Young compoany has high hopes for sport boast Technology includes electric motors, stabilizing mechanism

March 24, 1998|By newport news daily press

YORK, Va. - Until August, Lt. Col. Scott Anderson oversaw the construction of F-22s, the Air Force's next generation of fighter planes.

Then Anderson retired to command the construction of sport boats - canoe-shaped boats with electric motors and a stabilizing mechanism that, when lowered, keeps them stable in the water.

The next generation of canoes, if you will.

"Look at this. You can't do this in a canoe or small fishing boat," Anderson said, standing up in the Blackhawk model floating in a tank in his store. "You can fish standing up in a sport boat, and this thing is great to maneuver through narrow spots. It's the best of all worlds."

Anderson is president of Colonial Sport Boats, a fledgling Williamsburg, Va.-area operation looking to use the sport boats - which went on sale to the public several months ago - to expand its operations.

Anderson and Denny Barker, president of Prime Ventures and Colonial Outdoors Inc. - Colonial Sport Boats' parent company and its retail sporting goods arm, respectively - are negotiating to open a manufacturing operation in the James River Commerce Center this spring.

Retail facility planned

The two also are scouting several spots between Williamsburg and Richmond to construct a 100,000-square-foot retail facility. There is no firm timetable on when that might happen, since the move will be conditioned on how well the sport boats sell, Anderson said.

The company operates out of an approximately 3,000-square-foot store near Busch Gardens, in a shopping center that straddles the James City and York County lines.

Observers think the company has a shot at hooking part of the inland fishing and boating market.

"The idea of a canoe with outriggers like this goes far back into history, but they've taken modern technology and turned it into a pretty neat product," said Jeff Halvorson, manager of Boater's World in Hampton, Va.

Boater's World, the second- largest discount boating chain in the country, sells boating supplies and some small crafts. Halvorson, who saw the sport boats last summer, said the biggest problem will be convincing skeptics that it works.

"People are going to be conservative," Halvorson said. "They might think it's a gizmo, that it's a neat idea that won't really work. That's what they've got to overcome."

Jim Baugh, whose Midlothian-based production company sponsors a weekly outdoors program on broadcast, cable and regional sports networks inside and outside Virginia, has tested the boat.

"They've been able to come up with a product that works, and one that fills a niche no one else has," said Baugh, who has a contract with Colonial Sport Boats to market the product on his show. "One great thing is you're right on top of the fish. There isn't much between you and the water."

The sport boats, made of aluminum and stainless steel, run on an electric motor, can go between 6 and 8 knots, have padded seats and attached cupholders. They can carry up to 600 pounds, Anderson said. The company lists the boats' fuel-efficient shapes, maneuverability and need for less energy than traditional fishing boats as advantages.

Cost: $1,000 to $3,000

With the flick of a switch, two aluminum cylinders, known as pontoons, lower on either side of the boat. The boat's driver can steer and control its speed with pedals. One model is painted in camouflage colors for duck hunters.

The boats sell for between $1,000 and $3,000. That is more expensive than many of the flat-bottomed, aluminum boats typically used for inland fishing but far less expensive than many bigger motorized boats.

"I set out to design my ultimate fishing boat, and something that was still affordable for the average person," said Barker, who founded Prime Ventures in 1995 and opened the retail store in July 1997.

Prime Ventures has been making the sport boats for about a year. At the start, the company sold 10 of them and then cut off sales to get customer feedback. In October, the company opened sales again, with an emphasis on the 1998 market. The boat is at the front of Colonial Outdoors' store, prominent in the displays of other sporting goods.

Scott Anderson was one of the first customers. Impressed, he later became an investor in Prime Ventures. Colonial Sport Boats, under Anderson's direction, was founded in September as a separate arm of the parent company.

As for immediate expansion plans, company officials are meeting with a developer for the James River Commerce Center, a state-designated enterprise zone. Their real estate broker, Janice Brown of Diversified Investment Realty, said she is working out rent and other details but is optimistic the deal will come through. She estimated Colonial Sport Boats could open a manufacturing operation there in early summer.

If the company were to meet certain criteria - such as a $1 million investment in the commerce center or creating a certain number of local jobs - they could qualify for incentives in the enterprise zone. "We would encourage them to do that," said Keith Taylor, James City County's economic development director. "We're looking to attract companies like that to the area."

Barker sees the move as part of a far bigger growth pattern.

"The dream is to have franchises across the country," Barker said. "So we'll see how things go."

Pub Date: 3/24/98

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