NauticStar was founded in 2002 by Phil Faulkner, the company’s president. Faulkner has a great deal of experience in the boating industry, having worked in his family’s retail boat dealership until 1987, when he sold the business and went to work creating bass-fishing boats. “That’s where the seed was planted,” Faulkner said. “Coming from that retail background, I understand from the dealers’ perspective what they’re dealing with and what features are most important.”
Eventually, with the bass-fishing market slowing somewhat, Faulkner sold the business to an investment group and exited the industry — until he saw an opportunity he couldn’t resist in bay boats. Bay boats are fast, shallow-water crafts that are usually designed with the pilot’s console in the center of the deck, and they are especially popular in coastal areas. “Where the fresh-water fishing market had slowed down, bay boats were a growing concept,” Faulkner said.
So, assembling much of the same team he had at his previous company, Faulkner got NauticStar underway. Today, the company has about 120 employees who work out of two manufacturing facilities located on the same site in Amory, Mississippi. “We’re probably the biggest manufacturer of bay boats in the country now,” Faulkner stated proudly.
Building the Fleet
But Faulkner hasn’t put all of his eggs in one basket — or all of his anchors in one boat, as it were. “We’ve also gotten into offshore-style boats, and we’re doing really well in outboard deck boats,” he noted. As Faulkner explained, outboard deck boats are also built for shallow waters, but these family-size boats can accommodate more passengers than a runabout-style craft.
In the past, sport and recreational boats such as these would have included a great deal of wood — from paneling and trims to hull reinforcements. Now, though, NauticStar has gone completely wood-free in its designs. “The customer expects more now,” Faulkner confirmed. “The biggest problem with wood on a boat — even if it’s encapsulated in glass — is moisture encroachment. That adds weight to the boat and the possibility of delamination. These boats are fairly expensive. When you’re talking about a $50,000 investment, people don’t want anything that could risk that investment.”
To maximize the value of its customers’ investments, NauticStar has gone to a 100 percent composite-materials design for all of its boats. “We provide a lifetime hull warranty,” he continued. “When you do that, you’ve got to use all composites. … It’s a much longer warranty than most of our competitors do, and you have to minimize warranty risks. We even use composites in the upholstery we buy from our vendors.”
Delivering the highest possible quality and value to the customer has allowed NauticStar to quickly become an industry leader, as Faulkner pointed out. “Without question, our designs are very innovative,” he said. “We just introduced our XTS series of bay boats, which feature hull designs that are very quick-planing in shallow water. People really like that.”
The look of a NauticStar boat is one of its selling points as well. In fact, one of the company’s marketing slogans is “See Us Shine” — a reference to the gleam of a NauticStar boat on the water. “The gelcoat we use on our boats is extremely attractive,” Faulkner said. “People notice that shine.”
Steering the Ship
Another fact that makes NauticStar stand out — especially among retailers — is the company’s independent ownership. “From the dealer standpoint, they get a quick response from us, particularly when they are looking for an answer regarding a product question, dealing with a warranty issue or suggesting a product for us to pursue,” Faulkner said. “We are very attentive and easy to reach. Dealers appreciate that, and I think they know we appreciate them. They know the dedication that goes into our products.”
The company’s independent ownership also translates into faster times to market for new products. “When we see a need in the market, our response time is much quicker for us to be able to address that need,” Faulkner explained, adding that he and the rest of the company’s senior decision-makers take an active role in plotting NauticStar’s course.
Navigating the Waters
As a trusted partner on that journey, NAC has been with NauticStar from the very beginning. In fact, Faulkner’s association with NAC goes back even further — to Plastic Sales, a Nashville, Tennessee-based company that NAC acquired in 1995. “I dealt with the Pitts family and Plastic Sales from 1987 until 2000,” Faulkner recalled. “In fact, Howard Pitts was one of the first suppliers I had consulted with back in the ’80s when I formed my first company. He was a good person to seek advice from, and he was instrumental in helping us get our foot in the door.”
Faulkner’s association with the Pitts family continued through the NAC acquisition, with Howard Pitts’ son Butch and his son-in-law Don Lockridge among the NAC employees who have worked with Faulkner and NauticStar through the years. “They’re good people,” Faulkner affirmed. “We’ve had a great relationship with them for many years, and they’ve always been good to do business with.”
The current steward of the NauticStar/NAC relationship is John Shannon, NAC area sales representative, who has been working with NauticStar for the past five years. The reputation and respect NauticStar has earned in the boating industry start at the very top of the company, Shannon stated. “What sets NauticStar apart is its people,” he said. “Phil Faulkner has exceptional business acumen and really good leadership skills. This has allowed the company to not only survive but to thrive. He has assembled a team of industry professional with decades of experience who share his vision for the company.”
Shannon cited the depth of NAC’s resources in both material supply and technical expertise as value that NAC brings to the table for NauticStar. “Our customer-service personnel in Nashville are quite possibly the best in the industry,” Shannon declared. “NAC is responsive to what NauticStar asks us for — whatever the need is. NauticStar has a vision for the future, and our job is to supply the product and technical support necessary for them to realize that vision.”
NauticStar’s growth figures serve to illustrate the continued success of that vision. The company experienced 20 percent growth in 2012 — a time when the overall boating market “had only single-digit growth at best,” as Faulkner described. As of August 2013, he added, NauticStar’s latest sales figures show that the company has experienced a further 27 percent growth over last year’s totals.
“We have good product innovation, and we’re zeroing in on the areas of the country where we know these products sell,” Faulkner said. After an aggressive introduction of seven new models this past July, Faulkner noted that NauticStar is increasing production approximately 20 percent during the offseason and will premiere a couple of new offshore-style boats in the coming season as well. “This will help roll out the newly introduced models,” he explained. “We’ve got a backlog of orders into February.”
And, with planning and production underway for 2014 and beyond, Faulkner is confident about NauticStar’s continued good prospects. “Past Labor Day is certainly not our peak season, but our dealers are stocking heavily,” he said. “Based on the sales they’ve gotten in the last few months, I think we’re in good shape. We’re expecting high demand once boat-show season comes back around.”