STEADY COURSE: A strong focus on customer service has kept Warren’s Zim Sailing profitable in a competitive market, says Robert Adam, above right, vice president of sales and marketing. He’s pictured with owner Stephen F. Perry.
There’s more to sailing in Rhode Island than sun, sea breezes and drinks at the yacht club.
Behind those leisurely days on the bay is a competitive Rhode Island boat construction and sales industry with dozens of businesses looking for a slice of the public’s limited recreation dollars.
Zim Sailing in Warren is keenly aware of the local competition in small sailboats not only because of its proximity to so many marine businesses in the East Bay, but a shared history with some.
Zim was founded six years ago by Stephen Perry after he was forced out of venerable Portsmouth boat maker Vanguard, when it was acquired by Performance Sailcraft and turned into LaserPerformance LLC.
Zim, incorporated as Gecko Marine Inc., not only operates in the same sailing dinghy market as LaserPerformance, but builds and distributes some of the same licensed designs, including the popular Optimist and 420 classes.
The competition has led to some tension over the years, including a lawsuit by LaserPerformance against Zim for trademark infringement in 2010, which resulted in a settlement.
Since then, Zim has fared well in the race to supply the sailing dinghy fleets of yacht clubs and summer vacationers across the country.
With the economy and boat market recovering somewhat, Zim has posted 30 to 40 percent growth over each of the past four years – from selling roughly 50 units annually in 2009 to 300 units in 2013, according to Vice President of Sales and Marketing Robert Adam.
“Yacht clubs and junior programs have begun to rely on us as their main source for boat needs and parts to keep those boats sailing,” Adam said. “We are growing and are trying to hire more people on the manufacturing end right now.”
The American small-sailboat industry includes a mix of local manufacturing, importing, finishing and distribution.
The recognizable classes of boats, like Optimists, 420s and lasers, still utilize traditional fiberglass construction and, because they are meant to be uniform when raced against each other, cannot employ some of the more efficient composite methods, like vacuum resin infusion.
To keep costs down on designs with relatively significant labor costs, most companies, including Zim, import hulls from Asia and finish them in Rhode Island.