A Howard Custom Boats customer has purchased the Southern California boatbuilder nearly a year after the company owner passed away.
Hamlet Tarbinian now owns the Valencia-based builder of performance catamarans, V-bottoms and decks boats. Mike Willen, who led the company with his mother, Pam, following Gene’s death in 2021, will stay on as general manager.
Gene was reportedly planning to retire and sell the company to Tarbinian before his death at age 78.
“Gene offered me the company a couple of years ago, and I think he kind of just threw it out there to see what my reaction would be,” Tarbinian said. “When I said, ‘Okay, let’s get down to it,’ he wasn’t ready to sell. For about a year we played this little cat-and-mouse game. Gene loved the company until the end.”
The sale was completed in September and Tarbinian, who works for the Los Angeles School Police Department, has no plans to shake up Howard Boats. Tarbinian is going to add two employees to speed up boat production and reduce the two-year wait time for a new boat.
Once the backlog is reduced, Howard Boats will look at possibly adding a new model and retooling existing models. Additionally, Tarbinian is planning to add apparel and beef up the company’s social media presence.
“I want to build the brand. I know the name is out there and that people who know Howard Boats, love Howard Boats,” Tarbinian said. “I want to expand that and get the name out there.”
For Mike Willen, the sale of the company allows him to focus on the production and design, while leaving the business end to Tarbinian.
“I get to keep doing what I love to do, and not have to deal with the stress and the BS of the stuff that I hated doing,” Mike said.
Howard Boats offers 11 models from 25 to 36 feet with the company’s customer base primarily on the West Coast. Last year, the company built 13 boats and plans to slowly increase production. One thing that won’t change is the custom builder’s attention to detail.
“We’re still keeping it small and making sure what goes out the door is the best that we can possibly do,” Mike said. “Sometimes that means spending eight hours on something that should have taken an hour. But that’s what keeps our customers coming back and that’s not going to change at all.”