By David Mittelberg ~ June 13th, 2013. Filed under: Current Issue.
George Bellwoar, VP of Sales and Marketing, Perko
George Bellwoar lives out Perko’s mission
to develop products that grow the marine industry
and help cruisers enjoy their boating.
by Laura Dunn
Founded in 1907, Perko prides itself on being committed to its customers’ changing needs. Their original product line consisted of hand-formed and soldered navigation lights, ventilators and chart cases made from brass, copper and galvanized steel. Perko responded to their customers’ changing needs by expanding into a variety of other modern manufacturing processes and materials, while never sacrificing individual attention to detail and craftsmanship.
SB: What attracted you to work for Perko and what keeps you excited to be working there?
GB: I like diversity. To me, nothing would be worse than to have to do the same thing tomorrow that I did today. Perko manufactures thousands of SKUs that span about seven entirely different businesses. We sell worldwide. While we are best known for our pleasure boat products, a significant part of our business involves commercial marine. You will find Perko products on tug boats, in commercial shipping and on the naval vessels of many countries. Plus we sell into general industrial markets. If you’ve ever ridden a motorcycle, used gas welding equipment or made a call on a pay phone, you’ve probably been in contact with something we made somewhere along the way. For someone who wants something different every day, it would be hard to find a better option.
SB: What do you love most about what you do?
GB: Without question, I love new product development. It is the lifeblood of every company. I have always been pretty good mechanically and I like working with my hands. In fact, I still have my first sports car and am just about finished rebuilding an old 1985 Trans Am as my new daily driver. Put those passions together with our manufacturing capabilities and you have a marriage made in heaven.
SB: What sets Perko apart from other competitors in the field? How has it accomplished this and how will it continue to do so?
GB: Perko is different from most competitors, and for that matter, from most companies worldwide in many ways. Family-owned and more than a century-old, we are almost entirely vertically integrated. We want to make as much of what we sell as possible. So we bring in ingot, plastic pellets and chemicals and ship completed components. This all happens from a single facility in Miami. So we have total in house control over design, quality and delivery.
SB: How has Perko made a difference in the marine industry? How has it directly helped boating enthusiasts enjoy their time on the water?
GB: I think we’ve helped in two ways. First, we support the industry and try to keep active in many ways. For years we’ve had people on NMMA, NMDA and ABYC boards and committees. We attend industry events and support industry efforts. Second, we try to develop products to make boating more enjoyable and easier. That is not always the easiest thing to do when your primary products are hardware related. But over so many years we have developed hundreds, if not thousands of products that have become fundamental boating items, which are found on boats and in competitors’ catalogs worldwide. In recent years, I’d have to say that reduced glare lighting and vented fuel fills are among the more significant ones. Our latest product expansions have been into the new EPA regulated fuel systems.
SB: What’s a “must-have” product or two you’d recommend for cruisers?
GB: That is actually a hard question to answer. Our line is a maintenance line, not an impulse line. No one buys a valve, a hinge or a bow light unless they have to. So there is no one product that I’d single out. My hope is that boaters who need to replace a part look for a brand name they can trust, not just the least expensive option on the wall. In the end, real cost is based on long-term value, not the shelf price.
SB: How has the company developed and changed over the years?
GB: One thing we know for certain, you don’t last over a century without making a lot of changes. We’d need about four generations of employees to fully tell the story. So here’s a short version. We began life as a tool and die shop in the Northeast. Our focus was on lighting for marine and railroad applications. In time we began manufacturing some of the lights we had been tooling for years. As we grew and our brand became a staple of the marine industry, customers convinced us to expand into distribution. We added marine hardware and also began selling products from bilge pumps to heads and stoves in addition to our own lights. As time went on, we became unhappy with some suppliers and began to contract with foundries and forge shops to produce our own versions, mostly of hardware items and valves. One thing led to another and over the years we built our own foundries, chrome plating facility and plastic injection molding operation. Our latest expansion is into investment casting, which will be operational by the end of this year.
SB: Are you still involved as a chairman with ABYC? What do you enjoy most about that?
GB: I’m still involved with the ABYC, but now as past chairman since my second term ended in March. I still hold a seat on the executive committee. My ABYC experience has been a good one. I developed what I know will be lifelong friendships. This has been an eye opener. ABYC is one of those few places where you get to see people make decisions based more on a concern for safety than to meet their company’s financial goal. Involvement with a group that focuses on boating safety rather than the bottom line is rewarding. Without a doubt it has changed my perspective on new products.
SB: How involved in the boating and marine community are you?
GB: I’m about as involved as time will permit. ABYC now takes up less time than before. But the jewels the EPA keep dropping on us eat up some of that time. I always enjoyed my involvement with the NMMA and hopefully I’ll be able to get little more involved there than I have been in the past few years.
SB: What kind of boat do you own? How often do you get to use it?
GB: I’ve had boats most of my life, all quite small. The list has included numerous jonboats, a Long Island Sneakbox, a 14’ wooden Scotchcraft, and two small hydroplanes, a 12-footer and a 16-footer. I did a lot of product testing using a 23’ sailfish & a 31’ fountain. My current boat is a 12’ aluminum boat with a 1956 Johnson 10-hp. Don’t laugh… it has a trolling motor, down looking/side looking sonar, battery switch, LED navigation & spot lights, bilge pump, 4 rod holders & enough cup holders for a 6-pack. The cup holders get used a lot.