There’s nothing better than spending a day water skiing on the lake.
There’s nothing more frustrating than trying to fasten cylindrical fenders to the side of your boat before arriving back at the dock.
As California natives, Brian Slaughter and Courtney Gates love boats. One day in 2017, they had just finished water skiing and were trying to attach their boat fenders when Brian had an epiphany: why hasn’t anyone created an easier system?
As he reached out to other boaters, Brian discovered that they had the same frustrations. Soon he was drawing up designs, looking at materials, and trying out options.
Brian and Courtney joined forces with Jack’s Plastic Welding in Aztec, NM. “They were so helpful,” Courtney says. “They made computer designs of our ideas and had plenty of materials.” After four rounds of prototypes, Impact Fenders was born.
In the meantime, they learned about the Southwest Colorado Accelerator Program for Entrepreneurs (SCAPE) and decided to apply.
Courtney remembers, “It was a crazy time. We were leaving the country for Christmas, and SCAPE requested a video of our product. We ended up filming from Belize!” Soon after, they were accepted to the SCAPE program.
By November of 2018, they were preparing to launch their product. They headed to their first boat show at Lake Havasu and sold out in two days. “Everyone kept asking, ‘Why hasn’t anyone thought of this before?’ People were intrigued by the flat fender idea, which stores easily and doesn’t scratch the boat.” Brian and Courtney returned from the boat show with dozens of new orders and a renewed excitement.
The product officially launched in January 2019, and Brian and Courtney were “off to the boat shows.” Initially, they focused on the performance sport boat market, which was the industry segment they knew best. That spring, they hit every large boat event they could find. By June, they were ready to test the salt water market, and they headed to coastal shows that focused on sailboats, catamarans, and cruisers.
They quickly discovered that their product worked for every boat type. They’ve made custom fenders for house boats, yachts, and boat clubs with dozens of boats in their fleets. Impact has also created custom bumpers for boat docks of every size and shape. All of their products are manufactured in their Durango facility and come with a lifetime limited warranty.
As they looked forward to 2020, Brian and Courtney planned a boat show circuit that included some of the largest shows in the world. They also planned to focus heavily on the wholesale channel to get their products into the hands of boat dealers, marinas, and retail stores. In March, COVID hit, and they found themselves pivoting to a new marketing strategy—fast.
To compensate for the cancellation of live events, Brian and Courtney stepped up their social media game and rebuilt their website. They also started running Google Ads and partnering with YouTube influencers. Courtney says, “We had the most amazing response from our market. This has been the best year in 12 years for the marine industry, and we were able to ride that wave. Our sales in 2020 have been thousands of dollars higher than our previous year.”
The future is bright, and Brian and Courtney are already looking forward to 2021. Their growing staff currently includes two office team members, two salespeople in the field, and two people in the shop helping manufacture products.
Brian and Courtney are extremely grateful to SBDC and the team at SCAPE. “The SBDC has been super supportive; Mary and the team put us in contact with quite a few people who have helped in many different ways. The people at SCAPE have been so helpful; they are still helping us find investors, negotiate contracts, and they are always willing to advise us. Thank you to our investors and everyone who believed in us. ”
Both Brian and Courtney are thrilled to be working in this exciting industry. They encourage other budding entrepreneurs: “Really believe in your product, but be equally open to advice and feedback. Listen to what people with experience have to say. Not everyone has the guts to start a business, but if you do, find that support network to get you started on a strong path.”