For nearly 40 years, Marine Concepts has served the marine industry and beyond with some of the most precise, high-quality composite tooling solutions available. Combining a talented, experienced workforce with innovative leadership, the company is hitting a new stride in 2015 as it begins to expand its offerings to an even wider range of markets. J. Robert Long, CEO of the company since 1994, sits down to talk about why his company’s reputation is currently at an all time high, and provides insight into the corporate culture that fuels success on an annual basis. Steve Engelhardt reports.
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Marine Concepts was originally founded in 1976 by Augusto “Kiko” Villalon, a Cuban immigrant who came to the United States with nothing but a $5 bill in his pocket. Realizing that there wasn’t a single design and development company that could take things from A-Z from a production standpoint, he built a team of design and molding specialists, and his company and its comprehensive approach to tooling projects quickly took off. Given their name and the professional background of their founder, the company initially grew itself through contracts with boating companies around Florida. However, given the company’s dynamic workforce and relative flexibility in what they could produce with their materials and equipment, Marine Concepts began to attract the attention of additional industries as well, highlighted by a partnership with the major ice cream chain, Twistee Treat, to build 85 22-foot ice cream cone shaped buildings, many of which are still in service today.
Growing a Vision
With a diversified portfolio, Marine Concepts had a new identity, and in 1994, when Villalon decided to step aside, the company had a new leader as well. Enter J. Robert Long, who along with his wife Karen, decided to purchase the company and take it to an even higher level, incorporating it within his corporate enterprise, JRL Ventures. Long, whose experience in the boating industry spans over 35 years, saw the potential in the company at the time and along with eventually moving Marine Concepts into a much bigger, more capable production facility in Sarasota, he also invested quite a bit into state-of-the-art CNC mills to allow them to deliver the possible work for their customers.
Now, over 20 years later, Marine Concepts has fulfilled Long’s initial vision, growing to the point where they now operate out of two facilities whose footprints total more than 350,000-square-feet, and standing as one of the largest and most respected design, engineering, and composite tooling companies in the United States.
In 2006 Long hired Matt Chambers and immediately promoted him to President. Matt worked diligently to diversify and expanded their reach to many other industries through the corporate enterprise JRL Ventures. This diversification allowed the company to grow substantially through non-marine customers such as: helicopter simulators, theme park attractions, truck and RV bodies and the wind energy sector. “Marine Concepts, and JRL Ventures by extension, is a composite manufacturer that really has no industry boundaries,” says Chambers, “When you look at the professional and trained designers, engineers, project managers, office staff, tooling artisans, and workers that we have assembled here over the years, there’s no size or volume request that we can’t handle.”
Committed to Quality
But let’s take a closer look into the factors that support Long’s words, beginning with the company’s design and engineering capabilities. While Marine Concepts isn’t in the business of manufacturing end products, the company is responsible for producing some of the highest quality patterns and plugs, molds and glassmasters, and various other CNC parts that often serve as critical foundational pieces in their customers’ products.
And in order to accomplish such, the company has devoted significant resources to ensuring that the initial design and engineering in their own products either matches or exceeds the demands expressed by their customers. “We understand the importance of ergonomics, workforce capabilities, functionality, and aesthetics that are necessary in the development of our customers’ products,” Chambers says, adding, “Whether it’s working from an idea, sketch, rendering, or preliminary CAD file, our team of industrial and mechanical designers can develop highly-engineered 3D CAD models utilizing the latest version of NX CAD/CAM software, which goes a long way in a project.”
As one can see, project management and quality control are at the heart of Marine Concepts’ success, and facilitating this is an expansive manufacturing presence that enables the company to have the level of autonomy over its operations that it needs.
Although Marine Concepts only opened its 300,000-square-foot facility in Sarasota in 2012, the facility is one that Long has been familiar with for quite some time. See, prior to coming to Marine Concepts, Long was President of Wellcraft Marine, one of the country’s most iconic boating companies over the last 50 years. “We had originally built this facility in Sarasota for Wellcraft, and a lot of great things were accomplished underneath its roof,” he says, continuing, “So when I came back around all these years later and saw the facility available for purchase, I knew it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.”
Manufacturing a Culture
The move has allowed the company to take on a much higher level of business, and inside it one can find the equipment, machinery, and production performance that one would expect out of a prominent, quality-based manufacturer like Marine Concepts. “We currently have seven 3-5 Axis CNC milling machines, and our CNC departments run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, allowing us to effectively meet any and all lead times for our customers.”
Supporting the Sarasota facility is the corporate headquarters in Cape Coral, whose combined 50,000-square-feet allow for increased milling operations when orders run high, which occurs more often than not. However, Long says that while the plant space and state-of-the-art equipment is critical to their success, perhaps even more so is the experience and dedicated attitudes possessed by their workforce. “We have employees in management and on the plant floor that have been with us for 20 or 30 years now, and what it’s created is a culture inside our facilities where people really care about their work and the end product,” says Long.
While Marine Concepts isn’t the most expensive option in the market, because of their commitment to quality they’re certainly not the cheapest either. But Long is perfectly fine with that. “I learned long ago in the boat business that cutting corners and trying to deliver a cheap product may deliver short term success, but it never lasts,” he says, adding that Marine Concepts has built itself up to the point where “Our service and quality is worth paying for, just ask any of our customers.”
And as the company diversifies its markets further, including a recent expansion of business demand from North America’s automotive and energy industries, many more will begin to see this.