As he reflects on his childhood years in the Lake Geneva area, there is one particular image that comes to mind for Patrick Gallagher: a mahogany boat. Patrick’s formative boating experiences out on the lake never left him. It was that nostalgic image that inspired him and his wife to start their business venture.
“It created so many memories,” he says. “I always had an interest in this kind of business. It always intrigued me.”
In early 2021, Patrick and Rose purchased Grand Craft Boats, relocating the more than forty-year-old operation from Holland, Michigan, to its new headquarters in Genoa City, Wisconsin. Now, as they go full throttle into their first complete year in operation, their goal is to take the business to new depths.
Rose, who is newer to the Lake Geneva area, says she is excited to lay deeper roots in the community through this business.
“We are all in on this. It’s all hands on deck.”
“This is a really new and exciting opportunity for Patrick and me,” Rose says. “We are all in on this. It’s all hands on deck. We are, in a sense, trying to relaunch the brand and showcase what a work of art these boats are.”
“We’re breathing life back into the brand,” Patrick concurs. Their children, who also work for the company, are rolling up their sleeves as well.
The Gallaghers describe Custom Craft as a unique business that caters to two groups of people—those who use watercraft for leisure, and those who use it for professional purposes. They cater to clients ranging from boaters who enjoy a relaxing day out on a freshwater lake, to the U.S. Coast Guard, which requires high-endurance oceanic vessels.
Grand Craft offers five specific mahogany boats: The Burnham, The Dearborn, The Roosevelt, The Winchester, and The Wrightwood. The company also offers the opportunity to build custom boats based on a client’s specific needs.
“The designs are unique. Some are more timeless, and some are newer in their design and features,” Patrick says. “Today’s boaters want to have the opportunity to socialize more easily.”
Each boat design has its own specific characteristic. The Burnham, for example, is a retro vessel adorned with hand-built solid mahogany frames and intermingled with more contemporary features that include an aluminum Horsepower engine. The Winchester, meanwhile, is described as an “elegant water limousine” with a design reminiscent of the Roaring Twenties.
Patrick, who has a background in sales and marketing, and Rose, who has worked in law, policy, and advocacy, have a “sky’s the limit” philosophy for Grand Craft Boats. But to take the business to its next level of success, they say they are astutely aware the heavy lifting needs to occur from within the business. The journey, they readily admit, has only been possible with the assistance of their growing number of employees.
“In order to continue to build really beautiful, hand-crafted boats, we have to start with building a culture within the organization,” Patrick says. “The culture is what will allow us to attract the best talent in the marketplace. That’s key for us.”
That commitment to high-quality culture has included the onboarding of a Vice President of Operations, in addition to a growing roster of employees, including some of the craftsmen who worked for the company when it was on the other side of Lake Michigan.
“This strategy [of building the culture from within] has already proven to work, based on the folks that we have hired locally,” Patrick says. While their new professional journey is just gaining its sea legs, Patrick and Rose say they are excited to bring the same amount of joy to boaters as they have experienced while out on the water.
Written by: Dave Fidlin
Photography by: Matt Haas