I used to see St. Clair
over the years at International Marine Trades Exhibit & Conference shows and NMMA conferences, and we have known each other for a long time.
was one of the first board members of the National Marine Manufacturers Association
, along with such industry notables as Eddie Smith, Dave Parker and others.
He also was the third chairman of the NMMA.
Independence has a population of 10,000 and is just 13 miles from Neodesha.
Both towns are basically farm communities.
"My dad was a lumber salesman, calling on lumber dealers all over southeast Kansas, northeast Oklahoma and southwest Missouri," St. Clair
was still calling on dealers when he
was 85 but then had to stop only because he
was getting macular degeneration.
lived to be 97."
apparently inherited his
says he'd be hard-pressed to find a crew with the work ethic and pride of his
Learning about fiberglass
has always been a St. Clair family passion.
"As a kid," St. Clair
says, "I grew up boating.
My dad bought a 14-foot Lone Star boat with a 35-hp Evinrude.
We boated almost every lake in Kansas, and then we came down to boat on the Grand Lake of the Cherokees in Oklahoma.
I wanted to put a new Evinrude V engine on the boat, but it wouldn't handle it.
So we got a used inboard boat to water-ski with."
St. Clair went to the University of Kansas, where he was an end on the football team.
"After graduation from college I worked in the lumber business for a couple of years, doing what my dad did - covering a territory in northeast Kansas and southeast Nebraska," he
When the insurance company said in 1967 that St. Clair
partner needed to make something other than the slides, Pack said, "Well, we'll just make boats.
And they did.
"We copied some boats.
IMTEC was an eye-opening experience for St. Clair
saw a lot of large boat companies, such as Glastron
, Sea Ray
and even Outboard Marine Corp.
, which were making midpriced boats.
realized that to survive he
had to go where they weren't.
had to find a niche market.
"We came home from IMTEC and really scrapped this whole line of boats that we had copied, except for the two tri-hulls that were of our design," St. Clair
So St. Clair
called the printer who was just about to print his
very first brochure and said he
had to change the name.
"How much time do I have to get a new name for the brochure?
The printer said he
needed the new name by noon that day to deliver the brochures in time for the show in Chicago.
"I hung up the phone and didn't think about a new name for more than about 5 or 10 minutes," St. Clair
"That first IMTEC show was a pretty humbling experience," St. Clair
When they returned home, St. Clair
team started their new concept.
"We moved from Chanute to Neodesha," he
"Neodesha gave us a building if we would move the plant there.
So with our SBA loan we started building just two new boats.
But we made sure that they were the very best there were, high-quality and the most expensive.
We finished the first new top-of-the-line boat just before Christmas that year."
had heard about the San Francisco Boat Show at the Cow Palace. (I worked that show for OMC
for several years, and it was excellent.) At that time, St. Clair
says, Cobalt's only California dealer was in Fullerton.
"I took our first new-generation, high-end, expensive and pretty boat out there," St. Clair
"I wanted to see if I could get a dealer there and hopefully get to display the boat in the Cow Palace show.
I called on every dealer in San Francisco before the show, but couldn't get one to take the line.
Then I called on all the dealers in areas surrounding San Francisco but still didn't get a dealer.
Most of them said, 'Son, I like your boat, but you are just too expensive.' So at that point I was beginning to question my new concept of building top-end boats."
Then St. Clair
couldn't get his
boat into the Cow Palace to display it at the show.
Still determined, he
made a deal with a Mobil station across the street from the arena.
boat there, close to the sidewalk, and worked the 10-day show from that spot.
"I talked to lots of people as they went by and handed out a lot of brochures," he
"The other big asset we have is our employees," St. Clair
"We have several second and third generations working at Cobalt
St. Clair's son Paxson joined the company in 1989 and became CEO in 2007.
is doing such a good job running the company now that I do my best to stay out of his
hair," St. Clair
says with a laugh.
"Sean Callan, my son-in-law, is president and runs production and engineering.
is also key in the organization."
Says Paxson St. Clair
: "I travel to a lot of boat shows around the country.
"We recognize that the pontoon market has been growing and felt there would be a market for a Cobalt pontoon with yacht quality," Paxson
"We have gotten some great ratings for our Cobalt wine
," St. Clair
"Our first vintage was 2005. … Our wine bottles have a Cobalt
logo on the front."
St. Clair now makes his home in Lawrence Kan., where he graduated from the University of Kansas.
spends most of the year there and enjoys going to the university's football and basketball games.
In the summer he
wife travel often to a home they have at Grand Lake of the Cherokees in northeastern Oklahoma near the Kansas and Missouri borders.
This is the lake where his
father often took the family boating as Pack was growing up.
drives to the plant about once a week.
"When I come to the plant each week, I like to spend all my time out in the plant," he