We interviewed Limestone CEO Scott Hanson to hear how the relaunch came to be, what changes we can expect to the legendary lineup, and what the future holds for the iconic Canadian brand.
One of Canada's most recognizable brands is back. Once a common sight around the Great Lakes region of Canada and the northeast U.S. coast, the Limestone Boat Company is back with new ownership and a new outlook for 2021. While the company never truly ceased production, under the new arrangement Limestone will expand its production capability in Tennessee while still maintaining their foundation as an iconic Canadian brand.
Designed by industry veteran Mark Ellis , who's also known for developing the Legacy and Abaco brands, among others, the relaunched Limestone Boat Company and will see Ellis stay on as a consultant to provide input into the existing line's evolution and the development of new models.
New Limestone CEO Scott Hanson, who served as head and lead designer at Rossiter Boats 2007 to 2019, acquired the Limestone global manufacturing rights from Ellis, and the moulds from the Medeiros family, making Limestone now ready to relaunch.
“We recognized the history and future potential of the Limestone brand and decided to secure the global licensing rights,” said Hanson in the company's statement. “We’ve grown our team with some elite sales professionals and staff including finance, branding [and] marketing with more than 100 years of combined experience that all share our passion for the Limestone brand.”
For Ellis, “I’m excited and pleased to be part of the Limestone rejuvenation and to be working with Scott and his assembled team. Limestone has had an enthusiastic following of experienced owners over the last 35 years. It’s great that Scott and the new Limestone Boat Company will bring this brand forward and introduce it to a wider audience. I’m truly looking forward to its rebirth and evolution.”
As to how the company will intermix their classic designs with modern components, “Our focus in relaunching this heritage brand has encompassed a transformation of the models themselves,” said Hanson. “Limestone is best known for their timeless design, big water performance, quality, and functionality. We are building upon this history, but with an eye to the future, as we currently bring modernity into the product line.”
The initial product offering for 2021 and the following 2022 model year will be a nine model lineup ranging from 17’ to 29’, and will include runabouts, cuddy cabins, and center and dual console layouts. While Limestone boats have traditionally featured sterndrives, the new models will utilize outboard power from both Yamaha and Mercury. Models include the L-170DC & CC, L-200R & CC, L-250R, L-270CD, L-290CD, as well as the upcoming L-270DC and L-290DC.
We chatted with Limestone CEO Scott Hanson to hear his plans the brand, how the iconic designs will undergo some contemporary upgrades, and what boaters can expect from Limestone going forward. We covered everything from the new businesses arrangement, to design and R&D, to power options, and the state of the boating industry as a whole.
THE REBIRTH OF LIMESTONE
"We’ve been in progress for over a year now. We started the process in October of 2019. Limestone has never gone out of production. Production has wound down in recent years by the Medeiros factory, but it never stopped, and they deserve a tremendous amount of credit for what they did and what they achieved. But there wasn’t anyone in the family with the interest in carrying it forward, and the brand itself is owned and controlled by Mark Ellis. They did a tremendous job, they just decided to wind it down. And so they were looking for someone to carry it on and move it forward, and I approached them in October of last year. I know Al (Medeiros), we were across the aisle at the Toronto Boat Show for many, many years, and then Limestone stopped going to the boat show about 3 years ago. I visited Al in October of last year and he said he was interested, but the first thing I had to do was pick up the phone and call Mark Ellis, because he owns the manufacturing rights in the Canadian and US market. Al could sell the Limestone moulds, but he couldn’t do so unless they procured the global manufacturing rights. So I called Mark Ellis, who I know, and he’s living in Connecticut so I would see him on occasion at the Newport Boat Show, or the Rhode Island boat shows, or the Connecticut boat shows. And I said: 'Mark would you have any interest?' And he said: 'Absolutely, I would.' So we consummated a deal with the Medeiros family for acquisition of the moulds, and with Mark Ellis for acquisition of the global manufacturing rights, and the intellectual property as well, the trademarks, and so on. So that was done over the summer. It takes a while. Part of the arrangement is that Mark wanted to be a part of things, and we wanted that too, and he’s playing a part on the design team. He’s there as a consultant, which is great. We have the opportunity, in Mark’s mind, to bring the product forward. Bring it current in terms of its features and amenities, in terms of the power offering as the marketplace demands for outboard power given its technology, and reliability, and cost of ownership, and use of space in the 30 foot or less design. I’ve been leading the charge over the past 7 months for the design evolution of the interior arrangements, and the power technology within the boat, and with Mark Ellis’s involvement, it has been a great opportunity."
