Golden Boatlifts CEO Bill Golden

BY: JEAN GRUSS, EDITOR/LEE-COLLIER (BUSINESS OBSERVER)

December 18, 2015

Bill Golden started his boatlift company in 1996 and projects $15 million in sales this year. Photo by Brian Tietz
Bill Golden's last name seems especially appropriate when you consider his humble roots. 

Bill Golden

 

As a young welder looking for work, Golden drove from his home in New Jersey to Fort Myers in 1979 towing a welding machine behind his truck. "I came here with a nickel in my pocket," he says.

Today, boat owners from around the globe seek out Golden's boatlifts, the motorized aluminum dockside cradles that gently lift boats out of the corrosive water. Golden Boat Lifts will post revenues of $15 million this year and the North Fort Myers company will grow another 20% next year, he says.

Golden started his company in 1996 and built it without outside investors, reinvesting the profits into the business. New equipment is always on his Santa Claus list. "Every year I try to buy something nice for Christmas," he smiles, patting a newly acquired machine now part of the $1 million in equipment in his 40,000-square-foot facility.

Golden's facility in an industrial park north of the Caloosahatchee River crackles with welders putting together some of the world's most advanced boatlifts. For example, he's building seven giant boatlifts for the government of Qatar that will accommodate 50-foot boats on a floating dock designed and patented by Golden's friend, Bonita Springs Mayor Ben Nelson.
Each lift and floating dock costs $80,000.

With a staff of about 60 people, Golden Boat Lifts manufactures about 2,500 boatlifts a year. About 20% of sales are international, mostly to Europe and the Middle East and Africa. "I've had people sending me hundreds of thousands of dollars without meeting me," says Golden, who ships out of the Port of Miami and is paid up front.

But Golden is a relentless networker. He maintains a grueling travel schedule, promoting the company in at least 20 boat shows a year, huge multi-day affairs in locations as exotic as Dubai. In addition, he takes another 20 trips around the U.S. and overseas to meet face to face with dealers and distributors.

Golden's pricing is easy to figure out: He charges about $1 a pound. So a lift for a 10,000-pound boat costs about $10,000.

Golden started his company in 1996 after working for others with the idea that he could build a better boatlift. "We cater to people who want quality products," says Golden. They already own expensive boats and they don't want them sitting in the water getting corroded, so they're willing to pay for a reputable lift.

Golden has two boat-lift designers on staff and he's engineered his own stainless steel, grease-filled gear boxes that have the torque to lift large boats out of the water. He's sold more than 18,000 gearboxes with zero failures, he says.

The company continues to explore other avenues of growth. For example, it has developed lifts for kayaks and personal watercraft. It's also making dockside tiki huts out of aluminum crafted to look like bamboo and plastic palm fronds that look like the real thing.

Three years ago, the company obtained ISO certification. Considered the holy grail of manufacturing, the rigorous certification ensures consistency, efficiency and quality and is considered essential for international business.

"I know what a good weld is," says Golden, who pays welders as much as $30 an hour and trains his own staff because they're so hard to find and recruit. Senior employees also get rewarded with stock ownership.

Like most of the marine industry, Golden suffered a sales drop during the downturn. Golden cut his staff's salary by 10% during the downturn, but promised to repay them the difference if they could boost efficiency. They did and no one suffered a pay cut in the end, creating employee loyalty. "Now I'm so busy I'm happy to have the guys," he says.