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In 1994, Alan Kinkead bought a new boat and couldn't find a fender that worked just the way he wanted it. With the purpose of improving the boat fender market, Alan ended up designing a completely new product that protected his boat with no inconvenience to him. AKUA boat fenders are not your generic, typical, or conventional fender. Designed to fit specific boats, the fenders are molded from polyethelene and use suction cups for gripping. Unlike conventional fenders, AKUA fenders stay in place and do not require the use of a rope or cleat. Until 2002, AKUA manufactured the products for most major bass boat companies. In 2002, AKUA leased the patent to a company who began manufacturing the product. However, in 2010 after retiring, Alan began manufacturing the products again and expanding their product line. AKUA now features five different products to suit your bass boat fender needs.
Igniting Business has helped AKUA Marine Products expand into the online realm. In 2011, Igniting Business designed, developed, and implemented AKUA's website, www.AKUABoatFenders.com, as well as established AKUA's Amazon Seller account. AKUA now sells their products through their Amazon Seller account. Throughout the website process, Igniting Business also assisted with the filming and editing of two promotional videos, as well as configured AKUA's YouTube account for video sharing. Additionally, Igniting Business has designed business cards and product packaging. Alan believes that Igniting Business has helped AKUA understand the advantages and disadvantages of each option, thus helping AKUA make the best possible decision to fit their needs.
Igniting Business (IB): From 2002-2009, you leased your patent to a manufacturing company and allowed them to manufacture the product. What benefits did you see from this and what led to your company resuming the manufacturing in 2010?
Alan: The obvious and immediate benefit was no headaches of manufacturing and running a small business. However, the company we leased the patent to kept raising the prices due to increased manufacturing costs and raised their profit margins. Prices to old stand-by customers were increasing at such a rate that the customer was going to discontinue the product in their accessory catalogs. I believed that our fender was too good to go off the market so I took over to bring the product back up to its potential.
IB: Retail can be a challenging industry, and online retail presents infinitely more issues. What challenges have you faced selling your products online?
Alan: The biggest challenge has been getting people to our website. We've done advertising in trade journals and magazines and gone to boat shows hoping to get people to view the website.
IB: Have there been any specific marketing strategies AKUA Marine Products has used that seem to work well?
Alan: Going directly to the boat manufacturer and getting the boat company to allow us to put their logo/name on the product has been a way to personalize the product. It also makes the fender unique to that boat company and gives the product credibility.
IB: Do you have any advice for small businesses in the manufacturing industry?
Alan: In manufacturing the owner needs to walk the thin line of watching and regulating their inventory. Inventory needs to be adequate—you don't want to run out but you also don't want too much. Yet you need to buy in quantities you can afford to get the price advantage. Advertising is very important. I remember a quote from Ted Turner of TNN: "Early to bed, early to rise, work like hell, and advertise."
IB: In your blog, it is very apparent you love fishing and bass boating. Do you ever find it tempting to go out fishing instead of focusing on the business?
Alan: I always found it was easy to do both. My business was never totally out of my mind and through fishing and bass boating I was always finding things that I wished I had done with my product. Then when I "went back to work", I knew what improvements and redesigns to work on.