THE RESURGENCE OF HERITAGE BRANDS
"My opinion would be, from attending many boat shows in support of our dealers over the years, is that in the marine business it seems that it conjures up positive memories. It's like asking, 'Why do you buy that new Camaro? Or why do you buy that automobile that has that cadence of a historical brand?' When you’re standing on the floor of a trade show, and you see someone say, 'That’s beautiful. I have such great memories of boating with my dad when I was a kid' it brings back positive memories. And in the boat business, we sell memories. We’re the enabler for fun, and the positive part of life. And I think in this world we live in, there’s so many distractions and challenges. The way human psychology works is we make a connection with something and it brings back memories. There’s a gravitation as a human race towards things that have historical significance. We take away the heartaches of 'Oh, this thing had engine problems, or it had electrical problems.' We forget that. The idea is, 'If I can have this thing that I have such a positive connection with, with a timeless design, its relevant, it conjures up positive things, and I can turn the key and go have fun.' And it doesn’t matter if it's that new Camaro, or Dodge Dart, or a boat. Now we’re seeing it in the marine business. Chris Craft did the same thing, they brought back all their traditional designs and they rejuvenated the brand. It’s the same thing with cars, with boats, with RV’s. They’re making ‘silver streak condos’ now as I call them (laughs). Airstream trailers, that brand has come back. It’s not old models, but it’s the old look and feel with the shape and the shine, but inside it’s all modern. I think it’s memories, I think it conjures things up in people’s minds and I’ve always believed that we’re a catalyst for selling memories, multigenerational memories. And I think we’re seeing that in lots of places now."
"I made the decision that it’s challenging to build boats in this country (Canada) because our industry is small and the seasonality of the market. All of the supply chain is dependent on the U.S market, therefore we are victim to fluctuations in foreign exchange and are secondary to the availability of product in the supply chain, or tertiary almost. So if you want to build a viable boat company, ideally you have to outsource your manufacturing. We have many great Canadian companies that depend on international relationships to build product, and to bring product to market, and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t explore doing the same thing as a Canadian boat company. You look at it and say: 'I want to ensure the future of the Limestone brand, an iconic Canadian brand designed by Mark Ellis and built by the Medeiros family, and that future would be best served if we were to establish a relationship with a reputable boat builder centrally located, with strong supply chain relationships, that could be leveraged to ensure the product can evolve, can be competitively priced, and can flourish.' I would love, as I did for 15 years here in Canada, to manufacture, but I’m still proud to say it’s a Canadian brand. It’s a Canadian icon, and its served the market Canadian and Northeast US market, and will continue to do so for many years to come. But to make sure that can happen, to the benefit of boaters, retailers, and businesses, we need to depend on a North American workforce."
"We’re focused right now on the evolution for the existing product lineup, which is 17-29 foot products of centre consoles, runabouts, and cuddy cabin express boats, with the focus being that production will immediately recommence in late September/early October with the 20 foot product offering, which is already offered in an outboard configuration. Limestone has been manufacturing for the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) in this country on the commercial side, as well as for the New England market for over a decade.
The focus out of the gate, in terms of the evolution and the re-tooling perspective, will be the 250, 270, and 290 platforms. Because with the integration of the outboard and a swim platform, you extend the length of the boat, therefore by law you have to state the overall length of the boat. So the slightly smaller models become slightly larger models. So the arrangements for all the products, the current 22, 24, and 26 foot models will evolve considerably. The configuration for the new 290 is a considerable change. The 290 will be followed by the 250 and the 270, they all go back into production this fall. We’ll be tooling new 270 and 290 centre console models from the ground up with Marine Concepts in southern Florida. Those designs are almost complete, and they’ll be moving to the tooling stage over the next few weeks, and will go into production in the first quarter of 2021 for shipments starting in the second quarter of 2021."
