Building powerboats— even in the high-performance segment—isn’t glamorous. In fact, from lamination to rigging, it’s nothing but hard work. Boat company employees get to see the fruits of their labor in the finished products, but that’s a far cry from experiencing the on-water joy and exhilaration those products provide to their owners.
Joe Schaldenbrand and his brother Wayne, who own Sunsation Boats with their business partner and longtime friend Jared Morris, want to change that. So come tomorrow, they’ll be taking 15 to 20 employees from their headquarters in Algonac, Mich., to the Lake Cumberland Poker Run presented by State Dock in Kentucky for the weekend. In fact, they’re even paying them to go.
“I go to all these great events and I get so excited,” said Joe Schaldenbrand. “But it’s hard to bring that enthusiasm back to the folks at the factory. It’s hard to translate it. So we’re cleaning up our trucks and taking a bunch of employees who want to go to Cumberland. We’ll leave at 6 a.m., caravan down and get there by about 2 p.m. And we’re paying them for the day.”
In addition to getting the Sunsation employee group to the event, the Schaldenbrands and Morris are housing them and feeding them for the weekend, as well as making sure they have rides—on Sunsation CCX performance center consoles and sportboats of course—for Saturday’s poker run. Those employees, as well as a few thousand other folks, will get to enjoy the weekend’s music, light show and audio visual extravaganza, as well as the epic endless dock party, backed for the second year in a row by Sunsation.
“What better event could we have our employees attend?” said Schaldenbrand. “The Lake Cumberland Poker Run, it’s actually huge for us. Our houseboat is directly in front of the stage. Wherever you are on the docks, the video screens carry nothing but exclusive Sunsation video. I can’t bring all that energy and enthusiasm back to the factory—our employees need to experience it. And it’s going to be an amazing morale booster for them.”
The Lake Cumberland Poker Run is arguably the most important event of the year for Sunsation, according to Schaldenbrand, so the company goes all out to establish a presence there. Between 25 and 30 Sunsation models will be part of the poker run fleet, and working closely with Performance Boat Center, its dealer in Osage Beach, Mo., the company will make sure its customers are well supported during the event.
“We want to own it, which is why we do what we do at Cumberland,” said Schaldenbrand. “There are so many boat brands there and it’s a huge event. So we definitely want to own it. And we want our employees to see what it’s all about.”
Schaldenbrand said he hopes that Sunsation’s efforts toward “ownership” of the Lake Cumberland Poker Run, one of the top events of its kind in the country, will translate to ownership of the brand among the company’s employees, who he already credits with doing a “phenomenal job.” He’s banking on the experience energizing the Sunsation production team members long after they head home from what is sure to be a memorable—maybe even eye-opening—weekend on the water in Kentucky.
“They need to experience this,” he said. “They need to see and do all the great stuff we get to see and do when we’re out there at events. And this weekend, we’ll get to share it with them.”
Matt Trulio is an award-winning journalist who has covered the high-performance powerboat world since 1995. He wrote for Powerboat magazine for 17 years and was the magazine’s editor at large until it ceased publication in 2011. Trulio is the founder, editor-in-chief and publisher of speedonthewater.com, a daily news site that covers the high-performance powerboat realm. He’s also the former editor of Sportboat magazine.