Marcel LaFond grew up on Kraemer Lake, about 10 miles west of St. Cloud, where he spent nearly all his time around water and boating. His childhood home was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, which he believes inspired a love of timeless design at an early age. Those influences led him to found Symphony Boat Company three years ago in Duluth’s Riverside neighborhood, where he builds attractive and unique boats from aluminum, marine plywood, foam and epoxy.
“When the economy tanked five or six years ago I found that, like many other people, I was looking to reinvent myself,” he says. Ready to take a risk and follow through with ideas he’d had stewing in his mind for years, LaFond let fate steer him to the St. Louis River.
Symphony Boat Company’s location “kind of picked me,” he said. When he entered his first boat in a show, Spirit Lake Marina owner Charlie Stauduhar introduced himself and mentioned he had space available. It was perfect for Symphony’s boats, which are light, have clean styling and the charm of natural wood.
After graduating from college in 1983, LaFond went to the Landing School in Maine to learn boat building and small-craft design. He later worked for three different motor yacht companies.
What brought him to Duluth, aside from it being a seaport town, was Cirrus Aircraft, which was looking for someone with his skill set who was not an aviation or aeronautical engineer. He worked for Cirrus for 13 years doing interior design and layout and ergonomics; basic flight controls and arrangements for the cabin. He says this type of work involves a lot of spatial planning because the designer is always working with tight spaces, which was always a challenge, but helped him hone his craftsmanship and apply it to boat building.
LaFond has employed up to four people at a time at Symphony Boat Company and is hoping to achieve his goal by year-end of building a boat every four weeks, which would require two teams of two people. Sales are typically made directly to customers, but he has a few interested dealers in New England and is planning an upcoming trip to upstate New York, Massachusetts and Toronto to give people one-on-one-time with the boats.
He is also mulling a new business idea involving the St. Louis River. He would love to run a camp where people could come for a week and work to build their own kayak or paddle board under supervision, socialize in the evening, and even bring a motor home to stay in if they wished.
Experimentation with building electric-powered boats is also underway.
His overall mission is to build boats that have a different kind of vibe than the mainstream high-power boating industry. He loves the area and is content to be able to go out and socialize and let the scenery go by, noting that “spending the afternoon with friends and family is where the highest value of the boating experience is.”
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