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From humble beginnings to building a $3.5M boat: The journey of Tiara Yachts

First boat sold for $1,165 by company's founder in 1950's; now every option is $500,000+
Tiara Yachts EX 60
Posted at 6:48 PM, Mar 24, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-24 19:06:25-04

HOLLAND, Mich. — When you walk into Tiara Yachts in Holland, you're immediately greeted by a sixteen-feet long boat shining under the lobby lights. It's a 1958 Runabout, restored to its original condition.

For Tom Slikkers, it isn't just another boat. It's a piece of history that tells his dad's story.

“So when we come into work every day, this is a great reminder of our humble beginnings, and what now has transpired into being a great legacy," said Slikkers, President and CEO of Tiara Yachts.

In the mid-1940s, his dad, Leon, worked for Chris Craft, another boat company in West Michigan. He worked there for nine years, building a dream home for his wife and family on the side.

Then, in 1955, Leon decided it was time to take a risk.

“So he sold the home that he built, he paid off all his bills and he had $5,000 to his name," said Slikkers. "He had to find a place to work, find a place to live and then start his business.”

Leon started by building boats in his garage, creating everything by hand. In fact, the first-ever steering wheel he ever made sits on a shelf as you walk from the lobby to the production plant.

Eventually, Leon bought an old roller skating rink and turned that into his factory.

The 1958 Runabout at the front entrance was one of his first models. It sold for $1,165 at that time.

Fast forward to now, and you won't find a boat at Tiara Yachts for less than half-a-million dollars.

Leon left the company when he retired in September, but the company hasn't left the family. Leon's two sons, Tom and David, along with their three combined sons, all work together at the company, while his daughter is a shareholder.

As president and CEO, Slikkers's goal is to keep the company's original identity alive by making sure the risk-taking attitude doesn't slow down.

“It’ll have the most innovation and wide breadth of technology that we’ve ever put into a boat," said Slikkers.

He was talking about their most expensive project yet — a $3.5 million dose of luxury — the EX 60.

It's a 60-foot-long, 17-feet-wide yacht, with all the bells and whistles you can imagine.

From the initial drawings, to the mock-up FOX 17 got to check out on Thursday, the idea is one and a half years in the making. Now, the first edition is finally underway.

The plan is to have the EX 60 in full production by early next year. It's a beautiful benchmark for success, floating on the foundation of those humble beginnings.

"This is a reminder that it started small," said Slikkers. "You can’t get too big for your britches.”

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