Sea Pro Surges Forward, Propelled by "The Next Wave"
Newberry County is home to an important player in the center-console fishing boat market. Near the town of Whitmire, a 200,000 square foot building houses the manufacturing site and headquarters for Sea Pro boats. Though the company is now home to a production line that created hundreds of jobs and outfits nearly every piece of the craft from bow to stern, the road to their current iteration wasn’t always smooth sailing. Jimmy Hancock and his brother Tommy founded the original Sea Pro in the 1980’s after the Chapin company they worked for began to move away from making center console crafts. The business flourished for years until the owners were approached in 2004 with an offer they couldn’t refuse from Fortune 500 company Brunswick; convinced it was the best move for their employees and themselves, they closed the deal by December of that year. Within 5 years, in the midst of the 2008 financial downturn, Brunswick decided to close Sea Pro along with several other business ventures. Jimmy Hancock decided it was time to take back the company and create a new generation of Sea Pro boats, referred to as “The Next Wave.”
A high school classmate of Hancock as well as a former vendor for Sea Pro, Preston Wrenn was interested in getting back into the boat industry, too. He had previously founded Tidewater Boats and reached out to Hancock about the possibility of creating a company together. With things falling into place at just the right time, the two were able to get ownership of the Sea Pro trademark and build on their previous reputation. After spending time with attorneys to be sure the new Sea Pro had proper legal standing, Hancock and Wrenn began gathering equipment and getting ready to jump back in wholeheartedly. By September of 2015, they had acquired the current facility and began to prepare for production. Though they weren’t officially in business until the next year, they started building and selling almost immediately.
With seven new models and another on the way, Sea Pro reentered the boat business with plenty of experience and the support of their previous fans. The company completed under 20 boats in the last few months of 2015; by their first full year of production, they turned out over 300. Sea Pro was quickly recognized as one of South Carolina’s Fastest Growing Companies by SC Biz News for 2018 as their growth brought them deserved attention. This year, the company is scheduled to produce about 1,000 boats.
Both majority owners are avid saltwater fishermen, so they have a clear insight into what the industry is looking for. Every boat is crafted entirely at their production site; they’re one of few companies that strives to have all parts of production within their own walls. The site includes an upholstery department where the company produces their own seats, as well as a test tank to help with quality control by testing every boat they make. This innate understanding of the market’s needs has given them an advantage in producing good boats at a value that consumers are happy to purchase.
Wrenn expressed his joy at the company’s reacceptance into the industry by both their previous customers and new patrons. “I think they’ve been well-pleased with the quality, the fit and finish, and the additional features that we’ve put into the boats this time,” Wrenn said. “I think everyone has been very excited about what we’ve been able to do so far and the results have spoken for themselves.”
Hancock recognizes that the company has exceeded any expectations he first had for it back in the 80’s.“We started very small,” he said. “We thought we’d just sell a few boats and make a living.”
Instead, they’ve created an entire boat production within their facility, moving boats from one department to the next as the pieces are put together. They’ve recently begun to make their own t-bars in order to bring the last few pieces of the production under their own control. The process of building a boat goes, generally, from the outside to the inside. At Sea Pro, it all starts with a plug, used to create the mold for the boat after Hancock and Wrenn are finished with the design. Each mold is coated with a release agent, then a gel coat which serves as the exterior of the boat. This is covered with fiberglass or resin. After sitting overnight, the piece is layered with materials in strategic places to give strength and support.
Once these fiberglass items, including the hull, console, deck, and box lids have cured, they’re pulled from the mold and sent through the trim shop to be cleaned up. Assembly parts are rigged with any necessary hardware like hinges, rails, or plumbing, then the deck is bonded to the hull in a process called ‘capping.’ The console, upholstery, and motor are installed, along with other fittings both for function and aesthetics. Finally, after extensive quality control including a float in the test tank, the boats are out the door and trucked off to dealers for sale.
Hancock sold the company once, but he’s not planning on letting go of it this time around. He’s found both success and satisfaction through his work and he seems to appreciate what an accomplishment that is. “It’s really my legacy,” he said. “Sea Pro has been part of the family business since 1988—a long time, my entire adult life. This is what I love to do and I intend to do it until I can’t do it anymore.”