Manufacturing company at Reynolds Industrial Park doing prospering despite COVID-19


By Kathleen Chambless
For Clay Today

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Many outdoor recreational activities have seen huge boosts in popularity following COVID-19 restrictions. Nonetheless, Reynolds Industrial Park boat manufacturer Front Runner Boat Works has been riding the wave of new business with growth and expansion.

Phillip Mahn, co-owner of Front Runners Boatworks, has always enjoyed being out on the water, but it wasn’t until he graduated from Orange Park High and started dating his high school sweetheart – now his wife – that her father brought him into the fishing community. Mahn speaks highly of the community that surrounds boating and offshore fishing, saying that the people who buy boats from Front Runners are just people who genuinely love the sport and seek out new adventures in everyday life.

Mahn met his co-owner Mark Lacovara when working at a dealership, and that friendship only grew as the two became fishing buddies.

Front Runners grew from a side project they undertook while they both had full-time jobs- buying a 38-foot Fountain together, then refurbishing it and selling it for a profit one day after listing it. Their love of boating and desire to see boats made well led to them continuing to refurbish boats, and selling from two other manufacturers, then to a choice made to cut out outside manufacturing and build the boats themselves.

Though Front Runners is only two-and-a-half years old their growth has been astounding, which Mahn attributes to the grace of God.

“We never dreamt it this big. We never planned it this big. There was no roadmap we were following to get to this point it’s got to be him,” he said.

Now they have six different lines of boats and more than 96 employees working at Front Runner, as well as their second company, Vilano Boatworks, where they build larger custom sportfishing boats. Mahn says the biggest surprise was the unexpected surprises that came from choosing to cut out manufacturers to build their own boats. “In the industry, the things I thought were going to be hard weren’t hard, and the things I thought would be a cakewalk were more difficult,” Mahn said. “Assembling the boat is more difficult than you think.”

If the door is half an inch off, that means everything needs to be taken apart and rebuilt to their standards. They build the boats for their customers because they’re customers, too. They want to make sure the boats are the best boats available because “our guys are the adventure takers, the ones who want to see how far they can go.”

The people are what keeps Front Runner afloat, and friendships are built right alongside the boats.

Front Runners has announced two new boats available to be ordered that they’ve been developing for months, just in time for the Fort Lauderdale Boat Show. They’ll be showing plans for the 37-foot catamaran, and the 47-foot center console – the biggest boat Front Runners offers. COVID-19 led to some struggles in getting raw materials and supplies but Mahn remains hopeful.

“It’s a fun time to be in the business… the people reaching out to us aren’t going anywhere- they’ve discovered a real love for it,” Mahn said.

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