I guess we all can't be Allstars!
I guess we are not all meant to be Allstars!
Last year was a tough year for Foamie Friends. Sunshine Industries lost 3/4 of their workforce. As a result, the majority of production was put back on me. While I had planned to go big early in the year expanding my current operation, I now had to scale back my plans and make sure my Current retailers had all the stock they needed. Thousands invested in foam, rubber dip, and supplies back from Sunshine had me overstocked in supplies, and really tight on cash flow. I have no problem not getting paid for many tasks of making Foamie Boaters. But not getting paid, and not having funds for regular business expenses and to help the family really took a toll on me. After getting back from a Colorado family trip in June, I spent the rest of the year making Foamies at a feverish pace. I launched my new Premium Foamies with skirts and lifejackets. By the time I had production back in line, unfortunately the season was over. After getting sick and having to leave Gauleyfest in 2018 only hours after getting there, I just hoped I could get through this year without issue. Thankfully Scott Mills helped me out with the booth, and Gauleyfest went great. I was feeling better and even got some time volunteering and hanging out with some of the AW staff. Finally I felt like I was starting to get back on track. The next weekend was GAF at NOC. It is always a great way to catch up with customers and friends I never seem to see much anymore. Being set up right outside the front door keeps you plenty busy, but not having to work sales makes it much less stress overall. The whole Jackson clan was there. I was catching up with Kristine telling her about my production loss at Sunshine and my year in general. She immediately thought of things to try, and while I was not able to capitalize on anything she said, it was nice to have her enthusiasm pushing to help me. She, and Jackson in general, have been so supportive of my business; buying boats and even sharing them with their retailers. It's nice to see the big guy help the little guy out. It’s always great to see Nick and Emily's kids playing in the display and Clay always manages to expand my knowledge of Foamies every time I talk to him. Its awesome how the Whitewater community is small enough to really be a community. I mentioned to Kristine that I had never met Eric. My booth at Gauleyfest stares out at their RV and you can watch the onslaught of people greeting and meeting him there. After watching the guy talk to droves of people for hours and hours I always felt the need to just leave him alone. Well Kristine took care of that for me cause 5 minutes later EJ's at my display. He was really nice and fully present when talking to me. It was cool to see his perspective on my foamies. Soon he was telling me of the toy molds he made years back. I had always heard of the Jackson Foamie Boater, but never saw one, not even in pictures. He told me about a vendor at a Rotomolding trade show that popped out toy kayaks every 15 minutes. He then told me that he would be happy to license Jackson's molds to me for a reasonable fee. While I had looked into injection molding 5 years back or so, I had never considered Rotomolding Foamie Kayaks. He also made me a great deal on his resin, which saved me money and time not having to grind and color resin. My brain was on fire and I was off to educate myself with the process of Rotational molding. In 6 weeks I had spent several hundred hours researching Rotomolding and was able to acquire 2 tabletop rotational molder. These were small tabletop units that technical schools would use to teach the process of rotational molding. They were real hard to find and I was thrilled that I was able to acquire them. I was soon harassing Eric to take me up on his offer from GAF. Eric made sure I was fully taken care of. He got me in contact with John "Shep" Sheppard, Jackson's Rotomolding guru. Shep took care of everything from there. I soon had 2 foamie molds, people I could ask technical questions, and several hundred pounds of resin. I was pushing full steam ahead. While the Allstar mold fit perfectly in my tabletop molder, the Journey (touring kayak) did not as it was too long. I thought I'd just get a bigger oven down the road, and focused on Allstar production. The rotational molding process while not being too overly complex has many factors that need to all be correct in order to get boat to turn out. I was initially overwhelmed with pinhole issues at the parting line. With technical help from Leif at Jackson, I got back on track and started getting some good boats made. Turns out I needed some "Spray Enhancer". This is a patented product (had to sign a NDA to buy it!), some kind of polymer that increases flow of molten plastics. It's definitely not the product you get when you Google the words spray Enhancer! I still had some design hurdles to overcome weighting and filling vent hole formed from the rotomolding process. I felt like things were really starting to happen. Unfortunately I wasn't able to pop out a boat every 15 minutes, it took me more like 50-65 minutes by time you baked on Spray Enhancer, Cooked, and cooled boat. With room for 2 molds per oven, I thought I just needed more molds to make it