In his zealous attempt to jump-start sales of Sunfish/Laser, Peter Johnstone embarked upon an ambitious plan to update the venerable Sunfish sailboat. Along the way, he discovered that it made more sense to design a completely new boat. "The Sunfish was too expensive, too difficult to learn, and tippy in the water," says Johnstone, who dubbed his new craft the Escape.
For one year Johnstone tried to sell both models. However, it was difficult for his sales force to jeopardize customer relationships, which were built on the old core product, by aggressively selling the new product. And boat dealers didn't seem to care for the new, smaller Escape. However, outdoor recreation dealers, in search of the next sea kayak, were enthusiastic.
Since his small company couldn't afford a sales force for each market, Johnstone decided to jump ship. He sold the old company to keep it from slowing sales of his new product, and he focused all his energies on the new company, Escape Sailboat Co., located four doors down the hall. Sales have, well, billowed. In 1997, the Portsmouth, R.I., company sold 1,800 Escape sailboats and is on track to sell 3,400 in 1998.