Long Beach Boat Builders Ltd.
One day in 1999, Keith Boutillier needed a new boat. Born and bred in Cape Breton, Boutillier had spent his life fishing—so he decided to build one for himself. Evidently he had a knack for boat building, as people started asking him to build their boats as well. In 2000, Boutillier and partner Bruno Moelbert formed a company and incorporated Long Beach Boat Builders. From there, says Boutillier, “it just kind of snowballed.”
Long Beach Boat Builders are located along the scenic coast of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, where fishing boats dot the swelling waters. The company specializes in building custom boats, fibreglass and custom moulded, usually with an open style that is “sort of a hybrid between a cape island boat and a P.E.I style boat,” according to Boutillier. The company sells primarily commercial fishing boats in Nova Scotia, as well as to Maine, Quebec, and New Brunswick, and also builds recreational pleasure boats.
A fishing boat is the lifeblood of a fisherman so what sells a boat is its fundamental qualities. A well-made fishing boat can be clearly seen in the eye of fishing folk, and thankfully, word travels with weight in such a tight-knit industry. Says Boutillier, “We really like [our boats] and everyone that has them seems to really like them as well, so we get a lot of referrals. Word of mouth seems to work pretty well for us. Build a good product and it will get around.”
Long Beach Boats are custommade to the unique specifications of each customer, and generally range from 32 to 45 feet in length, with a beam range from 12-and-a-half to 15 feet. Boats are built by hand using custom molding, especially made by the company. Boutillier explains how they don’t finish anyone else’s mold; they specially use their own in the boat building process. The boats built by Boutillier and his small group of five employees are known for their high quality workmanship and unique operating style. The boats have a tendency to pick up slightly out of the water as they pick up speed.
Boutillier elaborates, “Our boats rise up out of the water and seem to have a bit of extra speed; our boats are one of the fastest ones around here, that is definitely is a selling point. The bigger Cape Island boats seem to plow a lot of water whereas ours seems to just come up and sit on the water; there is not as much friction so they drive better.” A fisherman himself since high school days, Boutillier has a valuable comprehension of what makes a great boat; something his clients clearly recognize.
Navigating the fish market
As Long Beach Boat Builders primary market is small commercial fishing boats, it naturally has been affected by the recent economic downturn. The price of seafood dropped significantly during the recession, in particular for shellfish such as lobster and crab—which are key products to Nova Scotia fishermen. “Our industry goes with the price of seafood; that’s what drives us,” says Boutillier, “When that plummeted so did the boat building.”
The price of boat building had to be dropped significantly as fishermen were making substantially less profits. Furthermore, there simply weren’t many folks looking to invest in a new boat during such tough times. Boutillier explains, “When your produce drops to half the price your spending has to be cut as well, and it’s not likely you’re going to spend the money on a new boat.” The drop had a noticeable effect on the company’s sales. “We’ve been building up to nine boats a year plus three or four kits, and we were down to two or three boats the last year or two,” he says.
Thankfully, a solid reputation and a quality product have carried the company through the storm. Says Boutillier, ”People like our style of boat, that’s what been keeping us going the last couple of years.” There is also a silver lining for the fishing industry: things are starting to look up. The price of crab rose moderately this year, and Boutillier remains optimistic that lobster will follow suit.
Growth and expansion
Beyond the recession, does Long Beach Boat Builders have any growth plans? Boutillier would like to expand more into the pleasure boat market, and is considering attending some major boat shows to highlight the product. The company is also a member of the Nova Scotia Boat Builders Association (NSBBA), which is an association actively involved in similar promotional activities highlighting the skills of boat builders in Nova Scotia. Boutillier notes that the association has been quite helpful over the years, “especially if you’re doing an export or anything like that.” The NSBBA, as profiled in the October issue of CBJ, act as a source of advice on industry specific issues such as how to export into the United States. Boutillier comments, “They have been very helpful over the years for things like that.”
Long Beach Boat Builders has created a positive reputation because of one major thing: quality workmanship. This alone will take the company through hard times and into a busy, profitable future.