spend the time and energy and effort doing something that complex in the side of a center console.” And it was a big hit.
Potts Jr.: At the time I came up with that, we were doing the 42 with the side doors. I welded some brackets, mocked up and laminated and basically made a one-off mold for a balcony, and put it on the side of the 42 prototype hull that we had in R&D. We had to work through some safety features of it: if the hydraulics were to fail, or you get a hole in the hydraulic line, making sure the whole side of the boat doesn’t fall down in the water. We worked with a hydraulic company to design our own cylinders; we designed another cylinder that was basically a safety pin locking system, so if something were to fail while that door was up, it won’t fall down on you. It was certainly a challenge, but once we got it figured out and on the boat, it was a huge hit, and we started putting it on other models.
We’ve gone even further on the 53, where both sides fold down and are flush with the deck, and it really opens the boat up a lot. We were able to do that on that boat because of it being 100 percent carbon and epoxy.
What other innovations are you particularly proud of?
Potts Sr.: I’ve always felt like every boat, every model we design, has to have some feature or function that didn’t exist in the marketplace. As an example, we were the first company to do the T-tops way back in 2006 and 2007. All these T-tops had always been made out of round tubing and straight sticks, and we put curve in our T-tops. We’ve added glass panels and actually had that patented. Another example is the forward-seating backrest. Back in 2007, we came up with the idea on our 262. In the front of the center console, you’d have these two opposing seats that were so uncomfortable to ride in. We put in these plug-in backrests.
Digital switching, we were one of the first companies to build digital from analog as far as wiring. We formed a partnership with Garmin and Power Products, which at the time was making the CZone systems, and went digital with our bigger boats. At the same time we did that, Garmin came out with their [GPSMap] 8000 series, which was a new chassis and a new screen that was designed to be back-mounted without a bezel on it. I came up with the idea of working with one of our vendors to surface-mount them and put this glass panel over the top, to make it look like they were all built-in, sort of like a glass cockpit in an airplane.
Potts Jr.: The convertible leaning post in the 38 has gone really well, and in the not too distant future we’re going to put that on some other models. The challenge is to make it look clean when it’s down and when it’s up. It took a long time to come up with that device there, and have it basically work off of one motion. There’s one hydraulic spinner that makes it do four or five different things.
Potts Sr.: That goes along with what I call the wow factor. In the hotly contested and competitive market we’re in, there’s so many choices, sometimes it’s just that one wow factor that wins them over.
How has business been this summer during the pandemic?
Potts Sr.: In March and early April, everybody was scared to death there was going to be serious headwinds like in 2008. But people wanted to live for the moment. Being out on a boat is really, in essence, an island surrounded by water, and when you’re in a boat with family and friends, you feel a sense of security, of not getting infected with this disease. It’s up to us as manufacturers and dealers to make sure they have a good experience so we don’t lose them.
Logistically, it’s been a challenge to make our facilities a safe place to work. We’ve got nearly 400 employees, so we furloughed them for two weeks — paid them to stay home — and had management staff come in and make our facility Centers for Disease Control compliant. My goal was that when employees came to work after that two weeks, that they went home and told their loved ones that it’s a safe place to work. Fortunately, we’ve only had four positive tests, which is beating the odds in our county and state. Obviously, we can’t control what happens when they leave here, but we did our part in making sure there was a safe environment for employees to work.
Plant D is designed not only for manufacturing larger boats, but also to let customers witness the build process. That’s an interesting concept.
Potts Sr.: We do a lot of plant tours. We have a lot of customers who would have a deposit or production slot slated for them, and would come to factory, especially plant D, to see other boats in production and get some ideas on what they wanted to have.
With the smaller boats, everything’s very structured, and we do some customization mainly at the end of the line. As you get into plant B, which builds from 27 feet up to 35 feet, those are more customized. You’ll have more flavors as far as options. Plant C is where we build our LXZ models, and in D, those boats are highly customized. There’s a specification for each build that is unique to that build.
Scout introduced a stepped-hull running surface in 2012. How did the manufacturing processes evolve?
Potts Sr.: The nature of boatbuilding, especially with lamination shops and operations, has always kind of been a dirty sweatshop mentality. From the beginning, we made the decision that we were going to hand-lay everything we built. It’s a neater, cleaner operation. Certainly more labor-intense and more expensive, but there was better quality control as far as the consistency in the builds, part after part.
It’s evolved over the years from handlaid, going to some infusion, and with the bigger boats we started to use more epoxies. Epoxy is a different animal in that it’s got to be post-cured. When we set up plant D, we put a pretty elaborate boiler system in that would circulate hot air through a thermal blanket that goes over the parts we build, and it post-cures. These bigger boats we build, we work with Molly Ditzler at Vectorply. She’s got a doctorate degree in composites. We lean on her to help us develop the most sophisticated composite parts that we can.
Potts Jr.: It makes for a much cleaner environment, too. Employee retention right now is obviously a huge thing. When you’re infusing something, you’re not getting spray guns out and rollers and suiting up. It’s a much cleaner process.
Scout’s largest boat to date is the 530 LXF. How did it come to be?
Potts Sr.: That’s Stevie’s baby. It was our goal to build the best outboard- powered center console that was available on the market. We wanted a 20-ton boat that would run in excess of 60 mph. The running surface is second to none. But for it to do all the things we wanted it to do, we couldn’t have a conventional build. It had to be built lighter and stronger, and that’s where we started using a hefty amount of carbon fiber and epoxy with the superstructure and the hull.
Potts Jr.: A lot of things we did on that boat came from listening to customers, and some of the things they like or don’t like about their boats. We started hearing more from people who say they want a center console sometimes, and sometimes they want more protection. So we were leaning toward a pilothouse, but we didn’t want to do a pilothouse. We had the scale model being 3-D-printed. We had the console mostly built. Then we came up with the idea of how to enclose it, but kind of make it a convertible. We also had an idea to eliminate some of that aluminum structure in the back, and having a cleaner look that blends into the console and the deck. Without doing carbon or epoxy, that wouldn’t have been possible.
The interior was something completely different from what we were used to doing. We worked with an Italian company that helped us design the interior. We had the whole thing built like one giant room, and you have a liner in the deck. You take the whole room that’s completely done and drop it into the liner, drop the console on top, and tap it all together. A lot of what we did on that boat was outside of what we’re used to, but we partnered up with these great people, and it turned out great.
During the past 12 months, you’ve unveiled ﬁve new models: the 330 LXF, 305 LXF, 277 LXF, 235 Dorado and 215 Dorado. Tell us about those.
Potts Sr.: The 330 stands on its own as far as the type of boat it is. The 330’s got a really cool interior, along with the unique seating layout with the transom seat. The 305 is following that same concept; it has a very unique stern design. The 277 LXF follows suit. The 235 Dorado, we created a boat that has the windshields built into the deck, rather than added to the deck. That’s a very unique-looking boat. It has more of a sporty look. Same thing with the 215 Dorado. Everything we do has its signature appeal to it as far as being a departure from the norm.
This article was originally published in the November 2020 issue.