YARD PROFILES - Regal Marine Industries Inc

YARD PROFILES - Regal Marine Industries Inc

In God We Trust, that’s the official motto of the USA and, coincidentally, the US state of Florida. Those words are even printed on all US currency, notes and coin. Interestingly, Orlando, Florida also happens to be the home of Regal Boats, which seems quite apt when you consider that in 1973 Regal was in such dire financial straits that Paul Kuck (pronounced Cook), who’d founded Regal just four years earlier in 1969, decided to “release the business to God”. 

Fast forward to 2011 and Regal is one of the most successful boatbuilders in the world, a debt-free company, still owned and operated by the Kuck family, with strong spiritual and family values and a firm commitment to quality and customer service.

Today, Regal builds more than 1500 boats per year. Its headquarters, situated on a 30-hectare site in Orlando, boasts four separate manufacturing plants and a 3.25-hectare water-test basin that’s nearly 1.5km long. There is also a smaller manufacturing plant in Valdosta, Georgia. The Regal range includes bowriders, cuddies, deckboats, express cruisers and sportsyachts from 19 to 52 feet, and 25 per cent of their total production is exported to more than 40 countries.

Duane Kuck, eldest son of founder Paul, is the current president of Regal and brother Tim is vice president and chief operating officer. I asked Duane about the story, now embedded in Regal folklore, of the business being “released to god”. He explained. In 1973 the US was gripped in an oil/energy crisis and the then fledgling business was struggling. Sales had come to a standstill and even existing orders were being cancelled. The company, with six employees, had lost its initial capital investment, was losing money and seemed doomed to collapse.

Paul made the difficult decision to press on under the trying circumstances, declaring that he would continue, doing the best he could and “leave the rest to God”. In less than two years the tide had turned and the business was back on track and growing so rapidly that Duane and Tim joined their father in the business. The rest, as they say, is history!

Trade-a-Boat was invited to attend the Regal International Dealers Conference and I joined representatives from Regal’s worldwide dealer network in Florida to learn firsthand where the organisation is heading and how it’s fairing.

After a week of looking at its manufacturing plants, testing the range and talking to many of the staff, I came away impressed with the boats, philosophy behind them and the enthusiasm of everyone associated with the company.

Regal has more than 430 direct employees and prides itself on the large number that has been with it long-term. Sue Boeselager is typical of many — she’s been at Regal for 27 years. Her first job was adhering stripes to boat hulls. Today, Regal is one of the very few companies in the world that actually mould those stripes into the hulls and Sue now works as a buyer and warranty claims person.

While there is very much a family atmosphere about the place, one is left in no doubt that Regal operates a slick, super-efficient operation, with a big emphasis on competency, quality control and customer satisfaction. It is ISO 9001:2008 certified, offers a lifetime hull warranty on its full range and is a 24-time recipient of the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) CSI award for excellence in customer satisfaction.

I also asked Duane about what, if any, effects the GFC has had on Regal and he told me that while the last couple of years have been challenging, prudent fiscal planning and a decision they made during a previous recession in the US in 1998 has held them in good stead. At that time, Regal decided that if it had to endure another downturn at any time in the future, it would prefer to do it without debt. As a result, the company set itself a goal to control growth and become completely debt free, a feat finally achieved in 2002.

As a result, when the GFC started to bite and boat sales slowed, Regal was in the fortunate position of not having to service any debt. That, coupled with a dealer network spanning the globe, meant that it was still selling into markets that weren’t as badly affected as the US and it was able to weather the storm better than most. An added benefit was that R&D continued during this time, with new models developed and planned to come onto the market as the recovery came.

The first of those new models, the Regal 35 Sport Coupe, was released to coincide with our visit and, while superlatives appear to be the norm whenever a boatbuilder releases a new model, this boat is definitely one worthy of some hype.

Based on the proven Ocean Trac hull design of the Regal 35 Express, with exterior styling to match her bigger sisters, the 42, 46 and 52 Sport Yachts, the 35 Sport Coupe is all-new from the waterline up. According to Phil Baier, product development manager at Regal and the man responsible for the design, “We wanted a boat with proven on-water performance, but with enhanced liveability, both above and below decks. A sportscruiser that provided the best of both worlds, a cockpit that can be either fully open or totally closed, all with very little canvas.”

