BURLINGTON — A shiny red plastic sheet emerged from a 375-degree oven Wednesday at Eddyline Kayaks, ready to be molded into the outer shell of a kayak.
“We were the first company to apply this (heat forming) process to kayaks,” co-founder Tom Derrer said. “Production skyrocketed after we figured this out.”
Derrer and wife Lisa Derrer wanted to preserve that innovative spirit as they prepared to retire and sell the company they founded in 1971. They didn’t want to see it bought by a big company.
On Tuesday, the Derrers closed a deal to pass along ownership to three longtime employees and a few other investors, including new company President Scott Holley.
The move ensures Eddyline Kayaks will stay its course, remaining at the Port of Skagit where it employs about 20 people.
“It cements the preservation of the company,” Tom Derrer said. “I’ve seen companies sold and then disappear ... That won’t happen here.”
Eddyline Kayaks has been at the port since 1990. The company produces 14 models of kayaks and builds about 3,500 a year.
The transition planning was aided by Economic Development Alliance of Skagit County staff, who helped introduce the Derrers to Holley.
Holley, of Mount Vernon, had previously contacted EDASC about wanting to invest in a local, well-established company looking to transition ownership.
So when Tom Derrer asked EDASC Executive Director John Sternlicht for leads on potential buyers, Sternlicht knew exactly who to call.
“Within 24 hours we were all sitting in (Sternlicht’s) office for our first meeting,” Tom Derrer said.
Sternlicht said this kind of ownership transfer is unusual.
“So much about this process is relationships rather than just transaction relationships,” Sternlicht said. “Their nest egg is their company they built and they want to see it continue to grow and thrive in the right hands.”
Making sure businesses stay in Skagit County has a positive affect on other local businesses that work with Eddyline Kayaks, EDASC’s Lynn Jordan said.
For instance, the company works with Janicki Industries and other smaller local businesses.
Holley said he’ll help guide Eddyline Kayaks along a path of gradual growth.
The next step is to further improve the company’s production capabilities, he said.
Lisa Derrer said it’s a relief to finally have the transaction in the books. They’ve been planning this transition for about a decade, seeking to nurture the development of their staff.
“We wanted management and our products to be the identity of Eddyline as opposed to Tom and I so we could pass it on and the company could still have life going forward,” Lisa Derrer said.
In retirement, the Derrers plan to spend much of their time paddling while on road trips across the country.
“It’s still sinking in,” Lisa Derrer said. “It’s not sad, no. We are really happy about it.”