Fans of Contender Boats Inc. know the Homestead-based company for tournament fishing boats that speed to fishing grounds far offshore. They’re likely to do a double take when they see Contender’s new 25-foot boat skimming the shallow inshore waters of the bay.
The boat is fast and built to fish — but unlike the boat builder’s signature offshore vessels, it’s designed for cruising near shore.
Contender Boats is on a new heading with its Bay model — unveiled in February, competing for the first time in the inshore market.
“They’re selling like hotcakes,” says marketing director Les Stewart. “It’ll change our company.”
The Homestead-based boat builder isn’t forsaking the high-end, high-performance offshore tournament fishing boats upon which its reputation is based. The Bay boat, however, represents the quest for innovative product in various lines to drive growth for Contender Boats as well as the foray into inshore markets.
In addition to the inshore market, Contender Boats, which has seen growth boosted by implementation in recent years of technology, including new stepped-hull designs, is positioning itself to grow in the pleasure boating market.
“We are headed in multiple directions, which has helped us to grow while many are still downsizing,” Stewart says, adding that Contender continues to introduce new products each year. “We plan to expand our product line to become more in line with everyone in the market, not just fishermen.”
The fisherman has been at the heart of Contender Boats since its founding in the mid-1980s. Owner and President Joe Neber was a commercial fisherman, a South Beach native who ran offshore for his catch. Neber decided he could build a boat that better suited his purposes. Once he did, and his boat was noticed by others, he found himself building boats from the back of his house, Stewart said.
“Contender was bred through tournament fishing and slowly built from there,” Stewart said. The boats were crafted with a center console to allow angling all around and designed for long jaunts — and they started winning tournaments. Hence the company’s name.
Today, Contender has 143 employees who handcraft semi-custom boats from its Homestead facility. The company is on track to build about 240 boats this year with projected revenue estimated at $20 million.
Contender crafts more than 20 models here, which range from the small 25-foot Tournament to the mid-size 28-foot Sport and the large 32-foot stepped-hull model, all the most popular offshore Contender boats in their size class. The respective base prices for those models are $85,486, $107,364 and $184,997. The 25-foot Bay, the current best seller for Contender, has a starting price of $73,963.
Those models will be among the nine boats Contender plans to bring to this year’s Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, which runs from Thursday to Oct. 29.
Stewart says what sets Contender boats apart from competitors is primarily “the build quality.”
“They’re not manufactured, per se. They’re crafted. They’re handmade — like someone creating a piece of art,” he said.
Each boat is engineered individually: While the hull remains the same, almost everything else can be customized. “Everything is done in-house,” Stewart said. “If there’s a problem, we built it — we know how to fix it.”