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[Blog] Staying Afloat on Faith

blog Dec 15, 2021

            In April of 2020, when pandemic-inspired lockdowns began, Tim Kuck felt an uneasy sense of déjà vu. The sudden halt of widespread activity brought to mind the 1973 oil crisis, which had threatened to sink his father’s Regal Marine Industries’ boat-building business just four years after it began.

            With the price of gasoline quadrupling and gas rationing spreading nationwide, Regal’s nascent 35-member staff shrank to six. Founder Paul Kuck and wife, Carol, began to doubt the wisdom of having relocated from Wisconsin to central Florida to pursue their dream.    

            A radical recentering of the business, placing it in God’s hands, would not only bring it through that economic storm but see it thrive, becoming an industry leader widely known for its quality crafts and customer service.

            Even so, one could hardly blame Paul’s second-oldest son for harboring trepidations last year when, without warning, all forms of dining out, entertainment and recreational activity fizzled into nothingness, causing panic among every kind and size of business.

            Initially, it caused fear, acknowledges Tim, Regal’s COO and vice president of operations. But after a wave of canceled orders, the tide turned. Up came a groundswell of people wanting to enjoy recreation: You know that boat we were going to get? We’ll do that now.  Or, That pool we were going to put in, or That remodeling we wanted to do . . . let’s do it.

            “We were one of the companies that benefited from that sentiment,” Tim says. “Nobody expected that, but it’s what transpired. I don’t know what it will be like a year from now. Obviously, concerns about COVID-19 are alive and well and will influence plans. But with a boat, you’re outside and the air’s moving, so there may be limited risk regarding transmission of the virus. So people have chosen that they want to do boating.”

            Still, pulling out of apprehension over the lockdown forced Tim and brother Duane (Regal’s CEO) to rely on the same force undergirding their parents’ crucial 1973 decision—prayer. The pair especially asked for wisdom, a key commodity in the summer of 2021 when the delta variant flared and cast doubt on the immediate future. Having survived the initial wave of the pandemic gives Tim and Duane the assurance that they will come through whatever transpires. They credit their parents for surrendering their business to God and establishing the stewardship ethic that still guides the suburban Orlando-area company.

            “That’s when the business was re-birthed and my father’s spiritual walk was re-birthed,” Tim says. “In a fresh way, he was born again; his walk of faith elevated at that time. I think it’s scriptural that God uses the hard times, the trauma and sometimes the drama of our lives to accomplish his long-term goals. The refinement process happens during those times.

            “Even through the most turbulent times he is still God and he is in control. He’s able to smooth those troubled waters, even though it doesn’t happen in the timetable we’d like. He’s the one who hung the stars in the sky and paints the lilies of the field. He cares about the details. He cares about our work. We can trust him for that.”

 

Industry impact

            One of the industry’s few privately-held, family-owned businesses, Regal Marine is also one of its thriving success stories. Some 170 dealers worldwide stock Regal’s products and those who do give the company high marks for integrity and customer service.

            Sara Talley of Talley’s 77 Marine in western North Carolina was impressed that Duane Kuck showed up one winter for the Mid-Atlantic Boat Show in Charlotte, along with two other Regal reps. The help they offered was important because of that year’s heavy flow of customer traffic, she recalls.

            “I’m very impressed with them,” Talley says. “If you have a customer who has a concern or an issue . . . you have someone who will fix things to make it right. When you call Regal, you can talk to a person and it’s a person who cares.”

            A Regal dealer for 20 years, Liz Carney of Grand May Marine in Traverse City, Michigan, started handling their products after another supplier filed bankruptcy. Wanting to work with a family-owned company, Carney was especially impressed with Tim and Duane’s story about their father surrendering the business to God. She says their unabashed witness also encouraged her to be more outspoken about her faith.

            Randy Kelly of Kelly’s Port in Osage Beach, Missouri has dealt with Regal for 40 years and says the faith legacy passed down by Paul Kuck lives on through his sons.

            “The most notable thing about Tim is he does not rattle,” Kelly says. “His level of commitment and self-confidence are amazing. Regal’s credibility is unusual in the boating industry. They tell the truth whether you want to hear it or not. Following in the footsteps of Paul has carried through the family and, for the most part, the employees. Plain and simple, they are great people.”

            While certain models come and go, this year Regal Marine is producing three dozen styles of boats and yachts. Ranging from 19 to 42 feet in length, they cost just under $12,000 to around $800,000 for the most luxurious model. Their popularity is evidenced by the company’s backlog: if you place a custom boat order today, it will take a year or so for it to roll off the manufacturing line. Annual production stands at 2,000 boats, a third more than 2017 levels.

            The employee rolls are increasing too. They are up 33% over the past four years, to a total of 800. That’s double the number left after the Great Recession of 2008 bottomed out everything from real estate to banking to boating.

