Swanton – Kevin Lothian was an 18-year-old local handyman when he got the call from the owner of Northland Motors, a St. Albans boat dealership that needed help.
“I don’t know anything about boats,” Kevin told the owner.
“Perfect,” the owner said. “Because I want to train you my way.”
Jump ahead to 2013: Kevin and his wife, Darla, are celebrating their twentieth anniversary as co-owners of Boat Headquarters, across from the Missisquoi River, on Route 78, in Swanton. Boat Headquarters is the only new boat dealer in Franklin County; there used to be five.
At Boat Headquarters, Kevin and his staff – eight to 10 employees during busy summer months, and three during the winter – offer sales, service and shelves full of boating accessories, from lubricants and parts to life jackets and toys.
Boat Headquarters carries seven brands of boats and four outboard motor lines. The business specializes in fishing and pleasure, with 16-to-24-foot boats, and Kevin is starting this season with a selection of more than 24 pontoons.
Kevin applauded his staff for its service and chemistry as a team. His business location is excellent, he said, because it attracts traffic from Canada and New York on Route 78. Also, Boat Headquarters is about 3 miles from the Missisquoi Bay Bridge, a popular fishing area.
“It made sense to be here,” he said. “It was certainly a blessing that this came up.”
Kevin grew up in Franklin, where he and Darla raised two children – one now in high school, and one in college.
Kevin started working as a handyman while a student at Missisquoi Valley Union High School, where he graduated in 1981. He also delivered newspapers and mowed lawns to buy his first car at 16.
Kevin worked at Northland Motors from 1981 until he purchased the business in 1993 and changed the name to Boat Headquarters. After a year, he moved business from St. Albans to West Swanton.
Growth caused Kevin to purchase a piece of neighboring land in 2000, to double his business property to 5 acres. Since then, he has purchased another lot in the nearby Swanton Industrial Park, for boat storage. “We had no other room here,” he said.
Between 2008 and 2010 – the economic crash – new sales suffered at Boat Headquarters, Kevin said, but service was up, because people spent their money on boat repairs, instead of purchases. Business picked up in 2011, and 2012 was a good year, Kevin said.
“We didn’t see the crunch like everyone else did,” he said.
Outside of the apples, soybeans and corn he grows for wildlife at home, Kevin does not see himself doing anything else for work. “It’s all I know,” he said. He has no concrete retirement plans.
“At this time, I’m just happy doing what I’m doing,” he said.