Commonwealth Journal

January 23, 2013

The Sumerset name lives on

Thoroughbred Houseboats looks to keep up standard of former industry leader

by Chris Harris
Commonwealth Journal

Somerset —  

Sumerset Houseboats lives on ... in Wayne County.
Shawn Heinen, president of Thoroughbred Houseboats, said that while his company bought the rights to the iconic Sumerset Houseboats name, they won’t be making use of the local facilities. However, there are other resources Sumerset has to offer.
Thoroughbred, a Wayne County-based producer of houseboats that’s been in operation since 1996, pur-chased the Sum-erset brand in April of 2012.
Recently, the company put a notice in industry publication Houseboat Magazine notifying customers of the change. Sumerset went up for sale in 2010 following a shutdown the previous year.
“We’d talked about it for a year,” said Heinen of the decision to buy Sumerset. “We have two dealers that had really pressed us to buy them. They’d sold a lot of (Sumerset houseboats).”
Before that, Sumerset had been one of the true leaders in the industry, a staple in houseboat sales for more than 40 years. But business declined along with the economy and the houseboat market, and operations at the state-of-the-art 200,000-square-foot facility here in Pulaski County came to a close.
“At one time, Somerset built 100 boats a year,” said Heinen. “They were the biggest in the industry ... now that’s all dried up.”
Heinen said that Thoroughbred has no plans to do anything with the building on Parkers Mill Road — at least nothing in the foreseeable future — and that the property is still up for sell by Citizens National Bank.
Along with the Sumerset brand, however, is a distinctive style of boat design that still carries a lot of weight with customers.
“Besides their name, they have a few other features,” said Heinen of Sumerset. “It’s more of a look thing.
“Sumerset boats have a specific forward curve bridge part, a fly bridge part,” he said. “A marine lit-up panel. Water manifold. They have a curved front glass wall that’s exclusive. They have a lightly rounded front deck that’s a Sumerset tradition.”
Four Sumerset boats have been contracted for production under the Thoroughbred umbrella so far, said Heinen — two have shipped out. 
Thoroughbred expects to produced 16-18 houseboats this year, with about four or five of them being Sumerset models. Next year, Heinen hopes to move up to 24 boats, with approximately half of them being Sumersets.
“I think it will make an impact,” said Heinen of the effect of the Sumerset name on Thoroughbred, which started in Albany, Ky., before moving to Wayne County. “Hopefully, we’ll sell more, and be able to increase personnel, and hire more people from Pulaski County as well as Wayne County.”
In that hiring, noted Heinen, would likely be former Sumerset employees who are well-acquainted with the product Thoroughbred is now producing.
The goal is to bring another 10-15 people on board this year and the same number next year, he said.
And maybe, Sumersets might one day be made in Somerset once again.
“In the future, we would consider expanding out of town,” said Heinen, “when the time comes that we can support that.”