Chesapeake Light Craft given economic honor

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Annapolis, Md.-based Chesapeake Light Craft was awarded a “Better with Less” award from the state for thriving during the economic downturn while streamlining resources.

The company, owned by John Harris, is the world's largest manufacturer of boatbuilding kits. It sells kits and plans for wooden kayaks, canoes, rowboats and small sailboats, the Daily Journal newspaper reported.

The company also offers boatbuilding classes, which draw students from around the country, and it recently added another 2,000 square feet of classroom space to its offices.

Harris teamed up with the business' original owner in 1991, when Chesapeake Light Craft was selling about 100 kits each year. Last year he sold 2,000 kits.

“I won't say I predicted the recession, but I'd already lived through a few of them and I didn't want to do that again,” Harris told the newspaper.

The recession that followed the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks crippled the business. Retail sales plunged and Harris had to lay off a few workers.

“So I decided that the next time around I was going to do some things [differently],” Harris said. “I diversified the business, going from 20 boat models to 70 boat models so our customers had a bunch more choices.”

He also bought out two other smaller boatbuilding businesses and started selling $100 plans and manuals for boatbuilding, a cheaper alternative to the boatbuilding kits.

And while other companies cut back on their marketing and advertising expenses Harris poured money into that part of his business, advertising in industry publications around the country.

“We figured that even if people weren't buying they'd remember us when times got better,” Harris said.

Volume has increased 11 percent every year since 2005 and the business now brings in about $3 million in annual revenue. Harris said he plans to spend between $400,000 and $500,000 on advertising this year.

Click here for the full report.

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