MARQUETTE - Adapting to trends in the boating industry has helped Bingham Boat Works stay in business through four generations.
Versatility also has played a part.
"We're in the marine field, so we do anything with marine as far as repair work," said Thad Bingham, company manager. "We build, we restore, we do all that kind of stuff. We work in fiberglass, we work in steel, we work in wood."
Thad Bingham, manager of Bingham Boat Works, is seen in his shop. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)
The company store also is probably one of the largest boating-related stocked store in the Upper Peninsula, Bingham said, with electrical, painting and other goods available.
A customer can get anything from epoxy resin to graphite powder to unidirectional carbon tape.
Design work, however, is a big and important component of the services the company offers.
"People are looking for something, but they may not necessarily have a complete design in their mind," Bingham said.
That's where Bingham Boat Works comes in. In fact, one of the company's upcoming projects is to design a beach cart to get a boat on and off easily, he said.
The company also performs upholstery design.
"If somebody comes in, there again, with an idea, you have to make it work," Bingham noted. "You have to design the things."
Being located in a Lake Superior community has its advantages business-wise, according to Bingham, what with the high number of small lakes - and the many small boats - that go on those lakes. And that's not to mention Lake Superior.
The company's beginnings go back to 1929 when Clark and Joseph Bingham began to discuss starting their own business. The next year, Joseph and his wife Alice surveyed and cleared land for a home, storage and a workshop at the corner of County Road 550 and what is now Middle Island Point Road.
At first the company built outhouses, but when business was slow, they constructed flat-bottom rowboats ranging from 8 to 14 feet long. These were sold to local city governments for lifeguard use at city beaches and to what was then called the Michigan Department of Conservation.
From 1930 and 1941, Bingham and Son built boats from 8 to 45 feet, with the product line expanded at the end of the 1930s to power boats. However, then World War II and the Depression hit, and the company adapted by constructing homes and home-related items such as cabinets and interior trim.
Another evolution for the company came in the 1950s when fiberglass began to be used to make boats because, unlike wood, it did not cause leaks due to shrinking and swelling. Bingham and Son also became Bingham Boat Works.
The company's first all-fiberglass boat was designed and made in 1981, kicking off a whole line of fiberglass boats.
Bingham Boat Works also opened a canvas shop and set up a retail store where the company's entire inventory is stocked and sold.
Still going strong, other services Bingham offers include indoor winter storage and making custom-built trailers from 16- to 45-foot and 14-ton trailer capacity. In the works too is e-commerce in which business can be conducted online and parts mailed out of the area. The website, which Bingham said is being improved, is at binghamboatworks.com.
Bingham said enjoying the business and not being afraid of getting dirty are reasons the company has been around for so long.
And Marquette, he acknowledged, is a good boating community.
"In general, you have people that are going to play and they enjoy boating, so whether you're here or you're in some smaller community around us, people are going to have boats and toys, whether it's a kayak or a big one," Bingham said. "Sooner or later they're going to break something."
The company, he stressed, takes care of boats regardless of the size.
"It's just a project," Bingham said. "It's just the same, no matter what. We're not afraid to tackle anything."
Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.