Drawing the Line Between Tradition and New Technologies in the Water: An Interview with Hacker Boat Company COO Erin Badcock
1. Can you provide some background about your upbringing?
I am originally from northern New Jersey. When I was growing up, I would often come up to Lake George in the summers with my family. We became engrossed with boating as we grew up sailing and being around boats.
2. What advice would you give to yourself after you graduated from Fordham University?
My advice would be to explore open doors and opportunities that come out of the woodwork. Fordham University presented a lot of opportunities to do many things I did not plan to do going into school. I am glad I chose to explore opportunities that came my way, even if they were unexpected, rather than closing the door. That served me well, considering that mindset led me to my current job at Hacker Boat.
3. Why did you choose to go into the boating industry after majoring in political science and government?
I did not plan it this way. My family was taking on the business, and my father asked me to come work for him, and I thought it would be a temporary term of employment. I came on board to sort of help him get a handle of things since he was dealing with the business, and it just stuck.
Especially with my background in boats, I felt comfortable with and started liking what I was doing. I slowly got involved in the business and in sales and operations. My job at Hacker was not something I saw coming.
4. How would you describe your role at Hacker? What’s your favorite part of the job?
What I like a lot about the job is there is nothing monotonous. There is always something going on, whether I am involved with a customer buying a boat, taking on a new line of merchandise items, or working with marketing. Even in running the day-to-day operations, there are repetitive operations, but nothing really becomes mundane; there is always something interesting. It is something that motivates me to come to work.
5. Do you have a personal favorite boat made by Hacker?
I like our new Sportabout model - it is probably a new favorite of mine.
I like the Sportabout and the fiberglass line in general, but I think the combination of the sport and the runabout is fun, and it is family oriented, rides great, and looks fantastic. It is a nice marriage of traditional and contemporary designs.
6. The HackerBoat website seems to emphasize that your boats are handcrafted, and take “thousands of hours” per boat. How do you think automation might impact your industry and your company’s practices going forward?
There are a lot of ways that we could incorporate automation, but I do not think it would take off the hand craftsmanship. So much of our process is an art, so even if we chose to automate certain parts, I do not think a machine could replace a lot of the pure skill.
7. What distinguishes Hacker from other boat-making companies?
Hacker has been around for more than 100 years.
The company was started in 1908 in Michigan, and we have had steep heritage with the auto industry rising with boating in the early 1900s. We have existed for a long time, and while other boat companies have automated more of their process for mass production, we have stuck with all-wood boats.
A lot of the rationale behind that is maintaining the labor of love with a unique customer base that appreciates our ability to deliver a timeless heritage aspect but also performance.
We have had to evolve our thinking as a company, but also the product, to not lose the heritage legacy piece while also building a boat that is competitive in today’s modern market, and I think we have done so successfully.
Every boat is built by hand at Hacker's Factory at Lake George, NY
There is really nobody else who is building boats like us. There may be a few other wood boat builders, but not to the production extent that we have, and not with the brand that HackerCraft can wave.
8. How has your industry and company been affected by coronavirus? Do you perceive that the pandemic will have any long-term impacts on your industry?
We were directly affected as manufacturers in New York, due to Governor Cuomo’s pause of our operations.
We were certainly affected and our staff and customer base were affected. Since we have been back, it has taken us some time to get things back up to speed, and our customers have been understanding. They understand there will be delays, but to an extent the anticipation for their boat produces a level of excitement for them.
During the pandemic, we have actually seen a lot of activity on our website.
People are at home, our product is so unique, and so between the brand and the product, we offer an escape for people.
Whether that translates to a sale down the road for our company or if we simply gain fans of HackerCraft, we are glad that our pictures and videos offer them a means of leaving the reality we face today. We have had a lot of positive feedback from that, and it has been refreshing from our owners and staff.
9. What is a recent issue that has come up at Hacker, and how was it resolved?
Honestly, not sure if this was recent, but with the complex naval architecture in the boats, we definitely need skilled craftsmen to build our products. The problem is, those people are getting harder to find.
I would not say it is a dying profession, but those crafts people are no longer knocking down our door, so we are very fortunate to have a good team of people who have been with us for a long period of time, and who are able to share their skills and traits.
But it is still a challenge for us to find new and younger workforce who can rise to that level of quality. When we find the right match, it works out perfectly so fortunately we are taking orders and selling boats, and feeding the pipeline. As the company grows, we need to increase our workforce, and it is a challenge sometimes to find people who also have a passion for what they are doing.
Our current workers, you can see their pride in doing a boat - they are engaged in what they are doing. Our boat makers feel a sense of accomplishment when looking at where the boat started and where it finished - the entire process is very fulfilling. I run the business, I do not work on the boats so I cannot take credit, but I can tell you that our people are very skilled and have a lot of pride.
10. Any additional comments?
In terms of adjusting our business to virtual means of communication, we have had to get creative about doing virtual orientations for our customers. We obviously needed to account for social distancing, and about making changes to make sure everyone is comfortable.
We are very fortunate to have kept up business inquiries during this time, and so I do not think we could have hoped of anything better out of this unfortunate situation.
Written by Michael Ding & Edited by Alexander Fleiss
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