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Sunday, April 28, 2013

Barry Berhoff - An Entrepreneur at Work

Barry Berhoff
Barry Berhoff - An Entrepreneur at Work

One of the key goals at Knots and Boats is to tell the stories that make up the boating community.  In fact, I can’t think of any other group that can stake claim to storytelling as much as the maritime community!

This week I got a chance to speak with Barry Berhoff, President of Shurhold Industries.  After using his products to great success, I was curious about the company and its history.  Unfortunately for all of us, it’s quite rare these days for a company to make a promise and keep it.  For me, Shurhold has done exactly that.

Barry did what I, as a boating enthusiast, should have done: he chose to go to college in Florida because he hoped to live there eventually, where boating is a year-round pursuit.  Smart, as he grew up boating in Chicago with his family.  However, his career didn’t turn to the marine trade right out of the gate. 

Armed with a marketing degree, he first found himself quite grounded with a retail project.  He and a colleague saw an opportunity in a defunct Home-Depot competitor with an 80,000 square foot vacant building.  With a little ingenuity, they turned the space into a shopping bazaar with a hundred small boutique shops.  By wearing many hats as landlord, advertising company, and promoter, he laid the foundation for what would become valuable business expertise. 

As is generally inexplicably true about the boating industry, Barry found himself at Shurhold serendipitously almost by accident.  Right around the same time as he was selling the shopping bazaar, a mutual friend let him know that the founder and then-owner of Shurhold Industries was selling.  So the timing worked out, and Barry gladly leapt on the opportunity to be in business alongside his beloved boating hobby.

One thing that drew Barry to Shurhold was his “mechanical knack for things.”  He liked the idea of manufacturing, having machinery, and working on products.

Initially, he had a long road ahead of him at Shurhold.  Barry admitted, “the gentleman who had started it and who I bought it from was in his 80s, and utilized zero technology…He was even printing UPS labels with a typewriter, and that was in 1998!”

There were no inventory controls, no computerization, no updated machinery, and no organization.  Barry admitted, “that’s where I focused my first several years…we didn’t touch the product or how we made the product.”  Instead, he spent time getting the business in order; running smoothly and efficiently.  “A lot of the hardship,” Barry recalled, “was just the learning curve of the business…I spent many nights and weekends fixing machinery all by myself, in the middle of the night, to make sure it would work the next day.”

One of the biggest leaps of faith he made was updating the machinery in the factory.  With some of the machines taking two years to custom build, it was a big financial commitment that had to be made without the level of business to support it.  Without the machines, Shurhold couldn’t grow, but there wasn’t enough growth to support the purchase of the machines.  Those were “scary times,” in Barry’s words.  But, as all entrepreneurs do, he got into the trenches and figured it out. 

Next, he launched into an expansion campaign that grew both the customer base and product selection.  “I felt that we had a really good start in a brand that people trusted,” Barry noted, “one in which we could tell our story of what we do for boaters to more people.”

By the time 2008 had rolled around, Barry had built an impressive world-wide business.  “The financial crash definitely hurt and caused us to look inward and refocus,” he said, “and at that point, it had become our second point of going through the business and streamlining,” so it was a pursuit that Barry was intimately familiar with.  But 2008 also served up an interesting lesson for the value proposition of the brand.

Although boaters were certainly spending less and avoiding some of the annual expenses, Barry realized that “they [boaters] couldn’t afford to let their boats sit and decay, even if they wanted to sell it, so I started realizing some of our values to our customers…it isn’t just our product, but the knowledge they need to take care of their craft.”

After that, Barry looked at ways to educate the community and provide them with knowledge.  Barry said, “I knew that if we continued to do that until they could afford [to get back into boating], they would look to us for the products they need to do so.”  That’s when Clean-N-SimpleTips was born, and those videos have garnered an international reaction.

When asked about his favorite tips, he reiterated the advice of how many coats of wax or polymer to apply.  “You need two,” he said forcefully, “one today, and one three to four months from today.”  I say forcefully because he feels quite strongly about competitors advising two or more coats of wax at a time.  “It’s disingenuous…one, they’re making sure you don’t miss any spots, which means they think their customers are inept, and two, they’re trying to sell more product,” he said.  It’s nice to know that someone’s looking out for those of us on the DIY system!

Then I asked a dreaded question to which every boater has the same answer:

K+B: So, how often do you get out on the boat?

BB: [With a chuckle] Depends on the time of year, but never as much as I would like!

In the summer, he gets in lots of evenings and weekends, but in winter—what with school for the kids, shorter daylight and rougher water—he doesn’t get out as much.  That response at least made me feel a little better about my forced New England sabbatical. 

So what’s next? Barry pondered:
I’ve never been a person to look that far ahead…I just take it one day at a time in general. I love what I do—being a boater, going to boat shows, talking to boaters—so I don’t foresee any reason to stop doing it. As far as the company, I love creating new products; we constantly have new products in development. There have been some flops, some home runs, but we keep putting it out there. But there’s nothing more exciting than walking the dock and seeing our new products on a boat.
If you haven't taken a look at Shurhold's repertoire of offerings, I encourage you to browse through their website and give Shurhold products a try.  And, the next time you see a shiny hull pass your way, you might just think a little more about the entrepreneurs that make our beloved boats sparkle.  
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