The history of Rayglass

If the success of a company can be judged solely by the number of awards won for its products, then Rayglass Boats must surely rate as a manufacturing success story.


First published in December 2006

But to judge Rayglass Boats on the strength of its accolades would be to undermine the grit and determination of its founders to succeed through very good and very bad times. Rayglass Boats has known both, and through adversity and challenge, the company has grown to become New Zealand’s pre-eminent trailer boat manufacturer.

It was in the years 1994-1996 that founders and directors Tony and Vicki Hembrow will remember as being the "make or break" years for the company.

On the cusp of real success, with unprecedented demand for the recently-released Rayglass Legend 730, fire ripped through the company’s production booths destroying a complete set of new moulds for the entire Legend range. Seven years hard work was reduced to charred rubble. Quitting was not an option and within a year, Rayglass Boats had relocated to new premises and embarked on a business plan that would reap major rewards.

The most remarkable thing about the fire was the business-saving support of the marine industry. In a news report soon after the fire, he narrated his disbelief as competitors, clients, suppliers and supporters rallied behind the company with offers of tools, materials, chemicals and cash – whatever it took to get Rayglass Boats back into production. It was, says Hembrow, something he will never forget.

The Rayglass story began in 1988 when Tony and Vicki Hembrow took over the marketing and sales function of Rayglass Boats. The company was small and family run, by brothers Ray and David Morse. Like many under-capitalised businesses, marketing and sales support suffered. Expansion was the key to success and in 1989 Rayglass Boats purchased Performance Marine and moved into its Pakuranga premises. As conditions improved after the infamous sharemarket crash, so did too the fortunes of Rayglass Boats.

Every dollar was poured back into design and tooling and in 1992 the first Rayglass Legend was born. First off the Legend rank was the Rayglass 620, followed by the Rayglass 520. The Legend 620 went on to win the 1992 National Boat Show award – the first of many for the company.

By 1995, Rayglass had released its flagship Legend 730 which became an overnight success. And that’s when it happened – fire ripping through production, taking the complete set of moulds. But with the marine industry rallying them, Rayglass rose from the ashes and a year later, was back.

Tony recalls 1996 as one of the best as the company entered into joint manufacturing deals with Chinese and Malaysian interests, and also entered into a joint venture with Australian manufacturer Whittley Boats. By 1997, Rayglass Boats had a staff of 22. That year saw the release of two more models, the Rayglass Legend 850 and the Protector series of high-speed inflatable patrol boats.

The Legend 850 was another success, winning Rayglass Boats its third national award. The Protector, however, secured Rayglass Boats future with unprecedented success, both offshore and in New Zealand. The boat received Coastguard Federation approval – making it eligible for Coastguard funding. Rayglass went on to win the contract to supply officials boats for the 1999 Louis Vuitton and America’s Cups.

In 2000, Rayglass introduced the 12m Protector inflatable and won a further three National Boat Show awards and a commendation from Yamaha for maximising brand exposure on the international market. The company’s status as an exporter was further rewarded with a WestpacTrust Business Excellence Award as an emerging exporter.

Rayglass then released the hugely popular Legend 1950 and Legend 2150, adding fourmore National Boat Show awards to the trophy cabinet. But the cream on the cake was winning the contract to supply craft for the 2003 Louis Vuitton and America’s Cup regattas. 2004 saw the release of the new Legend 2300 and the Protector 12.5m XL cabin model and Rayglass won four more National Boat Show awards.

However, the big news that year was the 49 percent sale of Rayglass Boats to US manufacturing conglomerate, Brunswick Corporation – owners of Mercury Marine and dozens of US boat manufacturers, including Bayliner and SeaRay.

Staff numbers at Rayglass had more than doubled to 55 employees. In 2005, Rayglass signalled its intention to expand into the luxury launch market with the release of the Legend 4000 sports cruiser. It sold 12 of the half-million-dollar boats in the space of three days at the national boat show and went on to collect two more awards.

With production at an all-time high, the company moved into new purpose-built premises in Paisley Place, Mt Wellington. And the pace has not slowed.

Rayglass Boats’ winning ways have continued this year with another national award and the release of its all-new Legend 2500 model, another overnight success, with orders backed up beyond Christmas.

With 60 staff, a turnover well in excess of $20 million and plans to take the new Legend 4000 to Australia later this year, Hembrow says Rayglass Boats earns about 55 percent of its income offshore yet sells 55 percent of its stock on the local market. Imminent plans include the launch of an all-new Legend 2800 before Christmas. (2006)

Rayglass’s innovation and quality have continued to be recognised year in and year out at the New Zealand National Boat Show Awards, and as of 2016, models have won over 50 "Best of" awards at the shows. Current Models in the legend series include 2150, 2200, 2300, 2350, 2500, 2800, 4000 and seven Protector Models.

The highest endorsement of Rayglass’ performance has come from the organisers of the world’s most prestigious yacht races – the Louis Vuitton Cup and America’s Cup – who have, again chosen a fleet of Legend and Protector boats for on-water patrol and umpiring vessels.

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