Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Fighting Chance Far from the Ocean, Butler County Company Builds the Chairs That Give Deep-Sea Fishermen Their

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Fighting Chance Far from the Ocean, Butler County Company Builds the Chairs That Give Deep-Sea Fishermen Their

Article excerpt

In a nondescript building along a desolate stretch of Route 19 in Muddy Creek Township, John Thiebaud makes "fighting" chairs that give deep-pocketed, deep sea fishermen a fighting chance against mammoth marlins.

Mr. Thiebaud, a school teacher and certified principal by training, started Nautical Design 27 years ago as a hobby, capitalizing on an interest in a sport he cultivated during a few offshore fishing trips with friends. About a dozen years ago, he quit his job with the Seneca Valley school district to pursue the business full-time.

Nautical Design produces more than the stainless steel-framed fighting chairs that fishermen sit in while wrestling with the catch of the day, which can weigh as much as 1,000 pounds.

The Butler County company also makes cabinets used to stow gear on board boats from 18 to more than 100 feet long as well as "rocket launchers," racks used to hold rods so fishermen can run more than one line at a time.

A few years ago, Mr. Thiebaud started Hoplite Boats, which makes roomy, lightweight, 16-foot skiffs for the region's bass fishermen. The business gives him some customers who pursue smaller fish in shallower waters.

"There's not many fighting chairs on the Monongahela," the 57- year-old said in the measured cadence of a patient fisherman.

"We do sell to people here, but usually they have their boats down in North Carolina, Florida, the islands or some place like that."

Mr. Thiebaud declined to disclose Nautical Design's annual sales. He estimated about 80 percent of his business comes from word of mouth or sportsmen doing word searches on Google or other search engines. That's why being landlocked is not a handicap.

"With the Internet, it doesn't matter where you're at," he said. "Your website is really your store front."

He also drums up business at boat shows held annually in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Atlantic City and Annapolis. Customers from Latin and South America who attend the shows come "ready to buy," he said. Nautical Design has customers in Europe, but not as many as it had before the U.S. dollar gained strength against the euro.

Mr. …

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