Executive VP and COO of Regal Marine Industries
Paul and Carol Kuck founded Regal Marine Industries in 1969. Forty-five years later the company, whose name was picked out of a dictionary, has grown into a world class standard in nautical luxury. With boats ranging in size from 19 to 53 feet, the second generation, Tim Kuck, VP and COO and his brother Duane Kuck, CEO, have pursued their father’s dream with the same standards of integrity, quality and faith. Their company builds not only one of the most iconic boat brands in the country, but one known around the world, as nearly half their boats are sold outside the United States. Together they continue to turn heads in the marketplace and in the marina.
EW: Growing up in a family business you learn business skills and business character; how did that shape you and how did the family business shape your family dynamic?
TK: You can hardly separate the two because there is so much overlap. I started here when I was 13 around 1971, doing a little bit of everything. Dad’s background was as VP of sales and marketing for a steel building firm located in Wisconsin. The company changed hands, the culture changed and he thought it was a good time to launch out on his own. At the time he thought, ‘If we are going to do that, we might as well go and start in Florida, because that is where we want to retire.’
They evaluated different businesses and ran across some boat molds and decided to start a boat company. The industry at that time was in its adolescence, if not a toddler; distribution chains and brands weren’t well established, but we were in a good location at a good time.
EW: With no experience in recreational boat manufacturing, what did your mother think?
TK: They were in it together. Dad wasn’t a technically or mechanically oriented individual; his abilities were in business, sales and marketing, along with having tremendous integrity. He applied those skills, but also overcame some formidable obstacles. When the oil embargo came in 1973, we went from 35 employees to six. Dad basically told his investors the truth about the situation and surrendered the business to God; it was a very significant season for our family. It was tough, but it had great value.
The next week we got a boat order that kept us alive, then another and another. It enabled us to make it through the hardest season in Regal’s life.
EW: I’m sure you faced other challenges?
TK: We had a lot of debt at one time and the bank was here nearly every week, because we were special (laughing). We decided at that time that the old proverb, “The debtor is the lender’s slave,” was true and we were living it. We determined to get out of debt and have been since the late 90s. We may give up some of the upside of business, but we didn’t want to be in that place again. One day, we may have to borrow, but haven’t yet.
EW: You alluded to how faith plays a role in your business; I also saw it in your mission statement. How is that woven into the DNA of the business, and frankly, how does that work?
TK: It is something that is foundational to my brother and me. We see the business as a stewardship, that it isn’t about ‘us.’ Fundamentally we are in the people business; our employees, our dealers and our customers – we want to treat each group like we would want to be treated and building boats is sort of the means of doing that. We don’t want to impose anything on people but we want to demonstrate we care.
My dad used to say, ‘We work hard, but a lot of people work just as hard, but don’t enjoy what we have been able to produce.’ We recognize it is by God’s grace, so we want to share that blessing.
EW: You have a slogan, ‘We’re in the people business and we build great boats.’ How do you instill that sense of craftsmanship in your people?
TK: We engage them in the process, make them a part of solutions, help them understand the customer and see the finished products, so that they are working with the end in mind. We want to invest in our people and their development, because if they don’t go to the next level, we won’t.
EW: You’ve worked with your brother all your life. How did that relationship evolve, how did you arrive at roles, and how do you keep the egos in check?
TK: Yes, family business isn’t easy; many of our dealers are multi-generational family businesses. With Duane and me, it is a little bit like a marriage, where it matures with time. As we get older, tension lessens and there is a greater appreciation for the gifts and talents that the other brings to the table. Evolve is a good word; it is significant that we share a common set of core values, which causes us to consider each other and to work through challenges. As brothers, our temperaments are very different.
EW: How did your dad prepare you or train you for executive leadership?
TK: He basically lived the messages he wanted us to learn. It was more caught than taught; he wasn’t so much a coach, as he was an example, not only for us but for others. Plus he gave us a lot of latitude to learn, make mistakes and fail, which helped us along the way. He created sandboxes for us to play in.
EW: With over 20 boat models, what goes into the process of introducing a new one?
TK: We consider our dealer network worldwide and ask the question, ‘Where are there holes in our product offering?’ There is a continuous evolution, so we constantly remind ourselves that the past isn’t the future. Long-term product development plans aren’t realistic, because the market changes. For instance, we recently launched a 32-ft. bowrider into a market that didn’t exist a few years ago; no one had one and people said, ‘You’re kidding.’ Now there are a half dozen companies in the U.S. that build a 32-ft. bowrider.
EW: There were some milestones that were obstacles you overcame; what were the milestones of strategic decisions that took you to another level?
TK: They were more incremental than monumental. In the early ‘80s, we came out with an express cruiser; we were one of the first companies to have this. That began to shape the brand, and we later introduced the 36-ft. and it became the bestselling 36-ft. in the market. We built the first non-racing, step bottom boat, where the bottom is on two planes; one for slower speed and one for faster, which improves speed and fuel efficiency.
EW: Where are you looking now?
TK: We are looking to capture a younger market and would like to be considered best among premium brands. The younger demographic hasn’t been our target in the past but it is now. But our goal is for people to buy and then grow with us versus another brand.
EW: Your largest manufacturing plant is right where you got started: Orlando. How does that work to your advantage?
TK: We have a plant in Valdosta, which is a good location, but not too many people want to travel to Valdosta to see a boat. But Orlando, everyone wants to come here, so it makes a great location for doing business.
EW: What do you see as the keys to long-term growth and success?
TK: 1) Assemble a great team. There’s no avoiding that. 2) Know your business; have the pulse of what is happening within your company and what’s happening in the marketplace. 3) Know where you’re going. It is just like a boat trip I recently took; we had a destination and had to navigate to get there. 4) Robust distribution, preferably international distribution. 5) Know your product. My brother and I are both avid boaters; we love the products we build, and we love to use them. I recently had dinner with four couples, all of which were customers; it was invaluable.
We’re not smart enough to predict the market, so if you are financially sound, you can see far enough ahead to strategically respond.