A conversation with Canada’s most successful fiberglass boat builder

Andy Adams

Feb 3, 2023

Periodically I have the privilege of doing a little brainstorming session on the phone with Brock Elliott, the man I consider to be Canada’s most successful fiberglass boat builder. Brock and his father Gordon made Campion Boats a mainstream brand with quality and features to compete with the top American boats and he did it from Kelowna, B.C.

Brock retired from the business a few years ago, successfully selling the enterprise before he headed to a life at his ski cabin in British Columbia.

With the knowledge and skill he had gained earlier in his career as a banker, Brock knew how to manage the dollars and keep the business going. In the last year or so, the new owners stopped production of Campion boats. It was a sad and significant loss for our industry, and I’m sure for Brock personally, even though he had made the decision to step away.

He’s always thinking about the business though, and we had an interesting conversation barely a month ago on the question of how marinas will be able to pay their technicians the rates we will need to pay them, to attract the new people into the industry.

We discussed some of the big issues like seasonality, seasonal layoffs, real estate and housing challenges, the complexity of boat repair and mechanical tasks, and the fact that almost no two boats are alike. He commented that successful technicians need both education and experience and that overall, Canada’s demographics are working against us. Maybe the most valuable idea was that boats are a luxury discretionary market and we just have to price things where we have to price them.

The real estate side of it was definitely in Brock’s mind and he shared the idea that marinas might need a “perk” like a cabin, or some sort of living quarters, to help attract young people to get a start in the business. If you’ve got some sort of a place where a young person can live and train, you could get them coming out of high school and start them down the path. But you still have to pay them a competitive wage or they won’t stay.

Brock commented that the price of boats have increased dramatically in recent times. His Campion 542 with a 150 used to sell under $50,000 and now it’s $70k.

His observation was that we’re stuck with higher prices. The prices will not drop given all the rising costs for materials, labour, and probably the rising expectations of the buyers for sophisticated equipment, specialized features and strong performance.

We need to be realistic about the market and consumer expectations if we want to continue to be successful. Looking back, Brock did a remarkable job of running Campion Marine and keeping it competitive with the top brands. It’s sad to think the company is gone now, but last week at the Toronto International Boat Show, I noticed a number of sales reps on the show floor who still have a Campion logo on their business cards.

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