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Entrepreneurs renovate boats for theme parks

J.T. Maker, 24, and Ryan Baker, 21, sons of Renovators Yacht’s owners, work on a 22-foot boat from Jurassic Park River Adventure.

SCOTT KEELER | Times

J.T. Maker, 24, and Ryan Baker, 21, sons of Renovators Yacht’s owners, work on a 22-foot boat from Jurassic Park River Adventure.

Bill Maker and Gary Baker simply want their customers to have a safe boat ride, regardless of how bizarre the trip may be.

Some of their clientele use their boats to avoid daily shark attacks by Jaws. Then, there is the regular 80-foot waterfall-like drop and near escape from Jurassic Park dinosaurs. Not to mention, some barely survive sailing through the middle of a heavyweight bout between Popeye the Sailor Man and his nemesis, Bluto.

And all this has become more of the usual for the two entrepreneurs. "The theme parks put a very high emphasis on safety," said Maker, co-owner of Renovators Yacht Co., where boats for Universal Studios, Disney World and Busch Gardens in Virginia have been renovated.

"It is our quality and our ability to incorporate changes that lead them to lean on us to provide safe, dependable water rides."

But before fixing boats for thousands of theme park visitors, Tampa Bay area recreational customers were the proving ground for the business. The two launched their venture in 1993 in Tampa and the "word of mouth" satisfaction from local customers made its way to Disney World officials, Maker said.

He said the parks had wooden boats that were rotting from freshwater use and Florida's humidity, but Maker and Baker renovated the crafts with fiberglass composites that made them more durable while duplicating a wood look.

"Our original business concept was the alternative to new and it was the early faith and trust of our recreational customers that allowed us to build our reputation as 'can-do' people," Maker said. "That put us on the radar: our use of progressive materials."

They also just completed a major project for Universal Studios. Maker said the project included a new Resort Boat, the sixth they have done for the park, with special features that allow it to turn 360 degrees in position and stop from cruising speed in less than 10 feet.

Also, the Jurassic Park ride vehicles were reinforced to withstand the ride's 80-foot drop, and the Popeye and Bluto barges are 12-passenger round river rafts durable enough for a constant beating.

Paul Pizzo, a Tampa attorney who had his 22-year-old fishing boat fixed at Renovators Yacht, said it makes sense for theme parks to seek out Maker and Baker. "It's really a small shop … but the proof is in the pudding," he said.

"They just pay attention to details. The overall quality of the work is great, but their overall interest (in their projects) showed they really care."

That kind of quality assurance helped Renovators Yacht, with its two owners and five other employees, generate $2.2-million in gross revenue in 2007.

"The past couple of years have been some of our best and it's because of the theme parks," Baker said. "A lot of marinas are looking for work. We've been blessed and … we've just been lucky to have a good crew. "

Maker said a relationship between a small boat renovation company and theme parks is rare because many parks do not have many boat or water rides, so most can handle basic repairs.

He said Universal Studios, Busch Gardens and Disney, on the other hand, have been some of the exceptions, and it has proved beneficial for them, especially with the current economy.

"They're happy with the work they're getting," Maker said. "A lot of our competitors aren't doing so good with the fuel prices, boat insurances, and factors like that. The plus for us is we've kind of found our niche."

Entrepreneurs renovate boats for theme parks 05/23/08 [Last modified: Friday, May 23, 2008 6:46pm]

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