by Dale DuPont
Updated 2 yearss ago
Brothers John and Warren Luhrs — scions of a New Jersey family whose boat-building heritage extends back to the 1800s in Germany — were building power boats in the 1960s when they decided to expand into sailboats and founded Hunter Marine in Alachua in the early 1970s.
Over nearly four decades, Hunter sailboats developed a reputation as reliable, good-buyfor- the-money craft. "Everything was rolling along fairly well until the recession/depression in 2008 and 2009," says John Peterson, who had joined Hunter in 1994 and become president in 2007.
When the downturn hit, the Luhrs power boat makers began to founder along with a flotilla of marine manufacturing companies across the nation. In 2012, the Luhrs sought Chapter 11 protection for the parent company that owned both the power boat companies and Hunter. The power boat operations, which included a trawler manufacturer called Mainship, ceased operations temporarily.
Hunter remained viable, accounting for 32% of new sailboat registrations in the U.S. But as a child of the parent firm Hunter had to suffer through the reorganization along with the power boat firms.
"I believe if Hunter were a separate company, we probably wouldn't have had to go through what we went through," Peterson says.
In 2012, David Marlow, head of Marlow Yachts in Palmetto, bought Hunter and some assets of Luhrs and Mainship for $1.9 million. He kept Mainship but has since sold Luhrs.
Now renamed Marlow-Hunter, the sailboat operation is operating with 160 employees, down from the 430 it had in 2006-07. It now makes fewer than half of the 800 15-foot to 26-foot boats and 700 28-foot to 50-foot keel boats it once produced. Prices range from $7,000 to half a million. The company has introduced new 37-foot and 40-foot models.
"Month to month, we've got our head above water," says Peterson, who guided the restructuring. Marlow, he says, "is a real stickler beyond belief in terms of attention to detail and quality. We have someone that's Committed to the long-term viability of the company and the brand."
Meanwhile, Marlow is trying to rejuvenate the trawler manufacturer, now called Marlow Mainship. The company has two models in production and plans to introduce two others at the Miami boat show in February, Marlow says.