For Robb Young, owner and founder of Young Boats, Inc., life has always revolved around the water. In high school, Young's father owned a bait and tackle shop at Clearwater Marina and also captained a commercial fishing boat. Young and his brothers grew up fishing and spent a lot of time on boats. While in college, at Florida Tech, Young would come home for the weekends and holidays and fish commercially on his father's boat. To say that Young was destined to do something in the boating and/or fishing industry is a massive understatement.
Young's original plan, after graduating from Florida Tech with his Master’s in Ocean Engineering and Naval Architecture, was to go to work for a boat manufacturer, learn the industry and then decide what to do from there. Things didn't quite go as planned. "I knew I wanted to build boats. My passion has always been on the water. I had a bunch of interviews lined up and one of my thesis advisers from school, Charlie Morgan, said, 'You don't need to go work for someone else'. He encouraged me to do my own thing and start my own business. With his guidance, he helped me design my first boat, the Young 20, right out of college. With that, I moved back home to Crystal River and got to work."
Young lived with his parents to save money. He also continued to work as a commercial fisherman and saved as much as he could for his new business. Young found a great location in Inglis, just north of Crystal River, with access to the water and lower impact fees than nearby Citrus County. He started off with a 40' x 50' metal building, just big enough to build one boat. Young explained what happened next, "With the money I made commercial fishing, I was able to build our first prototype. We took the boat to three different boat shows, hoping to spark some interest, but got nowhere. No one wanted to take a risk on a new flats boat. Our luck changed when an old school charter captain placed an order. He said our boat fit his needs. Being a highly respected boat captain, his order caught the attention of a lot of people. From there, the orders picked up and we sold four boats in our first two years."
For the first three years, Young Boats consisted of Young and one other employee. After year three, they expanded to another building with more room. It was around this time, when Young gave up commercial fishing and fully committed himself to Young Boats. They increased their presence at boat shows and yearly production went from four to six and then eight. In 2003, Young built a second building and then, in 2007, he built a third. Up until 2007, the Young 20 was the only boat they built. Seeing an opportunity to reach a bigger market, Young started to build different models. He also added, out of necessity, a new service outside of building custom boats.
"In 2007 and 2008, we saw a big downturn in new sales," he said. "We had to do something to keep revenue coming in, so we got into restoration and repair. It's harder work than building new boats but it taught us a lot. When dissembling older boats, you get to see what held up, what worked and what didn't. At first, we had to market our new services. Today, that work constantly comes in. It now makes up half of our business."
As of May of 2018, Young Boats has approximately 20 employees and builds 30 boats a year. Included in those 20 employees is Dante Young, Young's wife and vice president of the company. She spends two days a week in the office and the rest of her time raising the couple's four kids. Future plans include spending more time in the office when the kids get older.
We asked Young about the future of Young Boats. "Moving forward, the plan is to separate the custom boat building business from the restoration and repair business," he said. "We're constructing a fourth building dedicated to Young Restoration. We want that part of the business to be self-sustaining. We'll have a separate crew and office. That's our two to three year goal. Our long term goal is to keep new products in front of our loyal customer base. In this business, you have to develop new technology and new options to keep from getting stagnant. All of our models are developed by listening to what our customers want."
Young offers up some great advice for aspiring entrepreneurs. "What worked for me was to keep my job as a commercial fisherman, while I built out Young Boats, as a way to have some income coming in. I also tried to keep overhead down as much as possible. It's important to try to develop your product with a minimal amount of investment. Do as much as you can yourself to keep costs down. I did this and it was great because when I finally had employees, I knew how to do everything. I also can't stress enough the importance of customer satisfaction. Every decision you make should be focused on what is going to make your customer happy. The happier your customers are, the more likely they are to stick around. In the end, that's also less marketing dollars you'll have to pay out."