Auto dealer Mark Lacovara and landscaping business owner Phil Mahn partnered to buy a boat about eight years ago; they fixed it up how they wanted it, and wound up making a nice return on it when they sold it.
“That led to us building a boat dealership in November of 2016,” Lacovara told Trade Only Today. “Our customers were great, business was great, but the manufacturers — they would tell us a boat would be ready in June, and there would be no boat. The customer would miss his whole summer, and I’m the bad guy. And then often the boat would not be right when it was delivered. I thought there was a better way.”
The pair started repowering and rewiring boats and installing electronics, growing a service center.
“It got to the point where we were doing everything but the fiberglass, so we thought, ‘why not just build boats,’” said Lacovara.
Thus Front Runner Boatworks was born, and the company’s 39-foot center console drew interest at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, said Lacovara.
“We had two boats at FLIBS, one at Bahia Mar that we couldn’t move and one at Pier 66 for sea trials,” said Lacovara. “It went great. We’ve got over 40 active leads with two-way communication right now.”
So far, eight 39-foot center consoles have been sold, and seven of the 36-foot center consoles that are just entering production have been sold. A 47-foot center console is in engineering now.
“We have no corporate investors, we have no loans, no silent partners — there’s myself and Philip,” said Lacovara. “There’s no money guy behind us. It’s my kid’s college fund and daughter’s wedding fund, my 401K from the automotive industry. It’s every bit of our savings and we’re putting all of it in the future of this company. It is the American dream, as they say, betting it all on the farm.” (Both partners’ wives fully support the endeavor, Lacovara added.)
The company is operating out of a 12,000-square-foot building leased in Saint Johns, Fla., with 23 employees. The boats are designed by Erwin Gerards with EG Designs. (See the specs here.)
Their idea was to better utilize space on Front Runner models than they’d experienced on boats they owned, said Lacovara, while keeping the price point lower than competitive center consoles on the market.
“We knew we. had to control costs and build the product under the market to establish ourselves,” said Lacovara. “A 39 with quad 350s starts at $439,000. That is a running boat, you just have to add electronics. It includes the big console and hardtop and sink and bed down below. We’ve taken all the space in the boat and utilized it.”
The wiring, rigging, fit and finish is on par with the custom builders, said Lacovara, adding: “We couldn’t just be cheaper, we had to be cheaper and as nice or better in every aspect of the build.”
The semi-custom builder will use a factory-direct model.
“We don’t want dealers stocking these boats,” said Lacovara. “I look at what happened to brands and dealers in the economic downturn, and those that held inventory were most deeply impacted.”
Mordy Miltz, a certified professional yacht broker with United Yacht Sales, will handle sales and service outside of Front Runner’s coverage zone in areas including New England, South Florida and the Mid-Atlantic.
“He’s got great coverage and connections with service, so he’ll have someone we can trust that can do the work,” said Lacovara.
Front Runner will service boats in the Carolinas, central Florida, and Georgia area.
Lacovara is in charge of sales and marketing, and building partnerships with quality vendors, and Mahn handles much of the operation and financial end. Both oversee operations at the factory.
Right now the production schedule is set up to give Front Runner 16 weeks, though most are being finished in 12. But under-promising and over-delivering is a concept Lacovara wants to keep.
“I learned my lessons from manufacturers — good and bad,” said Lacovara.