In the boat industry, Bob Dougherty is a legend.
He helped Boston Whaler earn its stellar reputation and then moved on to bring even more innovation to the art of boat-building when he and his son, Stephen, founded EdgeWater Boats and later Everglades Boats.
All three companies are still building boats in Edgewater, but for the last several years the Doughertys have been out of the picture. That is about to change.
Enter Solace Boats, a brand-new Edgewater-based company founded by Stephen Dougherty and his wife, Sarah. Mr. Dougherty has unveiled what he considers today’s perfect boat, revolutionary in every detail, blending top-of-the-line fishing and diving amenities with family features and lots of comfort and convenience.
“All of my life I have been committed to the marine industry, creating new designs and exceeding customer expectations,” Mr. Dougherty said. “The time has come for us to make the next great and generational step in marine design.”
While boat building may seem second nature for Mr. Dougherty, he and Ms. Dougherty have been touted by state and local officials over the last several years for their business acumen and versatility. When they left Everglades in 2012, a non-compete clause kept them from jumping right back into what they know.
They decided to see what other industries could benefit from the processes and engineering techniques used in boat building. They quickly found a niche in building theme park rides and components. So much so that, in 2017, the State of Florida named Dougherty Manufacturing a “company to watch.” In five years, they grew from a husband and wife team operating out of a small garage to a 200,000-square-foot facility on 16 acres with 100 employees.
As they used the same processes and a lot of the same equipment as they did when building boats, the transition to Solace Boats was fairly smooth. They have a full engineering team along with a machine shop, paint facility and welding. John Moe, Solace marketing representative, said the transition to boat building was inevitable.
“Designing boats is so much a part of who he is,” Mr. Moe said about Mr. Dougherty. And once he started drawing, it didn’t take long.
“It’s incredible how fast this process is moving,” Mr. Moe said. “As I recall, towards the end of 2018 we really only had rough images of what the boat would look like. It has been non-stop ever since.”
Team work has been something the Doughertys continuously perfect and no matter how large their companies get, their reputation for treating employees like family is important to them. That tradition is carefully continued in the latest venture. Their roots run deep in Southeast Volusia and a look at their social media pages confirms current and former employees are excited to see them back in the business.
Mr. Moe said they anticipate rolling out the first boats in mid- to late-June. He explained they are working on the first hull now. It’s a slow, methodical progression as they engineer the various components and fine tune the assembly process.
Solace Boats also has a series of patents pending for components on the boat. The hydraulic swim platform and transom are two Mr. Moe mentioned.
Although many aspects of the boat are geared toward the off-shore fisherman, the high-end design has been carefully crafted so the fishing components can be tucked away when it is time to either head to the sandbar for a barbecue with the family or cruise with friends.
The Solace team is billing the first model as the finest luxury center console ever created, complete with all the bells and whistles. But before the final product is ready for the showroom, there is a lot of work to be done.
“While every new business is an endeavor, the sheer number of inputs and contingencies that are involved in the creation of the first model of a boat is immense,” explained Stephen Dougherty. “We are incredibly good at this, but it is the orchestration of all of those elements into perfect harmony that is most difficult.”
On the business side of the equation, after launching both EdgeWater and Everglades Boats with his father, Solace Boats is coming into the industry in a different economic climate.
“Both of the previous ventures were launched during a down economy, and here we are launching during a very up economy,” he said. “With that in mind, we were able to tweak our market segment and go after a more affluent group. The new economy has also changed consumer preferences, which have been reflected in our design and the decision to go with many standard high-end features.”
The next generation of Doughertys wanted to tag their new boats with a fitting moniker. Solace is the combination of sol, or sun, and ace, meaning the best or unbeatable, like the ace pitcher on a baseball team. In this age of marketing, a lot goes into a name.
Mr. Moe said branding Solace Boats is mostly about the design and features and how it handles on the water, but the name will become synonymous with its reputation over time. “It’s a pinnacle of sorts,” he said. “The ultimate boat, the boater’s boat.”
As the company gears up for production of the first model and others in the line, they will undoubtedly create more jobs for the area. The labor market has been difficult, but state and local agencies who see the benefit of manufacturing jobs have stepped up to help with recruitment and training. The recently approved Southeast Volusia Science and Technology charter school may also provide a symbiotic relationship, training local students for promising careers in their own community. Ms. Dougherty sits on the board of that school and was instrumental in obtaining its charter status.
So, while Solace Boats may be the new kid on the block, the Doughertys are anything but.
And while the old adage “like father, like son” seems a perfect fit, the son has taken what he’s learned from his father and layered it with his own ideals and expertise.
Solace Boats is ready to offer the boating community something different. “We are going to be revealing something incredible, very soon,” Ms. Dougherty said. “A distinct series of features will provide the perfect next step for the fisherman and the family.”
The Dougherty legacy continues.