           

Company care

            However, when the Kucks discuss what pleases them most about their company, it isn’t their tens of millions in annual sales or industry awards, but their commitment to operating in a way that pleases God. That is expressed openly in Regal’s mission statement: “With God’s help and a steadfast commitment to integrity, we will develop a team of exceptional people and relationships to provide exceptional customer satisfaction.”

            That they have succeeded in implanting those words is evidenced by the succession of J.D. Power and Associates customer satisfaction awards Regal has received (starting in 2006) over the years, as well as honors from the National Marine Manufacturers Association.

            There’s more to this marketplace ministry, which includes a “Leading by Vision and Values” luncheon at each year’s influential Miami International Boat Show. Chick-fil-A founder Truett Cathy was the keynote speaker at the first luncheon in 2002; he has been followed by such notables as business executive and sports team owner Wayne Huizenga, pro football coach turned TV commentator Tony Dungy, major league pitcher Dave Dravecky, and the Orlando Magic’s general manager, Pat Williams.

            This industry outreach is one of several ways Regal uses to share Christ, Tim says. The company also pays for weekly visits by chaplains associated with Marketplace Chaplains. They counsel workers in English, Spanish or Vietnamese.

            In addition, Regal conducts periodic Life Classes during lunch, optional sessions that cover practical, faith-based topics and are resuming after pandemic-related interruptions. The company also offers video series on a variety of topics through Right Now Media, which employees can view for free at home or other venues of their choosing.

            Its most ambitious employee initiative is called Thrive, which will have a yet-to-be-named director overseeing operation of a 10,000-to-11,000-square-foot family life center, eyed for completion in October of 2023. A gymnasium and fitness center, it will also have conference facilities and space for medical services, counseling and various encouragement groups, such as grief recovery or sessions on financial health.

            “We feel like we’re stewards of the business God has given us,” Tim says of Thrive. “We feel like we have the privilege of coming alongside these 800 families that work here—if you look at the number in a family, more than 3,000 people—and encouraging them and influencing  them in a positive way.”

            It’s “an ongoing thing,” says his wife, Marie. “Just this week somebody here had a spouse in the hospital. They’re not a believer, but Tim was praying for them, calling them and checking on them. Every day, every week, there’s an opportunity to touch people’s lives. The needs are so great.”

            In addition to presentations on honorable business practices, dealer meetings feature an inspirational speaker to review the kind of principles that have guided Regal’s operations and its executives. “The biggest thing we want to do is honor God with our suppliers in how we treat them,” says Tim. “At times, we’ll do things to share some encouragement with them.”    

            The company tries to encourage customers too. For the past 15 years, each boat purchaser has received a copy of bestselling author Max Lucado’s God’s Inspirational Promise Book; Tim estimates they have given away 35,000 copies.

 

Community connection

            With Duane turning 66 this year and Tim at 63, the Kucks are starting to make plans for third-generation family members to ascend the management ladder. Three are already on the middle rungs: Duane’s sons, Paul (vice president of product development and manufacturing) and Jake (North American sales manager), and Tim’s daughter, Ashley, Regal’s international sales coordinator.

            Yet, it may be the child who is no longer here who may leave the biggest imprint on the company’s legacy: Tim and Marie Kuck’s youngest son, Nathaniel. The severely disabled boy lived less than five years but inspired the formation of Nathaniel’s Hope, a ministry to the disabled that has reached national proportions (see sidebar).

            This year, Tim started stepping away from some of his organizational duties to write a boating-themed devotional, which applies circumstances in boating to life and spiritual principles.

            He and Marie are also devoting more time to a dream that has unfolded the past two decades: Hopetown. As envisioned, this furthering of Nathaniel’s Hope mission will be a community serving families with special needs (children or adults), including adult residences. They would love to build a work center where residents can build products, an agriculture center, an animal farm, a gymnasium and activity center, and facilities offering respite care.

            In addition, the Kucks envision a Thrive-like town center with doctors, pediatricians, and specialists offering physical therapy and speech therapy; a restaurant serving breakfast; a café for lunch; and a coffee shop; with the disabled serving food and beverages.  

            “Right now it’s in development,” Tim says. “We have a piece of property we’re working on. It’s a bit of a mouthful actually, but by God’s grace he’s more than able to help it all happen and make provision to make necessary what needs to happen.”

            “We’re wanting to push all of our programs up to a national level,” Marie says. “Our heart is just to help this community and bring multiplication to serve this community. We’ve started a thing called ‘Boater’s Buddy,’ where we get boaters nationwide to take special needs people out on a boat ride for the day to help make those connection points and build a bridge to people with special needs.”

            Hard to think of a much better use for a boat—or a life.

 

This article was extracted from Issue 3 of Inspire Magazine (Fall 2021). Learn how to get your copy of Inspire Magazine.