Thursday, May 24, 2018
Business

Century Boats cruises to success in Zephyrhills

ZEPHYRHILLS

Shortly after John Lucius and his son Bryan moved their boat-building factory to the Dade City Business Center in 2007, the national economic downturn nearly sank their dreams. Their response: "We're going to need a bigger boat."

During survival mode, working with a skeleton crew, the Lucius family "scratched and inched along" by changing course toward construction of deep saltwater fishing crafts. Five years later, the family business had doubled production after acquiring the venerable Century Boats brand from Yamaha and expanding the facility to 52,000 square feet on 8 acres east of downtown Zephyrhills.

"When the opportunity to buy Century came about, we passed the hat," said president Bryan Lucius, 35.

Century Boats now sells to retail dealerships all over the country and produces an average of 12 boats a month. Manufacturer's suggested retail prices for their 17- to 32-foot crafts range from $28,000 to $220,000.

"These are luxury fishing and family cruising vessels," Bryan said. "Each one is four-stroke Yamaha outboard-powered with a deep V hull to navigate rough conditions."

Growth and success brought a new challenge: location.

"Our space couldn't accommodate what we were bringing here," Bryan said.

While driving around he found a former Lykes can factory and Home Depot truss storage space that had been burglarized of copper electrical wiring. On Feb. 1, 2013, the Zephyrhills City Council approved a $25,000 grant to upgrade the infrastructure. Century sealed the deal by paying $1.5 million for the facility.

"Restoring the power and improving ventilation was a 'thank you for coming' gesture from the city," Bryan said. "That's when we shipped 66 tractor-trailer loads of materials in."

They also transferred in 28 employees, boat molds, fixtures, jig patterns and construction tools.

John, 67, Bryan and chief financial officer Fred Brown, 63, travel the boat show circuit to promote and sell their brand.

"We just returned from Palm Beach," Brown said. "January through April is heavy season for shows. We're gearing up to produce a new 24-foot dual console and a 30-foot express model in time for the next fall Tampa boat show."

John and Bryan Lucius continued the family tradition of marine ventures established by John's father, Frank Lucius. Both son and grandson cut their teeth turning wrenches at Frank's Marine, a Gainesville dealership. They even suited up to laminate boat decks, hulls and interiors.

During the 1970s John headed a research contract team for Underwriter Laboratories. They wrote the U.S. Coast Guard's safe powering regulations, still in effect today.

"Like anything else, preparation is the key," John said. "Nature is our passion, but we respect the dangers, too."

Bryan graduated with a business administration/marketing degree from the University of Louisville on a swimming scholarship. He then got his feet wet running Stumpknocker Boats in Starke for three years.

It prepared him to return home to the Tampa Bay area and join forces with his father.

"Ever since we fished the Ocklawaha River in the Ocala National Forest in a 14-foot skiff, I never dreamt we would grow so large," Bryan said. "It's that family bonding aspect that we hope to promote as well."

John, the company chairman, is based in Safety Harbor and commutes to Zephyrhills once a week. Bryan and his family live in Land O'Lakes. Board members include Bryan's wife, Emily, his sister Katherine Alsup and her husband, Tommy Alsup, who serves as vice president.

The lobby of their headquarters displays a 1953 Century Sportsman wooden red pleasure craft with chrome accessories and inlaid wood.

"It came with the purchase package and is a collector's item," Bryan said. "It's never been in the water and is in museum-quality condition."

"It represents the history of the name," John added. "It's our intention to maintain the quality and image of Century Boats."

 
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