Skip to main content

Fifth-generation operator helms Maine boatyard

Adam Alexander is the fifth-generation operator of the family-owned J.O. Brown & Son Inc., a boatyard that has been on the Maine island of North Haven since 1888.

It provides fuel, boat maintenance and storage, hardware supplies, boat-taxi services and, not the least, local color to the North Haven waterfront.

Operational challenges include the shift from wooden to fiberglass boats and a disconnect between the generations, Alexander said during a recent business profile.

“Things change, not necessarily techniques, but certainly technology — like the shift from wooden boats to fiberglass boats,” Alexander told Maine Business. “The landscape of our customers is changing. To navigate all those things when it’s inside the family — it seems like somebody’s not understanding what someone’s saying. The older generation can’t seem to get through to the younger generation, and vice versa. We’re saying the exact same words. They just mean completely different things to us.”

“I feel like New Englanders are pretty stubborn and they don’t want to let go of things — ‘If it worked a hundred years ago, there’s zero reason why it shouldn’t work 100 years from now,’ ” he said.

Like most marine businesses post-recession, the yard has learned to trim and make operations most efficient to maximize profits.

“We’re just in the midst of having the two best years we’ve had in a really long time because we’ve changed a lot of how we do business lately, how we view our business, how we take in money, how we do expenses,” he said. “The new gas pump system saves us $10,000 a year. A simple thing like changing credit card processing companies has saved us thousands of dollars a year. We’re becoming more modern, whether we like it or not, and it’s helping.”