Over the years, I have known a lot of second and third generation dealers in the boat business. But I recently realized that three aftermarket distributors I have known for years are third and fourth generation in the industry. All were started with an entrepreneurial spirit. And all three are doing well despite the economic mess we have been going through. How are they doing this? After talking with all three, I concluded they have survived and done well by working harder and smarter. Here are some brief stories about these three.
MESCO celebrates 100 years
Marine Equipment Supply Company, better known as MESCO, is celebrating 100 years in business as a marine aftermarket parts and accessories wholesale distributor. 100 years in the marine industry. Amazing! (That reminds me that Ole Evinrude built his first commercial outboard motor one year earlier – in 1909.)
Don Kirkland, President of MESCO, is the third generation Kirkland to run the business that was founded in 1910 in Philadelphia. I have known Don for several years and even did a seminar at MESCO a number of years ago. And Don spoke at an NMMA-sponsored seminar I conducted at IMTEC in Chicago back in the early 1990’s.
After the business was founded in 1910, Don’s grandfather, William Kirkland, became a shareholder in 1911 and over time continued to acquire more shares until he owned the company. William’s son, Donald, took over the business as a young man in the early 1950’s and ran it until he turned it over to his son, Don Kirkland Jr., the third generation Kirkland to run the business.
A few years ago MESCO, headquartered in Thorofare, NJ, right across the river from Philadelphia, acquired Seacoast Distributors in Lindenhurst, NY. They have continued to grow over the years and run over 100 in-season no or low cost delivery truck routes with their own fleet to thousands of dealers, marinas and boat builders in the Mid-Atlantic. These deliveries extend from the Connecticut shoreline to the north shore of Virginia and include Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Long Island and other portions of New York, shipping daily nationwide via UPS and common carriers. Don Kirkland has two sons, so hopefully at least one of them will become the fourth generation to continue the Kirkland family tradition.
Keller Marine & RV – Three generations of Kellers
Flanders Keller started in the boat business in 1952 building 14′ to 22′ Keller Kraft wood boats patterned after the Chris Craft boats of those years. He continued to build boats until 1959 when he saw that fiberglass was the wave of the future in boat building. Up to that time, he had built 2,000 wood boats.
Flanders’ son, George Keller, and his wife, Margaret, then started Keller Marine Service in Port Trevorton, Pennsylvania, in 1958. George knew that the service level on parts and accessories was sorely lacking in his area. So he went into the parts business and based his business strategy on service, hence the name, Keller Marine Service. He bought a Suburban van, loaded it with parts and accessories, and started driving around calling on boat dealers. The business got great support from the dealer network and Keller’s growth began. Then in 1968 at the urging of Starcraft Boats Keller Marine entered the recreational vehicle business. The RV dealers also supported Keller, and that led to steady growth in the RV business. George and Margaret retired from the company in 1991 and turned the business over to the third generation.
Today the company, now named Keller Marine & RV, is run by a third generation management team, which includes two of George and Margaret Keller’s children. Mike Keller serves as company President, and Lori (Keller) Morrow is Secretary/Treasurer. Keller services about 1,000 independent marine & RV dealers in the Mid-Atlantic and New England states. Service is still the buzzword at Keller and it is what continues to separate Keller Marine & RV from its competition. Mike Keller has been a good friend of mine for years and also spoke at the IMTEC seminar I mentioned earlier.
Lorenz & Jones Marine Distributors – Four Generations
Eighty-nine years ago, Fred J. Lorenz founded a company now well-known in the marine industry as Lorenz & Jones Marine Distributors in Des Moines, Iowa. Fred had a real passion for boating, which is typical of so many people in this industry, and decided to enter the emerging recreational boating business in Iowa. Until about 1945, he had both a retail boating sales and repair business and an automotive service business. At that time, Bruce Jones joined Fred as a partner, and the company was named Lorenz & Jones Boating Headquarters.
In 1954, Fred’s son, Tom Lorenz, Sr., whom I knew and respected, started the company down the path of boating equipment wholesale distribution that it has maintained to this day. About 1960, Fred Lorenz and Bruce Jones retired, and a new partner, Mel McKee, joined Tom at the growing firm.
The third generation Lorenz and second generation McKee joined the business in the 1970’s as part-time student workers, then key employees, and eventually as hands-on operating management and owners. Their wholesale parts and accessory business has continued to grow and expand into an increasingly larger Midwestern market area.
Third generation Ray Lorenz, whom I have also known for years, is President; Gary Lorenz is Vice President–Treasurer; and Tom Lorenz, Jr. is Executive Vice President. The second generation McKee in the business, Steve McKee, is Vice President of Sales and Marketing. I have also known Steve for several years.
Now Lorenz & Jones now has a fourth generation Lorenz working at the company. Eric Lorenz, Ray Lorenz’s son, handles catalog production, (a big job if you look at the size of most distributors’ catalogs) and provides operations support. Maybe someday there will be a fifth generation at the business.
All of these distributors, and several others around the U.S., have provided an essential support service to the boat dealers in our industry. They have done well for the industry…and the industry has done well for them over the years.
Any fourth generation boat dealers out there? If so, let me hear from you.