Industry spotlight: Barton Marine on Brexit and its US expansion

In the aftermath of Brexit and a global pandemic, plus catastrophic global political and economic shifts, it is safe to say the environment hasn’t been the kindest to marine companies. But, besides these challenging ups and downs and the inability to predict what is around the corner, UK marine equipment company Barton Marine continues to steer ahead. 

Suzanne Blaustone, CEO of Barton Marine, says: “Satan himself is driving the bus right now. Business leaders can no longer just manage and lead our companies forward anymore; in the last three years, we have developed into being crisis managers.” 

Navigating the ‘new normal’

“Since 1948, our complete range is manufactured, produced, assembled, and dispatched from Kent; the company has had three owners, all of whom were/are dedicated to keeping production in the UK; we are extremely proud of that as we can control materials, quality, and processes,” explains Blaustone. 

kids on a Barton Marine stand up paddle board at sunset

With 60 per cent of Barton’s business landing in Europe, Brexit was a huge hurdle. “Barton Marine is solidly and firmly against the Brexit decision. I am proud to say we haven’t lost a single customer in Europe, but we were prepared and did our due diligence. 

“We initiated a Euro price list so customers would always know their pricing despite exchange rate variables over time. We outlined our training preparation programme for changes in freight and tariff issues and reviewed our tariff codes to ensure proper and least offensive codes were used so that they were reported correctly.” 

Preparing and navigating the Brexit fallout was crucial and the company aimed to ensure it wouldn’t be blindsided even if the business landscape shifted dramatically following Brexit.

“We outlined our plan and put in the groundwork to open a warehouse and office in Belgium should final exit plans create such havoc – but in the end, we did not need to do this as it was more economical to operate from our UK base, which helped stabilise costs,” explains Blaustone. 

As the dust settled on Brexit, like everyone, Barton Marine faced a global pandemic. “We never closed Barton Marine; we were an essential business and stayed open through the pandemic,” Blaustone says. “With Brexit, I saw the supply chain issues possibly tightening up, so we were already supplied with raw materials throughout the pandemic. We had the supply; we weren’t devastated by these issues and could jump forward with new supply programmes.”

Expansion plans

Barton’s pre-planning ahead of supply chain issues and new staff hires is crucial to its momentum. 

“We have expanded our team recently, with a new chief operating officer in the US and a new chief commercial officer here in the UK. I have developed a team with strong leadership; I wanted to recruit more sailors and youthful people within Barton,” Blaustone adds. 

two black and silver blocks with a white background

Barton is now looking at the younger consumer generation entering the leisure marine space. 

“We are focusing on getting into schools and universities and supporting younger sailor programmes. We want to see more young people on the water; it is important that a new sailor grows up seeing Barton Marine equipment on their dinghies,” she says. 

The younger generation is a prime target group for the US expansion, which John Navarro, the newly appointed COO for Barton US, is managing. 

Navarro [left] says: “My first step is the college and university market space in the US; many colleges and high schools have sailing programmes.”

Diversifying and innovation are essential to Barton’s values; Blaustone explains: “We are part
of a larger movement; instead of us looking at one sport, it’s becoming about the outdoor leisure lifestyle with sailing and watersports being just one part of that. 

“We want to make more partnerships within the outdoor recreational sailing and boating industry to create synergies with other companies that can grow, and maybe create a new product together.” 

In terms of future partnerships, Blaustone nods to opportunities across multiple industries, where Barton’s in-house manufacturing and R&D can help bring new, bespoke products to market. 

She says: “We are able to create bespoke products for workboat and RIB designers, and with companies in the industrial markets for gym equipment, warehouse equipment and safety riggings for man-overboard, elevated ‘high wire’ and ground hole rescues.”

A year of challenges and opportunities

This year (2023) remains a challenge for the industry as a whole as the market comes off the boil and geopolitical and supply issues continue to impact businesses.

“We are going to see some devastating times for some companies; I have heard statistics that we will lose marine companies because they won’t be able to withstand a recession,” says Blaustone. “But this is not the time to draw your reins in. Our tight-knit team is pulling together, and we are expanding; our image, our exposure, and sales further worldwide, which will help us throughout the recession period.”

Concrete longer business plans in such unsettled times are…tricky. “My grandfather used to say when you are up to your ass in alligators, it’s hard to remember your job was to drain the swamp,” Blaustone jokes. Yet aside from anecdotal light-heartedness, Blaustone takes her responsibilities and priorities seriously. “We have 30 families to support here, and that always comes first to me,” she says. 

Barton Marine skydock lifts canoe to store in garage
Barton Marine’s Skydock

In terms of future challenges, Blaustone echoes that of many business owners: “Energy will continue to be our biggest challenge, with the brown-outs and black-outs. Our energy company told us our increase would be 283 per cent; we negotiated that down to a 97 per cent increase. We have already put a backup generator in place and will review different procedures, such as putting in a night crew if there are brown-outs during the day.”

Sticking to her own advice about not drawing the reins in during this era of business challenges, Blaustone confirms there are plans for Barton Marine to expand further while still providing its current customers with continued first-rate service. 

Navarro weighs in on their current US plans: “We are on the cusp of becoming a global player; within the next two years, the goal is to have a very strong, maybe up to a five-person team in North America to coordinate all our efforts in North and South America. 

Rows of Barton Marine sailing blocks

“We’ve had little representation in North and South America, so every new customer is important because they are new, one of many to come. We are the unknown, and I think this is key to our expansion, being the unknown and becoming known,” he says. 

For now, Barton Marine focuses on controlling what it can and continuing to navigate well through new challenges, using an adaptable business ethos and employing flexible solutions to overcome hurdles. 

“We want to hold on to our current customers and make sure we can service them to the highest degree, which has always been our ethos here,” she says.

Spotlight Job

Technical key account manager

Welwyn Garden City (hybrid)

Specialty chemicals company Sika is looking for a technical key account manager to drive business growth and foster strong relationships with key accounts within the marine sector.

Full job description »

2 responses to “Industry spotlight: Barton Marine on Brexit and its US expansion”

  1. Dieter Lettner says:

    congratulations mastering this challenge and for your open minded attitude!
    this is entrepreneurship!

  2. Rusty Sedlack says:

    The attitudes at Barton Marine appear to be extremely optimistic. Congratulations, on one of the most key ingredients for moving forward! And you have!

This article was written and/or edited by the UK-based MIN team.

Skip to content