HOLLAND, MI — Inside Tiara Yachts, amid a whirlwind of cranes, trucks and machinery, Thomas Slikkers boards a prototype of his company’s newest luxury watercraft, the EX 60.
Today, the 60-foot vessel is still under construction. Its hull is unpainted. The cockpit, engine and navigation system still need to be installed. But Slikkers, president and CEO of Tiara, lights up with excitement as he describes the high-end frills that will make his company’s latest creation a “premium home on the water.”
“Those are really our greatest hits,” he said.
With a price tag of around $3.5 million, the EX 60 will feature a customizable cockpit with plush seating, an open-air breakfast bar and two bathrooms. It has a well equipped galley and the propulsion system has extras such as assisted mooring. Below deck, three sleeping areas can accommodate six adults.
For over 60 years the Slikkers family have been building boats in Holland – and the EX 60 is their largest and most expensive boat to date.
The family’s beginnings in the boating business date back to 1955 when Leon Slikkers, father of Thomas Slikkers, left his job at Chris-Craft Boats to start Slickcraft Boat Company. He funded the business by selling his family’s home for $5,000 and using the proceeds to buy materials and rent space on Washington Avenue near downtown Holland. Then, he moved in with his family in an apartment above his new shop.
Starting the business was a gamble. But Leon Slikkers found success with the first 16-foot Slickcraft. Featuring a molded mahogany plywood hull, the 16-foot vessel sold for $1,165 in 1958. By the late 1960s, the company had grown in popularity, and Slikkers sold its business to American Machine and Foundry.
But Leon Slikkers, whom his family describes as a “true entrepreneur”, quickly thirsts for independence.
In 1973 he resigned as president of Slickcraft and the following year he launched S2 Yachts, the parent company of Tiara Yachts.
“He had very humble, humble beginnings,” said Thomas Slikkers. “But in a short time, my father managed to convince people that we have a great product here.”
Today, the private family business has grown considerably.
Inside its headquarters, 725 E. 40th St., 600 employees design, build and sell yachts. The company’s boats, the cheapest of which sell for more than $500,000, are sold to customers across the United States as well as Central America, South America, the Caribbean, Italy and elsewhere. . Its largest markets are the United States and parts of Latin America.
“Wherever there’s big blue water, that’s usually a good market for us,” said Slikkers, who grew up with the business but officially joined Tiara Yachts in 1982 as an accounting clerk.
The EX-60, which has been in the works for a year and a half, is still under development, but the prototype should be finished by mid-August and available to customers later this year. The company focuses on luxury and premium features that create a comfortable and quiet experience for customers.
“We want you to enjoy nature and appreciate the sounds of nature – not the sounds of our diesel engines,” said Andrew Bartlett, design director at Tiara.
Walking through the company’s cavernous factory, where around 400 workers create the yachts, Slikkers describes the craftsmanship that Tiara prides itself on. Almost everything on every yacht, from its furniture to its kitchen cabinets, is made in-house. The engines that power Tiara’s boats are made by outside companies, such as Volvo Penta and Mercury.
Tiara workers can produce about one boat a day, Slikkers said.
On a recent afternoon, as a worker inside the factory inspected a 43ft LS yacht, Slikkers said his company’s production line resembled an automobile assembly line. The process begins with the hull, the body of the boat, and about halfway through the deck is added. Later, chairs, furniture, paneling and interior fittings are installed.
Finally, the ship is painted and put on a truck for delivery, he said.
“It hasn’t been painted yet,” Slikkers said, pointing to the 43ft LS yacht. “So it’s not as pretty as it’s going to be.”
As Tiara has evolved, adding new designs, production techniques and automation, the company has stayed true to its roots as a family business, Slikkers said. Enter Tiara Yachts and you might come across one of the six members of her family who work there.
His brother David is director of government relations, while his brother Bob is senior vice president of operations. His son Alex is a sales and marketing specialist, and two of his nephews, Tim and Kelly, also live at Tiara Yachts. Kelly’s wife, Tiffany, also joined the family business. She works in human resources.
That level of family involvement creates a bond that isn’t present in every company, said Slikkers, whose father, Leon, retired from Tiara in September.
“We don’t try to make sure we have a golden parachute hidden in the back corner in case we need to jettison at the first sign of trouble,” he said. “We are the guys who still drive the ship when it takes on water.”
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