Interview with Morbern Marine Expert

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How long have you been in the marine business?

I have been in the industry for the last 25 years.

What attracts you to it?  

As a child, our family would spend every weekend on our family boat traveling and fishing the waters of Lake Michigan visiting the coastal ports throughout the Great Lakes.

Boating is an outdoor lifestyle that encompasses all of my favorite things in life: sun, sand, surf, family, and activities on the water. Whether my feet are in the sandy beaches along the fresh water of Lake Michigan, in a kayak floating down the river, or fishing offshore in the Gulf of Mexico, I am relaxed and having fun.

Do you live near the water?

Currently I live in Grand Haven, Michigan, along the shoreline of Lake Michigan.

How did you get started?

My mother worked in the industry as a sales representative and designer starting in the early 80s and ask me to come on board to assist her with projects in the late 90s.  At that time, we had the greater market share of marine manufacturers as our customer base. From our studio in the small cottage town of Grand Haven, we developed design packages every model year for both fabrics (bedding, curtains, and pillows) and interior and exterior upholstery vinyl (provided by Morbern).

How are Morbern’s marine vinyls superior to other products in the marketplace?

As a member of the Chemical Film and Fabric Association, Morbern helps define “superior” quality standards for the vinyl industry. What differentiates Morbern’s product from our competition is that we manufacture in North America and our product development team is in house.

Morbern has two proprietary developments that set us apart. The first is our legendary leather-like topcoat, Allante.  Many have tried to knock it off over the past 20 years, but have not been successful. The second would be our new Splash construction, a four-way stretch premium upholstery vinyl, offered in several patterns: Bayside, Surf, Sandpiper and Voyager. This product allows the customer (manufacturer) to use one construction across multiple applications.

What have been the biggest changes in the marine business since you started in the industry?

In the ’80s manufacturers were very engaged in working with vinyl suppliers to create products and colors that were exclusive to their brand. For instance, Baja boats would require a fresh palette of color every year. Many colors were considered custom, but Morbern would be challenged to set the bar in color and design from year to year.  As a result, the number of skus we offered in our stock program was much larger than what we offer today.

After the recession of 2008, marine manufacturers streamlined their color packages to the customer. Instead of offering 12 different base color upholstery packages, they may only offer four (white, gray, tan and taupe). The accent colors were reduced from 25 to six.

Probably the biggest change in the past 10 to 15 years would be the versatility and flexibility we offer the customer. They still want to play a creative role in developing the interiors and exterior seating, but they are now looking for products that will give them a competitive edge. From better tailorability to a softer hand, new grain options and special finishes, Morbern has done a great job of dialing in on the key variables and creating product lines to address them.

How has the pandemic affected the marine business?

In 2020, when faced with the Covid-19 pandemic, Morbern had to shut down its manufacturing for several weeks. Fortunately, we were deemed an essential business and allow to reopen. As many manufacturers did, we had to pivot from our standard production processes and try to fulfill orders with limited staffing. This created challenges as we started to experience a surge in demand from several of the markets we supply: marine, automotive, heavy truck and recreational vehicles. We have added shifts and employees in Canada to meet the increased demand.

Describe your perfect day on the water.  

Warm sunshine, a slight summer breeze and calm waters, sounded by family and friends.

Do you have any favorite cocktails you like to drink on the boat?

When I’m a passenger (not driving), I enjoy a hard seltzer during the day and a glass of wine for an evening cruise.

Which of your accomplishments with Morbern are you most proud?

In this industry resilience is a must for survival.  My mother brought one of the biggest companies in the industry to Morbern back in the 80s. That was Brunswick Boat Group with Sea Ray being their largest brand. She retired 10 years ago and a year later we lost the Sea Ray business to a low-end competitor.

After two years, I was able to close on the Sea Ray business again.  Understanding what Sea Ray’s needs are today and being able to assist in developing new products and programs to set them apart from their competition is probably among my personal best moments.  However, the development on the new Splash product in collaboration with our product development engineers and new sales team has been our great win in the past five years.  I cannot accept all of the credit, but I am proud of the contributions I have made in the success of the program.