The hardtop features the now trademark Regal full-beam sunroof and a walkthrough opening windshield with direct access to the foredeck. There’s lots of seating in the cockpit and if the weather turns, simply close the electric sunroof and the windshield, bring down the aft clears and the single-level cockpit is totally closed. Turn on the 18,000 BTU, reverse-cycle air-conditioning and you’ve got all-weather boating.

Below decks, the luxury saloon and galley feel much bigger than a 35-footer, thanks in part to the clever forward queen-size berth that folds and converts to seating. The seating can be converted back in less than a minute and, together with a large mid-cabin, the boat sleep five or six comfortably below decks and another three in the cockpit. There are also huge opening skylights and a large hull window that add to the spacious feel.

Power choices are twin MerCruiser or Volvo sterndrives ranging from 440hp to 600hp and now available with computer-controlled Joystick docking. Engine access is via an electrically operated aft section that lifts on struts.

I’m told that it won’t be long before we see the first 35 Sport Coupe in Australia and I can’t wait to get one out on the water to see if its performs is as good as it looks. Given it’s a proven hull there’s no reason why it shouldn’t get up and go. It’ll certainly create some excitement.

When we saw the 35 Sport Coupe it had only just been wheeled into Regal’s massive showroom the day before its official release, which brings me to an interesting point. Regal has an industry-first modern showroom, where it keeps on permanent display every one of the 26 models it manufactures. With Orlando being one of the tourism capitals of the world (the first Disneyland was opened there), dealers from all over the US and the world are encouraged to utilise the showroom for existing and prospective customers.

Since the GFC, it is estimated that more than 40 per cent of US boat dealers have disappeared, yet during that same period Regal’s dealer network, both domestically and overseas, has increased. It is optimistic about the next two years with strong signs that the economy is growing in the US and elsewhere. According to their research, the US housing crisis has bottomed, automobile and RV sales are growing — and boat sales traditionally follow — more than a million new jobs have been created, boat-show sales in 2010 were up over the previous year, and dealer and finance company stockpiles have all but disappeared.

According to Bruce Van Wagoner, president-Marine Group, GE Capital, speaking at the Regal Dealers Conference, “boat sales in the US have bottomed and are now already on the way back up.” Predictions are that growth in the US boat industry is anticipated to be five to 10 per cent in 2011 and 10 to 15 per cent in 2012.

Aiming to capitalise on that growth, Regal has reinvested more than $10 million back into the company in the last two years and is constantly working at ways to increase performance and add value to the range. Not just to go faster, but also in terms of ride and fuel economy. It is also in the process of upgrading boat interiors with new carpet, new fabrics and new colours.

With a targeted growth of 15 per cent annually in forthcoming years, Regal sees exports as a big part of its sales strategy and Australia, in particular, as a valuable market for its range. With the strong currency here against the $US it is optimistic about increasing market share and see its range as blending in well with our lifestyle. Its broad range allows customers to enter at the lower end and grow within the brand, right up to the flagship 52 Sport Yacht.

Now celebrating more than 40 years of successful boat manufacturing, Regal is not a division of a large conglomerate, or a boat company forced to produce under the direction of a parent company with little or no knowledge of boating. As Duane was keen to reiterate to me, Regal is a thriving, family owned, multi-generational business with Gen Two currently in control and Gen Three already working in the business. The Kuck’s are a boating family that go boating at every opportunity, they don’t just manufacture boats, they live boats and that transfers into a business strategy. God knows, it’s hard to argue with that logic!

The 35 Sport Coupe, like all Regal Cruisers and Sport Yachts, features the trademarked Ocean Trac hull. Designed with a deadrise that varies with each model, the precise running angle is determined with 3D modelling to match the weight and dimensions of each individual model in the range. This angle is carried through midships to stern, which improves performance and ensures a comfortable and consistent ride in varying sea conditions. The weight and ship’s systems remain balanced, which means the boat stays steady, stable and predictable through tight turns.

Photos: The Regal 42 Sport Coupe; Tim and Duane Kuck; Regal's head office, Orlando, Florida; This half-assembled Regal gives you an idea of how they're put together; Regal President, Duane Kuck with youngest daughter Kalli; Tank testing at Regal; Shrink-wrapped Regals ready for sale; The Yanks make great boats and boat ports, too.