Startup filling a gap in boating industry

Harbor Hawk takes care of dockside needs, from lifts to deliveries.
Harbor Hawk specializes in seawall construction and the installation of docks and boat lifts along Lake Michigan, as well as inland lakes. Courtesy Harbor Hawk

B.A. Amey, David Eggerichs and Nathan Vanderploeg met for the first time in 2017 at a New Canaan Society Grand Rapids event to strengthen their spiritual lives. Fast-forward three years, and the three men now are operating a marine construction company called Harbor Hawk.

Amey founded Grand Rapids-based Harbor Hawk in 2019. Eggerichs and Vanderploeg serve on the board of directors, of which Vanderploeg is chair. They all invested in the startup company that specializes in seawall construction and the installation of docks and boat lifts along Lake Michigan.

While seawall construction has been of great concern and paramount importance to people who own homes on the lakeshore, Vanderploeg said the marine boating industry as a whole is a vibrant environment with people flocking to the lakes during the summer.

“It is wild, and it is action-packed,” he said. “There are just so many boats. Everyone wants to hit that water in the summer. We sit around all winter long. We were frozen, and we just want to thaw out and we go out on our boats and everyone is waving at us. There is constant travel in these marinas, there are boats coming in and boats going out. You don’t go to the lake and meet unhappy people.”

Despite the buzzing excitement that surrounds lakes, Amey noticed there was a need that was being overlooked regarding a service for consumers.

“This was an opportunity to grow in an entirely fractured docking service and waterfront delivery service market,” he said. “Having been a part of this industry in other areas for years, there is this rift between the boat dealership market and its consumers. Its consumers have needs of wanting their (boats) delivered to their residence.

“After sitting down and considering those needs and having been in the industry for a long time, there is no one company that is solely focused on serving that need on the lakefront. Whether it is a small inland pond that needs a dock for fishing or a Spring Lake or Muskegon Lake dock that needs to hold a 36-foot boat on a boat deck. There are lakes that do not have a curl dock, or they do not have something that can protect boats from the rain and the wind. You are going to need to put your boat on a boat lift to keep it out of the bad weather. This is just a market that very few solely serve. The boat dealers who love selling boats have to do the service of getting the boat to a lakefront home.”

Amey, who also is company president, said it is a distraction from boat dealers’ core business of selling boats to actually deliver the boat to their customer’s residence because they either don’t have the appropriate equipment, or they don’t have the training.

Recognizing that gap in the boating industry, Vanderploeg said Harbor Hawk purchased more than $3.5 million in equipment to become a reliable startup company to address the need. Some of the equipment was purchased from the U.S. military and the U.S. Coast Guard, he said.

Amey said the firm served approximately 380 customers in 2019 and that number is up to 625 this year.

“We wanted to figure out what lakes we wanted to hit hard at first by the density (of the population), and then we just started handing out flyers and sending out mailers,” he said. “Having been a part of the business, we realized that the biggest underserved market within this space is really the dealer, so we went around to the surrounding dealers. In some cases, they felt like we were going to take away their opportunity to sell to their consumers, but we reassured them that we have a very rare business model and that we are a service business so we don’t sell the product. We went around to the dealers and said we want to do all of your service work, ‘We realize that you do it in some capacity here and there, but we are not your enemy, we are a resource for you to use so you can spend your time focusing on your core values at the boat dealership or the marinas.’

“We have a lot of partnerships with marinas that are busy getting their boats in and out of the water so they don’t have to worry about boat lifts not being ready to accept the boats when they have it stuck in their storage facility and it is holding up their business because it is in the way of other boats. They hire us to take care of their dockside needs. Whether it is replacing decking on a marina dock or service someone’s boat lift at that location or actually bringing in a new boat if the marina has a new boat for those slips. We can get that boat and provide that service for them.”

Harbor Hawk has brought in $5 million in revenue so far this year, and Vanderploeg said the company is hoping to hit the $15 million mark.

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