Years later, Gordon Torresen saw a bigger opportunity: Sailboats.
There were few places a sail boater in the Muskegon area could go to buy a sailboat, have it serviced or buy parts. So Torresen, a sailor who worked as a design engineer for Brunswick Corp. at the time, decided to go into the sailboat business.
“I’ve been playing with boats ever since,” said Torresen, the founder, owner and president of Torresen Marine Inc. in Muskegon.
“I saw a need for somebody to do what we do. We filled a niche,” he said. “It just seemed to grow from there.”
And it hasn’t stopped growing ever since.
For his success in business, the Michigan Boating Industries Association inducted the 71-year-old Torresen this month into the Boating Industries Hall of Fame.
“You stick around long enough and you make it,” Torresen said, jokingly, as he sat at his full-service marine business that includes a retail store, a marina with 150 boat slips, and storage for 500 boats.
The induction recognizes people in the boating industry who “have been dedicated to the perpetuation of the highest ideals, trust and professionalism,” association President Van Snider said.
To Torresen, those ideals, along with hiring the right people, are the tenets of running a successful business.
A New York City native, Torresen came to Muskegon in late 1959 to help establish the local Brunswick Corp. plant, where he worked as a senior design engineer. He accepted the assignment because he saw West Michigan as a good place to live, work and sail.
“I figured this was a nicer place to be than New York City, the shores of Lake Michigan,” he said.
Torresen comes from a seafaring family going back five generations. His father was a merchant seaman and his brother a naval architect. Torresen himself enjoys racing sailboats.
In the mid-1960s, he and his brother began a small company researching and developing hydrofoils. The company evolved into a full-service marine store, G. Torresen Marine.
After coming to Muskegon, Torresen also became involved with the racing fleet at the Muskegon Yacht Club. His garage, located across from the yacht club, became a place to go for sailors in need of repairs or rigging work.
Torresen left Brunswick in 1973, a year after he began selling small boats, to dedicate his time to running the business. The enterprise took off and grew rapidly in the 1970s as sail boating increased in popularity and improved vessel designs “did more for the people comforts,” enabling people to use their boats for much more than speeding across the water.
“A lot of things fell into place that we hadn’t anticipated,” Torresen said. “Everybody seemed to be making money and spending money at the same time.”
While Torresen Marine doesn’t enjoy the same growth rates today as it did in the 1970s and 1980s, it remains a growing business. The company, now located on Lakeshore Drive on the southern shore of Muskegon Lake, has customers around the world, thanks to an Internet strategy and Web site that has received parts orders from places as far away as the South Pacific. The marina is presently going through a major reconstruction of its shoreline infrastructure.
At 71 years old, Torresen has begun to slow down and recently turned over daily operations to his two adult children, daughter Kathleen and son Brian. Yet slowing down doesn’t mean Torresen has any inkling about retiring. He plans to remain active in the company.
Asked what’s his favorite part of the business, Torresen quickly responds with a simple “being around sailboats.”
“If you enjoy what you’re doing, you might as well keep on doing it,” he said. “I enjoy it.”