Lakeshore, Manufacturing, and Sports Business

Watercraft maker navigates $7.5M expansion

November 4, 2014
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Watercraft maker navigates $7.5 expansion
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A maker of small boats, canoes, kayaks, paddleboards, portable toilets and other plastic retail products is planning a $7.5-million expansion that will create 60 jobs.

Unmet demand

Last year, Ameriform in Muskegon was forced to turn away orders due to lack of capacity.

The company currently produces 36 million pounds worth of plastic products a year.

“We were oversold last year,” said Dan Harris, VP of sales, Ameriform. “We couldn’t supply all our customers products they wanted. We turned away a lot of business.”

Markets

Ameriform makes products that are sold by sporting goods retailers throughout the country, including MC Sports, Walmart, Dunham’s, Meijer and Sports Authority.

It also exports products to 35 countries.

“We are probably one of the larger exporters in West Michigan,” Harris said.

He said portable toilet sales make up about 50 percent of the company’s business, and the products are exported widely, particularly to China and South America.

“With the boats, we actually assemble products in seven different countries. But we manufacture here,” he added.

The expansion

To keep up with the growing demand and to introduce more products, the company is investing in two additional vacuum forming machines, another extrusion machine and upgrades to its rotational molding machines.

Harris said Ameriform will also likely upgrade its office and warehouse space, as well as lease additional warehouse space.

He said the company employs 260 employees.

The new expansion-related jobs will primarily be assembly and machine operator positions.

Growth trend

Ameriform has seen tremendous growth since 2010, as a result of introducing less-expensive product lines.

“We’ve created a new market for recreational kayaking by manufacturing an entry-level line of products that more people are able to get into — that may not have gotten into two or three years ago,” Harris said.

The less-expensive line, which retails for between $199 and $259, has helped the company grow market share.

Since 2010, the company has also seen a 44-percent increase in its portable toilet sales and its small boats business has doubled.

Harris said vertical integration has given the company a slight advantage in a very competitive environment.

The company does everything in house.

“A lot of our designs come from a napkin sketch,” Harris said. “It goes to the graphic designers, and they come up with the accessories they want on the kayak and the shape and length, and then it goes into engineering, where they put it into CAD, to make sure we can actually manufacture what the sales people want. Then we go to tooling.

“Because of that vertical integration, we can be a little more competitive than some of the other manufacturers out there. Between that and adding more accessories as standard items on our units, it gets people into the sport economically.”

Recreation

Harris’ father founded Ameriform in 1981. The company began with one paddleboat and expanded from there.

Today, Harris and his three brothers, Ken, Tom and Dave, run the company. All four of them spend their free time enjoying outdoor recreation activities.

“Paddle boarding is probably my favorite and kayaking,” he said. “Same with my brothers, we all have kayaks and paddleboards. It’s a really fun business to be in.”

Ameriform employees are also encouraged to take advantage of the company’s products.

“Every employee can take any product home any time they want and use it,” Harris said. “The only requirement is they give us feedback, what their likes and dislikes were, on any of our products. On a Friday afternoon in the summer, you will see a lot of cars and trucks pull out of here with products on them.”

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