The Hancock-Henderson Quill, Inc.
db Conard, The Quill
It's About Quality And Attitude
It was more than ten years ago that I saw one of my first Oquawka Boats and I still remember how impressed I was. Little did I know then that all these years later that, my first impression would turn into a unique relationship?
A couple years ago, on my way back from Monmouth through Oquawka, I happened to notice a red fire boat on a trailer that was the grown up version of the tub toys that so many of us have known as children.
I had to stop and look and because I did, I met Delbert Thompson, known to his friends as "Dopher," the owner of Oquawka Boats & Fabrications Ltd. on HWY 164 East.
It was one of those times when you meet someone that you automatically have something in common with. I have to say up front, I am writing about someone I am proud to call my friend and not just another manufacturer that has an interesting company and product.
A big part of my professional life was in aviation maintenance management and in that context, there was always a sheet metal shop as a part of the maintenance team.
In aviation, because of the critical nature of the business, organization and cleanliness is a very important part of how you run your shops.
So, when Dopher invited me to see his manufacturing facility, it was as though I had stepped back in time and I was once again in a top-level sheet metal fabrication shop.
This time, however, instead of aircraft, the work product was boats.
Big boats, little boats, catamarans, pontoons, landing craft with ramps, fire boats, trailers, work beds for trucks and anything else anyone might want custom built can be made at Oquawka Boats.
Literally hundreds of customers from all over the United States, Canada, South and Central America, and now Europe have discovered this little manufacturing plant at the east edge of Oquawka.
Aluminum is not an easy metal to work with and it takes years of experience to learn to shape and weld it. With master craftsmen and a very strong focus on quality, Dopher's company has, by word of mouth, created a reputation you cannot buy, but must earn.
The boat that I first noticed all those years ago, was so obviously a quality product that its impression stuck with me.
That same impression is common among all of Dopher's customers that I have had the opportunity to talk to.
This past summer I was in the very northern part of Minnesota where I found a number of Oquawka boats in use by the commercial outfitting companies.
I also found that they do not call the boats by their name but almost everyone calls Dopher's boats by the nickname "Quackers" because Oquawka is not that easy to say or spell.
A "Quacker" also sounds like something that is meant to be in the water.
Good design, great craftsmanship, quality control, service, and the best materials are all-basic to any manufacturer's success and that of Oquawka Boats.
But the extra thing that truly makes the biggest difference in a company's success or failure is that unique quality of great attitude.
It is "attitude" that can't be the result of anything other than one's personal choices.
And it is these personal choices that are the result of so many different things that go together to create a work environment that isn't all about management or the work place. It is about an atmosphere that makes a team and not just a crew.
The treasure in the heartland that I am trying to share this week is the unique attitude that I discovered at Dopher's Oquawka Boats.
They demonstrated it again at the end of the business day when everyone was on their way home.
I was struck by the way the employees didn't just rush out the door because their day was over.
But instead, they looked their boss in the eye and said good night to Dopher, shaking his hand and smiling in such a genuine way that they weren't trying to make points with the boss but, were demonstrating their true respect for this man.
Their attitude reflected their pride and enjoyment in the place each of them spends so much of their lives.
Dopher's boat manufacturing business is the results of fifteen years of growth and four generations of Thompsons.
The boats began with Dopher's dad building wooden boats, than Dopher building his first aluminum boat in his garage, then the purchase of a small metal building (The Tin Shed) that has constantly grown over the years to accommodate more and more specialized equipment and ever-increasing orders.
The legacy will continue on, from Dopher's dad to Dopher, to his son, "Little Doph" and his grandson "Dophee."
Dopher's wife Carmen along with Teresa Stevenson's help, keeps everything flowing in the front office, and the employees in the shop are Dean Nichols with 35 years of boat building experience, Jay Wetterling, Ed Wooters, Mike Martin, Bruce Furnald, and Dennis Yates.
This group of men and women make up the heart of a company, that in one way or another, serves all the people of this community by the pride and recognition they bring to our area for products and jobs well done. It is truly a treasure in the heartland!