"The power is requisite for the size of the boat. We have partnered through our manufacturer in Tennessee with Mercury, who they have an existing relationship with. We asked them (the manufacturer), and they also brought in Yamaha as a partner. They also have a relationship with Suzuki. I’m primarily interested Yamaha and Mercury at this point in time, so they will be the primary engine offering on Limestone going forward. Limestone has had a long history as a sterndrive brand with Mercury here in Canada, and to a lesser extent with our outboard product offering for the Canadian marketplace. In the U.S, the relationship has been with Yamaha in the coastal market. Yamaha has done an exceptional job in the U.S coastal market, so they were a logical partner for us, and the right partner for us. So we’re excited by that relationship in the U.S. Like anything, there are geographical strengths and weakness with engine partners, and you have to recognize that as a boat manufacturer, so in partnering with those engine companies they both build great powerplants. There’s strengths for one brand, there’s strengths for another brand. Mercury has a great product. Yamaha has a great product."
"There are (currently) three dealers in the North American market. Oyster Harbour in New England which has six locations. They’ve stepped up and they’re excited. They’ve been with the brand over 30 years. We’re also examining our partnerships with two other existing marinas, one in the 1000 Islands region, and one in the Great Lakes region on Georgian Bay. We’re having conversations with several others, and several have reached out since hearing the news, so it’s an interesting environment that we’re in, where there’s a lot of interest in the Limestone brand. Our plans that are afoot, the rejuvenation of the brand, is very appealing to the retail market. So we’re in negotiations and discussions with over 15 dealers right now, which represent multiple locations in North America. From Ontario, to New England, to the southern U.S, to the west coast of California, and the Northwest. It’s been amazing. It’s been a little overwhelming (laughs). I was shocked. We went to market in June, we talked to some existing dealers, and when we launched this week it was just overwhelming the enthusiasm and response from the North American market. It makes you feel like you did all your homework for 12 months and it was well worthwhile."
THE STATE OF BOATING
"Our plans got stalled when Covid hit, so we expected to be further along in the process from a design, development, and manufacturing perspective, but because of Covid that got curtailed. I think that it’s going to take the industry 8-12 months to catch up because of supply chain disruption. We see when we go to the grocery store, or the hardware store, we all see how Covid is affecting everybody’s day to day lives in the same way. I think in the automotive industry, you’re seeing a lot of empty dealerships, they’re in the same predicament. So I think we’ve seen a blip of increasing demand for boating and recreational products, I think that will create a little dip as well, it won’t continue on a hockey stick curve forever (laughs). But I think it created an appetite among the dealer community to look at new product because they can’t get other product from household brand name manufacturers. In that sense I think you have to say yes, of course (Covid did build demand). But are we (Limestone dealers) going to be able to get product? That’s the next question out of their mouth. So what did we do as a company? We curtailed our projections and thus the available product for the 2021 calendar year. We scaled back our available product offering and volume for the 2021 model year, because I believe it’s going to take time for the industry to work through the supply chain challenge. So the last thing we want to do is overpromise and under-deliver to the consumer market, and to the retail market."
"We absolutely will expand. Obviously there’s tremendous equity in the brand here in the Canadian marketplace. We’re a Canadian company, and we’re proud to be a Canadian company. And we’ll continue to be a Canadian company. We have a subsidiary in the U.S. to oversee our manufacturing. But we’re a Canadian company focused on the energy of the brand here in the Great Lakes region of Ontario, and we’ll continue to grow relationships in the Northeast. We’re also designing product for the southern market as well, a dual console product offering in the 27-29 foot range, again in collaboration with Mark’s oversight. And that will expand the appeal of the product beyond the traditional Limestone markets: the Great Lakes and the Northeastern coastal market of the United States."