Most every spring, Viking Yacht Co. president and CEO Pat Healey would be updating dealers, vendors, customers and staff about tournaments, the launch of a new model, an upcoming VIP event and, of late, the solid sales numbers from Valhalla Boatworks, the builder’s center-console brand. Instead, Healey used the occasion of the builder’s 56th anniversary to address Viking’s strategy during and beyond the covid-19 pandemic.
“We build boats, and nothing is going to stop us from doing what we love to do,” Healey stated in a press release. “There is no question, we’ll get through this and come out stronger.”
On March 19, Viking suspended operations at its New Gretna and Mullica, N.J., facilities for an unspecified time. Day-to-day operations continued remotely for several departments, including customer service, design and engineering, and sales and marketing. The Viking Yacht Service Center in Riviera Beach, Fla., and Viking subsidiaries Atlantic Marine Electronics and Palm Beach Towers also remained open, with strict social-distancing measures.
In addition, the company kept its on-site medical center at the New Gretna facility open and “on call every day to attend to the needs of employees and their families in this unprecedented time,” according to the statement. Viking also was sending a daily e-newsletter to all employees, keeping them abreast of the steps the company was taking to get them back to work.
As Soundings Trade Only went to press in mid-April, Viking and Valhalla had repoened and resumed production, with strict social distancing, following multiple deep cleanings of the nearly million-square-foot facility. Staff were scheduled to start and end shifts at staggered times, and everyone’s temperature was to be taken as they entered the facilities, with those showing signs of sickness reporting to the infirmary. “[We’ll] get kinks out of the way so we’re ready to work,” Healey says.
The covid-19 crisis is the fourth economic downturn the company has faced in the past 35 years of boatbuilding. “The majority of team leaders were present for luxury tax, 9/11, the Great Recession and now this,” Healey says. After the Great Recession, the company enacted a planning strategy, making contributions to a captive insurance program. “It gives us a good nest egg,” Healey says.
Business was excellent just a month before the pandemic wreaked its havoc on the world. Viking and Valhalla had just come off a very successful February, with 29 boats sold at the Miami Yacht Show and a VIP event. Only a few of those sales fell out because of covid-19.
Even with the majority of sales intact, Healey estimates an 18-month turnaround for things to return to prepandemic numbers. “[We’re] looking at six quarters,” he says. “I don’t see it settling out until next spring, then six [more] months to build out based on those sales.”
As Viking resumes production, Healey says he’s looking forward to what he knows and loves. “We do two things: build boats and go fishing,” he says. “Customers love the boating lifestyle as much as we do. Things will come together — the lifestyle is too addicting.”
Healey says being on the water has been therapeutic for many people during the pandemic. “I’ve been watching how many people have been using boats,” he says. “It’s been a refuge, puts a smile on their faces.”
This article originally appeared in the May 2020 issue.