work. I began to scour the country trying to find a reasonably priced option for molds. The best I came up with was $5400 for 4 molds. By the time I got those mold prices, I realized I would really need 5 more molds, 6 total, in order to have an efficient workflow. I didn't have the cash for the 4 molds, so 6 surely weren’t happening. I started thinking of cheaper options. Several years back I chatted with a fellow paddler Bart Harvey out in New Mexico. He knows all about making and pouring molds and does foundry work pouring aluminum for various artworks, raft frames, etc. Years back he was able to answer a ton of questions for me, so I decided to hit him up again and see if he could pour me some aluminum molds dirt bag style. While he had never done that before, he was open to it and said he'd give it a shot. A week or so later he asked if we could include his friend Dan Keith in the adventure. Dan is a world of knowledge. He was able to help with the more complex parts of processes like making cope and drag. That would make the mold of the mold that Bart could pour for me if that makes sense. Dan is an amazing individual who has mastered so many skills that range from saddle making, to foundry work, to way too many things to list. When I say foundry work, I don't mean tabletop statues. He poured new train wheels that are as tall as he is for a local group restoring a train. Makes life sized statues, and seems to know about every way plastic can be used, formed, or manufactured. While he had the skills to make me what I asked for, he also had the brainpower to know what I was asking for wasn't the best way for me to move forward. He was always pretty subtle. He would ask me a few questions, then offer some suggestions. At first I was on such a mission to rotomold that I didn't fully consider his suggestions and pushed his ideas aside as I wanted to push forward to try and make molds. I knew he and Bart could bring mold costs down to make something happen so why would I just completely change direction. I was thinking if I was to make new molds, why not make a more current model than the Allstar. I reached out again to Eric to now to see if we could maybe make a Rockstar Foamie happen. Turns out that was the week he launched his new company. He was a little busy so I never heard back which is completely understandable. The next couple weeks I worked on overcoming some more design issues, and figured I'd soon be harassing Emily or Clay since Eric was no longer at Jackson. It was at this point the things Dan mentioned were finally starting to sink in. I delved deeper into them and would soon come to the realization that even in the best-case scenario, Rotomolding wouldn’t work out. I would just be chained to the oven, instead of the sander and paint booth. Labor cost was just too high. While labor cost alone was enough to kill the idea for me; the fact that every time you changed boat design or even wanted to make minor tweak, you would need new molds. There’s a lot of pressure to get everything right the 1st time in that process. I think I have changed design of my boats 50 times or more in last 6.5 years. Then the final blow was when a roll issue crept up on me with the Allstar. Even if I could get the design right on new molds, if I messed up anything it could be fatal business wise and is definitely not a good business plan. I now had to face the fact I lost 2-3 months and 3 grand invested (should be able to get half back when I sell equipment), but really saved myself long-term. At the end of the day it was better to chase new, more current, technology, then to chase manufacturing techniques of the 1970's and 1980's. While Rotomolding is the best process for real big things, making it work at the micro level was a lot harder and proved to be a failure for me. While emotionally a part of me still feels sorry that I wasn't able to make this happen, my logic side of my brain just said I avoided a disaster. I am thankful to the Jackson clan for trying to help me out. They are great ambassadors to the boating community. If they wouldn't have provided me this opportunity, I would have never met Dan or been able to transition my business the way I am now. Dan had had a dramatic impact on my life and business and with his help; I’m taking Foamie Boating to the next level. While it's a bit ironic that the transformation of my business comes at the exact time Covid-19 comes out to destroy it. I'm still fairly optimistic of what the future will hold and will be rolling out new products soon. We currently are wrapping up testing and hope to start production real soon. Maybe Mid May if all goes well to be for sale online. I hope to be ready for retailers later in June. I have always had lots of cool ideas, but have lacked the technical skills to implement them. With Dan helping me out, my ideas are becoming realities and I can't wait to share them with the world. It's like a Foamie Field of Dreams; I feel like if I build them, they (the customers) will come. Hopefully with support of my current customers, retailers, and the boating community in general, I can make this dream come true. So be sure to remember while we all can't be Allstars, just trying to be one may be enough to get you where you need to go.
Jack of all trades, Master of Foamie Boaters