Like many others in this region, Michael Nanda had dabbled in real estate, flipping houses and buying rental properties. But when the real estate market collapsed in 2008, he looked for a new business. He and his father, Ashok, started looking for a business to buy. And that’s when they found the Fort Myers-based IMM boat lifts.
It was a great solution for everyone involved. The owner wanted to sell but was willing to stay a while to teach them how he did it. Ashok had a background in the manufacturing industry, and Michael had an MBA and previous business experience that he could apply to the management and growth of the business. “We thought it was something we could learn and also had the support of the previous owner who didn’t want to just leave the business,” says Michael, 46.
Father and son bought the business in 2008. Later that same year, they bought Quality Boat Lifts, a competing business located about a mile away, with the goal of amalgamating the two businesses.
“I think we have something really good going on. We will probably become one of the biggest companies in this industry in the future. This is what we are working towards. Ashok Nanda, IMM Quality boat lifts
Today, this combined company, IMM Quality Boat Lifts, employs nearly 40 people and manufactures approximately 2,500 boat lifts per year in Fort Myers, manufacturing many components that are used in-house. Sales through June 2021 are 44% higher than the same period from 2020, an increase spurred by a boating boom linked to the pandemic. (The Nanda have declined to provide specific income figures.) And the company is working to prepare for even greater growth in the years to come.
“I think we have something very good going on,” said Ashok Nanda, 78. “We will probably become one of the biggest companies in this industry in the future. This is what we are working towards.
Build a brand
Success did not happen overnight. When the Nanda bought the two companies in 2008, they had high hopes based on the companies’ past numbers. But the recession has not only affected the housing market. “When we started in 2008, it was probably the worst year for boat lifts in general,” says Michael. “Everything fell. We thought combining the two companies would be great, but we really struggled the first few years. “
Much of the company’s growth has occurred over the past few years. It coincides with the arrival of Mike’s brother, Steve Nanda, in the family business. Steve works on the financial side of the business and has also been instrumental in expanding the company’s marketing.
“We continue to grow each year and each year is our best year yet,” says Steve, 49. “Our sales are now about three times what they were a few years ago. And we hope to continue this trend, which is facilitated by the organic things we’ve done to improve the business and get new contactors and customers.
IMM Quality Boat Lifts manufactures lifts for everything from kayaks and personal watercraft to large yachts. An elevator lifts a boat out of the water on a private dock or marina, and its use can help prevent damage and maintenance issues.
The company sells its products around the world through a network of dealers and marine contractors. These contractors are the ones who actually install the elevators, and the company has worked to make sure they know why an elevator from IMM Quality Boat Lifts is a good choice.
“I think at first we weren’t getting the message across as well as we could have,” says Steve. “So we’ve worked to educate our major customers and make it easier for owners and marine contractors to understand all the different features of our boat lifts that other manufacturers don’t have, which will make them last longer and perform better. . “
One of these features? The company manufactures most of the components used in its elevators. He buys engines made in the United States, because it is not worth the trouble of figuring out how to make them. But almost all of the other elevator metal parts are made from raw aluminum in the company’s machine plant, and it’s all assembled in Fort Myers.
“When we bought the companies, we were buying a lot of parts from machine shops,” says Michael. “But we had a few CNC machines and we brought in more. We started making all the parts in-house and we have a full CNC machine shop which is basically better than some companies where that’s all they do.
IMM Quality Boat Lifts has the ability to customize lifts to fit any boat or project. “A lot of boat lift manufacturers make die-cut lifts and tell you to make them work with your boat,” says Steve. “We have the engineering capabilities to customize the elevator to suit individual needs. If you come to us with an unusual situation, we have the machining capabilities here to make any part the engineer offers. It works better than trying to force a square dowel through a round hole.
Another differentiator? IMM Quality pre-assembles elevators as much as possible at the factory to facilitate their field installation for marine contractors. “They seem to like it,” Steve says.
Mike Thaler, owner of Thaler Contracting Inc. in Davie, outside Miami, certainly does. “Their boat lifts are mostly fully assembled, which makes installation much easier than most other manufacturers,” says Thaler, whose company is the authorized IMM dealer for all of Broward County. “They are more or less ready to be installed and to embark on the boats. They just make a good quality boat lift and their customer service is great, although I usually don’t have a lot of issues with their boat lifts.
Ashok calls this pre-assembly the “advantage” of the business and worries that competitors will notice it and copy the strategy. But Steve says they already know about it and aren’t following suit. “The truth is, our competitors don’t want to do it,” he says. “We use our time to help our entrepreneurs. They don’t want to use their time as it will reduce their bottom line.
The family incurred no debt to start the business, investing around $ 5 million of their own money in the business. Much of that came from Ashok’s retirement funds. He says he’s more of an advisory role in the business, joking, “I just want to make sure I get my money back.”
But he doesn’t really care about his sons’ talents or their ability to run a successful business. “We will take on any challenge or any competition,” he said. “And we will drive them away, because we are engaged.” “
This commitment helped the company get jobs like the custom elevator it designed for Gulf Star Marina in Fort Myers Beach. The “smart marina” uses the technology of automated stacker cranes to move the boats from the storage racks to the water, and it required the creation of an elevator specially adapted to the marina.
“We needed something extremely personalized, and IMM Quality Boat Lifts was ready to do all the special fabrication and really create a nice, specialty lift for us,” said Gulf Star owner Todd Carroll. “They just did a fantastic job.”
The Nanda were ready to take on this complex project when many other boat lift manufacturers were not. “What they needed was basically a corporate R&D project,” explains Steve. “We kinda like to take on projects like this. These are learning experiences. As you advance in R&D, you discover new and better ways of doing things.
And the job didn’t end once the custom elevator for the project was created. Even after installation, the IMM Quality Boat Lifts team continues to analyze the new lift and look for ways to make it even better.
IMM Quality has benefited from the increase in boating due to the pandemic, given that it is a safe and socially remote activity. According to the National Marine Manufacturers Association, boat sales in the United States peaked in 13 years in 2020, with retail sales of new powerboats increasing by about 12%. The association expects boat sales to remain at “historic levels” in 2021 as everyone catches up with demand.
This boom in water sports has been both a blessing and a challenge for IMM Quality Boat Lifts. “The hardest part has been labor, parts sourcing and price increases at this point,” says Michael. “When it all happened with COVID-19, other businesses shut down and it just created a backlog. All the smelters have been beefed up, and some factory orders that we get in a month or less now sometimes take four months or more. We have to juggle increased demand and not be able to get parts in a timely manner.
Despite these challenges, the company continues to move forward. He introduced a new kayak lift in 2020 which has proven to be a good seller, and he is exploring other product lines. An area with potential? Lake boat lifts. It’s an untapped market for the company, and would require a different type of product than the lifts it makes for boats in coastal saltwater areas.
“It’s a whole different beast,” Steve says. “We are also considering launching into hydraulic-type elevators. We’re trying to expand into new markets with new products, and we’ll see how that goes.
The company has mainly maximized its current space in Fort Myers. To help support future growth, the Nanda are in the process of finalizing the acquisition of another Fort Myers business. He is not a competitor but rather a seller from whom Michael bought parts when the business started. “It will help us increase our production capacity,” says Steve. “It’s the space, it’s the machines, it’s the employees. And all of these things are going to help us expand our speed and manufacturing capabilities. “