• Steve Stepp- Building Fast Boats for Five Decades. No Bull.

    by SeriousOffshore

    We caught up last week with Steve Stepp, founder and president of Velocity Powerboats. Steve was kind enough to share with us a look into how this long-time boatbuilder has been weathering the storm of this tight economy and some of the things they’re doing now and in the future.

    In looking through the photos from the Miami Boat Show, something caught our eye. Among the million-dollar megaboats was one little, but very intriguing boat. Serious photojournalist Tommy Snyder happened across the Jack Daniel’s Velocity, appropriately named “Old No. 7” while navigating the vast Convention Center. Seeing this boat, we felt we needed to get the story behind what is arguably the smallest in the current trend of “theme boats” in offshore.

    Talking to Steve about the Jack Daniel’s boat, we unearthed not only a unique story of how this boat came to be, but also the unique marketing approach Velocity is taking during these lean times. This may be one of the most round-about ways a theme boat ever came to be.

    According to Steve, some years back, he and Mrs. Stepp became fans of the sport of Professional Bullriding. While on the surface that may seem to be pretty far away from powerboating, thinking about it- what’s more extreme than a fast boat in big swells? I think one possibility would be sitting on the back of a 1,500 pound bull that really doesn’t want you there.

    The Stepp’s affinity for the sport eventually led to them actually taking on the promotion of events in their native state of Florida. This was their first contact with the folks at Jack Daniel’s. According to Steve. “While working to put these events together, we cam in contact with the marketing people from Brown-Forman. As the parent corporation of Jack Daniel’s, Brown-Forman was looking for nice marketing opportunities”. It doesn’t take long to draw an association between two very-American institutions like Professional Bull Riding and Jack Daniel’s. As Steve went on to say, “Jack Daniel’s had just exited from their support of NASCAR racing and began focusing their efforts and investments in niche marketing opportunities. PBR fit very well”.

    It didn’t take long for Steve to follow that logic. Watching what a $12 billion corporation such as Brown-Forman was doing resonated with Stepp. “What Brown-Forman assembled could be best described as “the Jack Daniel’s Experience” said Stepp. “They have a whole road show they take to various events all across the country. Bringing a road show featuring a miniature Jack Daniel’s museum and gift shop and a stage featuring live musical acts is quite an event in itself”. The road show includes a collection of Jack Daniel’s themed “toys”, such as a very pricey chopper and the Velocity theme boat. Among the various appearances, the show makes stops at Sturgis and at Daytona Bike Week. The show now features a Jack Daniel’s offshore powerboat.

    As Steve describes their participation, “We have someone from Velocity traveling with the boat to the various locations. They not only look after the boat, they’re available to answer questions”. While many builders are lamenting the current condition of the economy and its impact on new boat sales, here’s someone taking his products out to potential buyers who may not even be boaters- yet. The boat may be smaller than what some might consider to be an “offshore” boat, this hull has seen more than its share of big water. At the same time, this is the perfect entry-level boat, both is size and cost.

    “We went “Full Jack Daniel’s” on the boat” says Stepp. “The hull color is a match of Jack Daniel’s whiskey and the black stripes on the seats mimic the barrel bands on one of their kegs. They’re even the exact same width”. The boat goes well beyond looks. Steve describes the powerplant as a 383 cubic inch, supercharged small block that pushes 800 horsepower. At the quoted 125 MPH speed this boat will run, it’s got to be one real thrill ride. If you caught a glimpse of how the back seats frame the engine, you’d expect those passengers to be telling that story for some time to come. If you’re thinking about giving your friends a taste of this Jack, it’s yours for a couple bucks under $40K.

    While we had Steve, we asked what else was going on at Velocity. When you ask that question of anyone in the high-performance boatbuilding business, you’re never quite sure these days what you’re going to get. While everyone tries to sound optimistic and downplay the impact, Steve almost seems unaffected. “We’re still here and we’re building boats” he tells us. “Our typical customer is someone we already know. They’re very often repeat customers”.

    As with many other builders, Velocity is looking to diversify. Like most performance boat builders, they’re looking at a big center console. “It’s not a market you can ignore, but we’re in no rush” says Stepp. We’re working on a version based on our 40. If someone gets really interested in owning one, we’ll pick up the pace.” It would be no surprise if that buyer was a former or present Velocity owner. On the other end, Velocity is offering a boat very different than any of the other offshore builders. It’s what Steve calls a “bay boat”. “It’s a cut down version of our 29 foot VR1. The shorter freeboard makes it a 26.” At 65 mph with a 250 horse outboard and 70-plus with a 300, that’s a fast fishboat. “It’s based on the VR1 which still holds the F-1 Offshore speed record”

    We even chatted a bit about the Still Crazy raceboat that was recently restored at the Velocity factory. Watching the video below may not be immediately impressive, but remembering it’s 1983 and the team set the world record in a legal Modified class raceboat at 93+, it’s truly impressive. Take a look at that hull contact. Who needs steps?

    Since we opened that can of worms, it’s worth remembering that there were two builders that hit the offshore scene about the same time. They came from outboard racing and brought alot of the lessons learned there with them. They saw the straight-bottomed boats like the Cigarette and believed they had a better mousetrap. Those two fellows were Reggie Fountain and Steve Stepp. As time went on, each chose a direction to take their company. Fountain became the name that started more than a few shouting matches while cutting a very wide swath through the sport. Over the years, Velocity often times was “Oh, yeah. Velocity”. Today, one of those builders is still here, building a well-constructed boat without alot of glam and fanfare. Velocity holds on tight to the reputation of building a solid boat that runs fast on small power. In years past, that meant faster. Looking at five or maybe even six dollar gas, today that speed with small power means efficiency.

    Before heading our separate ways, I asked Steve about the Velocity factory and brand being up for sale. “I have to move on sometime” Steve told me. I’m in my mid-sixties”. He went on to say “My daughter came to me and told me she really didn’t want to take over the business. I told her I’d burn it to the ground before I would have her doing something she didn’t want” In typical Stepp fashion, he said he’d like to find someone with the interest to take over the company and continue with it. But until then, Velocity would continue to do what it always has, building boats for a very loyal following.