MY WORK, MY LIFE: Arriving just before the recession, charting a course to survive it

As a retail salesman at Abrams Power Sports in Wisconsin for seven years, I really enjoyed helping people have fun. My primary focus was selling ATVs, snowmobiles, lawnmowers and chainsaws.
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As a retail salesman at Abrams Power Sports in Wisconsin for seven years, I really enjoyed helping people have fun. My primary focus was selling ATVs, snowmobiles, lawnmowers and chainsaws.

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Pontoons and other boats were secondary at the time. As I gained experience and business changed, I found myself enjoying selling boats as much as I did power sports equipment.

Then one frigid day, as I was delivering a snowmobile, an old high-school friend came and solicited me to take over sales at the MirroCraft aluminum fishing boat factory in Gillett, Wis. His father was looking to retire and the company wanted to groom someone to take his spot. On that day in April of 2007, little did I know what was to come.

My new job involved taking boat orders from our salesman on the road and local dealers here in Wisconsin, entering them into our computer system and getting them approved and financed before the boats were built and delivered. It was as much fun as working on the retail side because it was still about helping people have fun.

Between 2007 and 2009 things changed, and not for the good. The Great Recession struck and we were getting laid off a week a month, the doormats service disappeared, the coffee machine was gone and the factory was only running four days a week.

The recession put a lot of stress on everyone. There wasn’t a lot you could do to change it, so we buckled down and held on the best we could.

Just when we thought it couldn’t get any worse, it became public knowledge in 2010 that we were for sale. Clearwater Marine, our parent company, was trying to sell its four boat companies because it was in major financial trouble.

If extracting orders from dealers wasn’t hard enough before, it was nearly impossible now. For the next year or better we barely held on, and at one point we were down to 17 employees. We were the last company standing and time was quickly running out.

With the help of what is now Wisconsin Bank & Trust, Oconto County, the state and some outside sources, we four existing managers were able to take ownership of the factory in the spring of 2012.

Northport Marine LLC was born. My three partners — Mike Belongia, Jason Blazek and Tage Klein — and I have not looked back. In 2012 we introduced Montego Bay pontoons at our annual September dealer meeting. Our first pontoons were delivered in December of that year.

Our pontoon line is gaining steam yearly. Our MirroCraft boat line has just been revamped, and sales couldn’t be better. We have more than 60 employees and we’re still growing. I’ve always enjoyed the outdoors hunting and fishing, so I couldn’t ask for a better career.

The bottom line is still the same for me — helping people have fun, whether it’s as a salesman, a sales manager or an owner!

Tim Allen is VP of sales at Northport Marine LLC, the manufacturer of MirroCraft Boats and Montego Bay pontoons.

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