Duane and Tim Kuck, the second-generation brothers leading Regal Boats, last week recounted the boatbuilder’s history on its 50 anniversary. The Kucks also spoke about current conditions and how they see the future of the brand.
The brothers did a tag-team video presentation on the history of the company for a group of journalists at their headquarters in Orlando, Fla. The press event followed Regal’s international dealer meeting earlier in the week.
CEO Duane Kuck said that the dealer meeting was “awesome” and that dealers generally seemed upbeat about the boating market, despite talk about a looming recession.
“Our retail sales for the first quarter this year were up 10 percent globally and 20 percent domestically,” Kuck said. “Our inventory is where we want it to be and we’re watching our channel very carefully. Dealers are being cautious to an extent, but they remain upbeat. The only category we see falling off is the sub-26-foot market.”
Kuck said that, despite recent acquisitions of builders like Pursuit, Nautic-Star and Cobalt, Regal plans to remain a family-owned company.
“Our dealers often ask us what our plans are, and we tell them that we’re led to be a multi-generational business,” says Kuck. “Our intention now is to adapt for the next 50 years. We’re in our third generation and want to continue to make a positive contribution to the world. Plus, being private makes us think long term.”
The Kucks’ parents, Paul and Carol, were a deeply religious couple who founded Regal after Paul quit his job. “He didn’t agree with the values of the company owners,” says Kuck, “so they took their life savings, moved the family from Wisconsin to Florida and set up a boat business in Orlando.”
Duane Kuck recalls the first 16-ft. hull popping out of the mold in the company’s first facility on Robinson Street, a 14,000-sq. ft. building in a run-down area of Orlando. Kuck said his parents couldn’t afford an electric hoist, so they had to lift and move the hulls and molds by hand.
That boat was followed by a 21-footer, built around a derelict boat Paul Kuck found in a field. “It was a Bertram hull that Dad just happened to find, but it became the base for our second boat,” he says.
As Regal grew, it branched out and made other fiberglass products to supplement its boat business, especially during industry downturns. The products included spas, tabletops and a Quonset Hut made out of fiberglass that Tim nicknamed the “Turd Motel.”
“Those spas got us through one of the recessions,” said Tim, Regal’s executive vice president. “We made thousands of those tabletops. I can still remember Duane and me cutting them on a router and getting the fiberglass in our skin. Despite that, it was a great way to learn the trade.”
The business has been built around the family’s Christian faith, says Duane, along with the “Six P’s” that serve as informal guidelines. The most important P, he said, has been Perseverance, which has seen the company through difficult times. During the oil embargo of the 1970s, it looked like Regal would have to shut down. During the last downturn, the company also saw its sales plummet. “By God’s grace, perseverance and grit, we made it through,” he says. “I know we were determined to make it.”
Regal has produced more than 75,000 boats in the last 50 years. The current model line goes from 19 to 42 feet. Besides the headquarters in Orlando, which includes a large showroom for new models, Regal has a production facility in Valdosta, Ga., where it makes its larger cruisers.
Duane’s sons, Jake who oversees sales, and Paul, who manages engineering and marketing, have become integral parts of the executive team. They are involved in product development and understand new trends. The company continues to focus on “premium-quality” boats and is seeing growth in its larger outboard models, “surf” boats and sportboats with higher content.
In terms of dollars, the 35 Sport Coupe is the best performer for Regal. The company is also seeing growth in its “Surf” models that are designed for wakesports. At its dealer meeting, Regal introduced the 38 SAV, a triple-powered outboard cruiser with both cruising and fishing amenities. The company expects it to find a strong market.
Despite its 20-footer being its largest seller in units, Duane Kuck worries about the industry not introducing smaller, affordable boats for first-time boaters. “It’s not an easy thing to attack,” he says. “We still care about the 20-footers and are still investing in our line. But I’m concerned that we’re leaving entry-level boaters behind.”
The family team came up with a word — accelerate — that it will use to describe the company going forward. “We’ve got the foot on the gas and we’re accelerating,” says Duane. “That means we plan paced growth going forward—a little bit every year.”
“We also plan to have great product lines for the future,” adds Tim.
The company has seen a 53 percent increase in retail sales since October 2016, led by its outboard runabout line, surf boats, and outboard yachts.
“Our express cruiser line is also up 34 percent during that time,” said Jake, North American sales manager. “We’re now the number-one builder of boats in that category. Sea Ray had that position for so long, I never thought we’d see that day.”
Jake says that the company is experiencing growth in each of its five boat segments. “We’re also more diversified and less regionally focused than in the past, so we’re less susceptible to regional events like floods or bad weather,” he added.
“The word is ‘accelerate,’” repeats Duane. “We’re just as excited about the next 50 years as we were in the last 50.”