Byron Bolton’s most memorable catch was a 40-lb. salmon, caught off the west coast of Vancouver Island on a staff fishing trip about five years ago. It took the CEO of KingFisher Boats almost an hour to land the marine monster, which is now mounted in the company’s head office in Vernon, B.C.
“You’re not thinking of anything else in the world while you’re enjoying the fight with that fish,” says Bolton.
The Kamloops, B.C., native knows a thing or two about the rewards of a hard-fought battle. Since launching KingFisher more than 20 years ago, he and his management team have built the 150-person company into the market leader in the heavy-gauge welded aluminum boat category.
KingFisher has sold more than 10,000 boats since its formation, and its product portfolio now consists of 33 models encompassing five series: Offshore, Coastal, Sport, Multi-Species and River Jet.
The company caters to diehard—and deep-pocketed—sport-fishing enthusiasts. Ontario dealer Marsh’s Marina recently listed a 2625 Coastal Express—a 26-foot long, 300-horsepower boat built in 2017—for $129,995, while a 2010 2725 Weekender was listed for US$119,000 on BoatTrader.com.
The family-owned company has seen its annual revenue grow more than 125% in the past five years, with much of its recent success a testament to Bolton’s belief in the power of long-term planning.
Back in the heady days of the mid-2000s, when high-end fishing boats were practically flying out of KingFisher’s “Centre of Excellence,” Bolton and his management team saw the potential for choppy waters ahead, particularly in U.S. markets where households were highly leveraged. “I guarantee that we were far more prepared than our competitors, which allowed us to grow,” he says
In the period leading up to the 2008 global recession, KingFisher established a war chest that allowed it not only to ride out the downturn but also finance its subsequent purchase of two Washington-based manufacturers: Renaissance Marine Group and Hells Canyon Marine (KingFisher also employs approximately 200 people at its U.S. facility).
The company is now pushing steadily eastward from its western stronghold, which accounts for about 90% of its annual sales, into the fishing-rich waters of the Great Lakes region.
The region currently accounts for just 10% of KingFisher’s annual sales, but Bolton predicts that a strategic focus on key markets such as Ontario, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota will enable it to “easily double” the size of its operation in the next five years.
While the North American marine industry faces some headwinds in changing consumer habits, Bolton is confident that KingFisher’s emphasis on “mass customization,” customer service and a stringent employee on-boarding process will ensure its long-term viability.
You might say Bolton is adamant that his business won’t be the one that got away.