After Leon left AMF, he implemented his plan to begin a new Slikkers family boat building company. On February 18, 1974, S2 Yachts, Inc. (Slikkers’ second company) was born. With the help of family members, friends and others, Leon began a new chapter of success that continues today.
Not long after S2 Yachts began operation, its first sailboats were ready for shipment. The type of boats were now different, but so was the generation of Slikkers family colleagues, as David and Robert, Leon’s two oldest children, were now part of the team. The two sons had grown up in the small apartment above their father’s business, a place where boats were always the topic of conversation. “I think it was osmosis… Dad talked about the business at the dinner table and at the breakfast table.” Remarked David Slikkers, the eldest son. Long before the AMF purchase, David, who spent so much time around the boat factory anyway, began custodial duties there after school. During school vacations and breaks from grammar school and then college, David climbed his way up to the Lamination department and from there to assembly, stock room, transportation, and finally accounting. Robert, the second son, followed a similar path of ascension. By the time the brothers had finished taking college courses, they had become knowledgeable about the boat building business. They also desired to become very much a part of it. They had been around the company long enough to know that quality, not quantity, was the driving force behind their father’s steadily growing business and the respected place he held in the marketplace. A few months shortly after their father left AMF they joined him. They both had been employees of AMF and could sense that it was time to leave and join their father in his new venture.
As the new S2 Yachts continued to roll sailboats out the door of their 7th Street location, Leon began construction of a new 72,000 square foot manufacturing facility at 725 40th Street. As soon as the roof and walls of the new structure were completed,
Leon moved the boat manufacturing there. Even though it had no windows and doors, he needed the space to keep up with demand. Each night, one of the sons, or other workers, guarded the plant and its contents against theft. In addition to building a new line of sailboats and building a new factory, Leon had to reshape his niche in the marketplace—this time with sailboats. He began anew by addressing marketing, manufacturing, engineering, distribution, and human resources issues. It was 1955 all over again, except that this time his two sons were at his side, and he was equipped with much more capital and experience to compete in a tough industry.
Before long, Leon’s new company was doing well with the assembly line approach to sailboat building, a method that resulted in custom quality sailboats without hand-fitting everything. Leon had 53 employees hard at work, dealers were enthusiastic about the product, and the sailboat line, comprised of a 23-footer and two 26-foot models, was becoming well known in cruising and racing circles. In 1976, while still manufacturing the sailboat line, Slikkers and his company decided to enter the powerboat manufacturing industry for the second time as they searched for more return to their investment dollars. In doing so, Leon created the Tiara Division of S2 Yachts. Like the headpiece worn by royalty he hoped his boats would be treasured by his customers. Soon the new line was gaining strength in the powerboat market and Tiara boats became sought after by customers and dealers alike.
By 1987, the Slikkers had ended production of the two sailboat lines, S2 and the Grand Slam performance series (introduced in 1979). The racing models had taken several national and two international titles. They would win a third international title in 1998. Due to its popularity, the S2 7.9 meter sailboat was re-introduced on a limited edition basis for the 1990 model year.
In 1977, the Slikkers added the Pursuit fishing boat line to the S2 Yachts line up. This new line sold so well that in 1983, the company built a new 72,000 square feet plant in Fort Pierce, Florida. In Holland, it concentrated on building the Tiara line alone.
In 1983, the Slikkers purchased the SlickCraft brand name from AMF, since they had stopped using it when they ceased production Slickcraft boats in 1980. The Slikkers then used the brand name when producing a line of sport boats during the mid and late 1980s.
Eventually the company phased out the SlickCraft Sport Boat line in favor of the newly designed Tiara Sport Boat line, which in turn, was phased out as the company began concentrating on larger, luxury boat manufacturing.
In 1984, Leon Slikkers became Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of S2 Yachts, David Slikkers became president of S2 Yachts, and later, Robert Slikkers became president of Tiara Yachts. A third son, Tom, would eventually become president of the Pursuit division, and a daughter, Susan would serve the company in sales, marketing and customer relations.
As the changes in administration were finalized, so was the construction of a new 200,000 square-foot two-level facility near the existing Holland plant. This brought the combined Holland facilities to nearly 500,000 square-feet. By 1986, the company employed 500 workers and a reorganization of its brand names meant separate dealer franchises for each product line: Tiara Yachts, Pursuit Fishing Boats, SlickCraft Sport Boats, and S2 Sailboats.
In 1991, Leon Slikkers became the president of Pursuit and gradually shifted administrative responsibilities to his third son, Tom, starting in 1994. Prior to that, Tom had worked in the International sales of S2 Yachts. Tom became president of the Pursuit division in August of 2001.
In 1994, the 20th anniversary year of S2 Yachts, the company received the Manufacturing Division of MCI/Inc. Magazine’s National Award for Positive Customer Service. Two years later, Leon Slikkers was named Manufacturing Entrepreneur of the year by Ernst & Young. Then in 2000, Leon Slikkers was inducted into the Michigan Boating Hall of Fame, securing his place in State boating history. “S2 Yachts’ success comes from its attitude toward manufacturing finely crafted boats. I love coming to work.” Says Leon Slikkers.
In 1998, Leon Slikkers was named NMMA “Hall of Fame”. Tiara Yachts purchased and renovated the former Outboard Marine Corporation (OMC) manufacturing facility in Swansboro, North Carolina. There they produced the new 50-foot yacht line, a size of craft which was beyond their manufacturing capabilities in Holland. The North Carolina location was also ideal for their East Coast customers to take delivery of their new boats via the water. The Slikkers’ company began the year 2000 with an expansion at its Pursuit factory in Florida. After the terrible events of September 11, 2001, the company, like many other luxury manufacturers in the United States, saw a decrease in sales. Two years later, another shift in titles occurred when Leon Slikkers became Chairman of the Board, David Slikkers became CEO of S2 Yachts, and Robert Slikkers became President of Tiara Yachts. In 2003, during what most people would refer to as a recession in the boating industry, S2 Yachts bounced back and in Holland added an additional 100 new employees to its already large staff of 580. The company was preparing for a record year—the best since 1974. That same year they introduced two new models, the 3200 Open and Sovran 3600 to their Tiara line up. The entire Tiara line, ranging in price from $120,000 to $1.2 million, gave employment to approximately 1,100 people at the three plants combined. In 2005, the company added another 300,000 square feet to its Holland plant in anticipation of closing the North Carolina plant and centralizing its Tiara line.
Today, S2 Yachts, one of the few privately-owned production boat building companies in the world, continues to succeed with its uncompromising quality, cutting-edge design, innovation, customer service, and with pride from its employees and owners.