Houseboat Hull Case Study
Houseboat Builder Shares the Secrets of Their Success
Warren Billings is the founder of Floating Bungalows in Florida. Before starting his company, he was a top-flight homebuilder in New England. Moreover, he also served as a firefighter. Why were those two (seemingly unrelated) experiences important to the houseboat builders' business?
As he was designing his first bungalow, Warren was seeking the best possible materials. Building from the bottom-up, he was considering the hull and pontoons. He harkened back to his experience as a firefighter, and he sometimes was able to see new firetrucks being assembled. Additionally, he recalled watching the polypropylene water tanks being lifted into position. He watched in fascination as they would sometimes twist and contort but still never break or leak. Being an engineer, Warren knew this was the ideal substrate for his floating bungalows!
Warren Billings is a “triple threat” when it comes to building America’s finest floating bungalows: He’s entrepreneurial, he’s passionate about perfection, and he thinks outside the box.
Just before the Covid lockdown, he was ready to fulfill a new avalanche of orders by procuring a spacious, 8,000 square foot manufacturing facility and had hired a dozen more houseboat builders to help him.
Unfortunately, the clients were in the restaurant and hotel industries; they had to regretfully cancel their orders due to the virus decimating their core business.
Floating bungalows (and houseboat builders) historically have a bad reputation due to cut-rate construction and even worse bases/hulls. Warren freely admits that most houseboat builders cut every corner they can to increase short-term profitability, but this eventually hurts their reputation (and the industry as a whole) over the long-term. With his 35 years as one of New England’s premier builders, this frustrates Warren to no end. Worse still, he had relocated to Florida, where the issue is even further exacerbated.
Depending upon geographic location, floating houseboat builders often make the mistake of using pickle barrels, dock floats, interlocking lumber, or inferior materials such as aluminum, steel, or fiberglass. Warren didn’t want to save a few dollars; he was building his own custom bungalow for him and his family to enjoy living aboard a well-built vessel for a lifetime.
While Referring Back to Warren's History with Poly Products.
After considering all possibilities, Warren’s background as a firefighter came to his rescue. He remembered watching fire trucks being built using custom-designed plastic water tanks. In addition, he recalled watching the tanks be taken off of transport trucks and moved into position on the fire trucks. They often twisted but never leaked. He theorized that the same plastic would make for an ideal hull; it was flexible, durable, and would never rust!
This was his “Aha!” moment. Warren immediately sought out a vendor.
He picked the perfect material but found the worst possible manufacturer. They were a start-up operation, did not commit to quality, and his first two hulls were nowhere near Warren’s standards of excellence.
This is where luck met preparation...
Andrew Lingel, President of United Plastic Fabricating, noticed a small blurb regarding Warren’s floating bungalow business. Andrew reached out and offered to quote the next hull. Initially, Warren was intrigued but not completely sure.
Two things helped Warren sell himself on Custom Plastic Fabrications: First, Andrew reminded Warren that CPF built the same water tanks for the fire industry. That was helpful, but it was the invitations to visit any one of CPF’s three U.S. facilities that sealed the deal in Warren’s mind.
After visiting the Boston facility, Warren was speechless to see the size, scope, high quality, and professionalism displayed as a company. Warren also visited the Ocala plant just a couple of hours from his location.
Warren submitted the specs for his next hull to CPF and then braced himself for the dramatic cost increase as a fair trade for a massive upgrade in quality and service. To his surprise and delight, CPF’s quote was only slightly higher than the previous vendor’s.
"After the first project, I felt happily married to your product and your company. I'm not going anywhere. It was the highest quality I could ever imagine. I honestly would not use another company. It is one of the huge selling points of our product."
Custom Plastic Fabrications helped Warren decide to double the outer walls' thickness to improve durability dramatically. Using his own words, Warren says, “This thing is bullet-proof and still only weighs 7,500 pounds!”
Warren shared with us that he once took a sample of our plastic, put a full-sized jackhammer (with a sharpened point on it), and jammed on it for a full sixty seconds. As a result, he said that he could barely put a dent in our material. To this day, Warren proudly displays that plastic piece at his trade show booth to visualize how well constructed his floating bungalows are.
Currently, Warren is prepping for the end of the virus and is eager to fulfill the pending orders.
While CPF handles everything below the water’s surface, it’s what Warren builds above the waterline that enables him to sell his bungalows for double or triple that of other houseboat builders. He brought his “built to last forever” mentality and experience down to Florida, and it’s paying off in spades!
“To say that you are going to have an easy to apply houseboat hull that you are going to put in the water, salt or fresh, and you’re done. You’re not pulling it every three years and painting it, and all the barnacles literally fall off of it. They’ll grow on it, and then the coefficient of expansion is such that when the water temperature changes, the barnacles fall right off. All of the nightmares are gone for that hull.”
His boat building units are Coast Guard approved and solid; they qualify for hurricane insurance (able to withstand winds over 160 mph)! During our interview, Warren joked that if one of his bungalows got lifted by a tornado and dropped onto a parking lot, the hulls wouldn’t even suffer a scratch.
“These are completely weatherproof. Our buildings are rated at 165 mph windstorms. Category 5 hurricane. That’s the kind of detail we go into.”
Warren Billings is professional, smart, driven and an exceptionally kind person. To that end, we thought we’d close with our favorite quote from him during our conversation…
“I don’t have enough nice things to say about your company.” – Warren Billings, Founder, and CEO of Floating Bungalows.