Business: Selling hot boats in a cold economy

JESSICA DINAPOLI PHOTO | Hustler Powerboats owner Joe LoGiudice.

Hustler Powerboats president Joe LoGiudice is a hands-on guy who used to make a living building now-obsolete giant satellite dishes. When that work dried up, Mr. LoGiudice, who at the time owned a 40-foot Hustler Powerboat he used for trips to Martha’s Vineyard, decided he wanted to get into the business side of boating. So he and his brother, Rich, took over the company originally founded in Bay Shore in 1979.

“I wanted to do something I could build,” Mr. LoGiudice said, explaining why he bought the business.

That was 15 years ago, and the company has since ridden the waves of some boom-and-bust economies, offering a highly specialized, somewhat niche product.

After taking the helm at Hustler, he and his brother ­— now the vice president — moved the company from a rented facility in Hampton Bays to a 35,000-square-foot location on 8.5 acres at the Enterprise Park at Calverton. There, with a crew of 15 to 20 workers, depending on volume, they produce make as many as 40 one-off — meaning each boat is unique — fiberglass boats per year.

Hustler offers either V-hull or Catamaran-style boats, all powered by Mercury Marine engines. On average, they cost on between $350,000 and $375,000, though Mr. LoGiudice said smaller “starter” Hustler boats can be had for between $150,000 and $175,000. All of them feature splashy colors and designs.

We asked Mr. LoGuidice some key questions about features of his high-end watercraft and the impact of a low-end economy.

Q. How fast do these boats go? And how do you get them to travel so fast?

A. The boats go between 85 and 150 miles per hour. We have a patented step-bottom hull, which is a series of steps in the bottom of the boat. The steps break the surface tension on the water. Water is sticky, not like the air or the road, so it grabs the boat. But the steps break the tension. People think water isn’t sticky, but it is. If you can break the tension, the boats go fast.

Q. On the water, that’s really fast. What are some safety features on your boats?

A. Our boats have kill switches. It’s an attachment from the motor to you, so if you get thrown out of the boat, it shuts off the ignition. It’s similar to what they have on Jet Skis. We educate our customers to wear it.

Q. Are the boats you build mainly used in races?

A. Most of our customers want to go fast, but these are really pleasure boats. It’s like a Ford Focus versus a Corvette. They’re sportier boats that go faster. Some boats are in poker runs — our heritage is racing. But many of our boats have amenities like air conditioning, generators, hot water, a microwave and a coffeemaker.

Q. Has the economy affected business at all?

A. Yes. People think people with money are still spending. But that’s not the case. We feel it the same as the lower end feels it, it’s just different numbers.

Q. Are most of your clients Long Islanders? Or from elsewhere?

A. We’ve had people look at our boats from as far away as Australia. But we also recently had a Long Islander come in. We took him out on Peconic Bay [leaving out of Jamesport]. He may buy a boat. Now, we’re getting a lot of overseas clients. They can get a $400,000 boat for about 275,000 Euros, since the dollar is weak. If they’re buying a powerboat in Europe, they’re not getting a deal. They can come here and save money. The European powerboat also looks much different. They like our looks, lines and performance.

Q. On a good year, you make 40 boats. What did you make last year? Are you looking to make up for lost income at all?

A. Volume was off last year. We’re looking at getting involved with the military, with contracting with them. But nothing is final yet.

Q. Do you plan to introduce any new models?

A. We may add some models, but we usually need the economy to be stronger to invest money to do new models. We may do some model changes — not new boats — but where we make some modifications to existing boats. Like a cosmetic change on a car model year; something that looks different but structurally would be the same.