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Ken SchulerKaren Schuler

CELEBRATING OUR 20TH YEAR SELLING TRAWLERS!!!

Ken & Karen Schuler are "at the helm" of Trawlers Midwest Inc having started the business in 1994. This is the story of the Schulers and how Trawlers Midwest evolved and became well-known in the boating world.

This is the story of the Schulers and how Trawlers Midwest evolved and became well-known in the boating world.Schuler Farm

Growing up in Wisconsin and surrounded by a lot of beautiful inland lakes and only 15 miles from Lake Michigan, water sports & boating were always a part of their lives. Ken and Karen, high school sweethearts, started water-skiing behind his dad’s 14’ fishing boat with an 18 hp outboard. Karen went on to nursing school and became a registered nurse; a job that became part-time while raising kids and running businesses with her husband. Meanwhile, Ken served in the National Guard, worked construction jobs, and worked on their family farm. When they married in 1963, they took over the operation of the 40-cow dairy herd and 120 acres of land. 

Larson Ski BoatBut boating remained a prominent part of their lifestyle. In 1970, Karen wanted to give Ken a gift that had something to do with boating. There wasn’t much to pick from at that time, but she decided on a year’s subscription to a magazine called “Rudder”. An article appeared in the magazine about a couple that had cruised the Great Loop in their private boat. That was the start of the dream that one day they, too, would find a way to make that trip. In the meantime, the farm was expanded to 100 cows, a milking parlor, and 300 acres of land. Four children were brought up learning a lot about farming and boating. Boating was a must every Sunday during the season. Even as babies, the top of the buggy was set on the floor of the boat and they would nap especially well until the motor stopped. They even did a lot of what they called "boat camping."

Thompson CuddyAs the kids got bigger, so did the boats, but there was always the compromise of not throwing too big a wake for water-skiing and still being able to sleep six. The largest boat was a 20’ Thompson with a cuddy cabin (real luxury then!) and back-to-back fold-down seats.

Every summer the Schulers would head “up north” in Wisconsin and pick one of the chains of lakes and “live” on the boat. Yes, living aboard was in their blood! But at that time, water skiing was their focus as all the children learned to ski. At age 2 they would start skiing with Dad, having them stand on the front of his skiis. The family would always attend one of the water ski shows up north and bring home new things to accomplish, like skiing on a canoe paddle, trick skiing, improved slalom skiing, and of course, barefooting.

Ken & Sons Skiing

 

Their oldest son actually skied with one of the show teams up north while working a summer job at a resort nearby. This same son, Terry, won the National Title in the backwards barefooting wake slalom event in 2008.

Besides running the farm, the Schulers also started another business they named “Schuler Sign Products”. Initially they sold the farm signs you see on barns with the large cow and lettering like, “Valley View Dairy Farm.”

 

Farm Sign

They also managed to meet with a buyer for the Sears Catalog in Chicago and he agreed to put a smaller version of the cow, a horse, and a steer in their Farm and Ranch catalog along with 3 different sizes of letters available in black or white. This was especially exciting as orders came in from all over the country, including Hawaii and Alaska.

Sears Catalog Ad

 

 

 

Even though sales had soared for the Schulers, the listing was dropped after 10 years due to changes with the catalog.  Shortly after that, a big, new grocery store was built in their neighboring town and knowing the owners personally, they got the job for the signage. It was well received by the corporate folks from Piggly Wiggly and the Schulers ended up doing the décor for over a hundred grocery stores in Wisconsin and northern Illinois. This involved large foam letters on the walls, aisle markers, and lots of vinyl lettering. The later skill is still put to use doing the boat lettering for some of their customers.

The need for travel for the sign business, three kids in college and one in high school, and a surplus of milk in the late 80’s led the Schulers to the decision to sell the milking herd. The land was eventually sold to a stone quarry whose land adjoined the Schuler farm. Property had been purchased on a small inland lake where they built a log home, so as to continue to feed their love of boating and water-skiing and “living on the water.” Ken & Karen both still slalom ski and Ken continued to barefoot even after having had total knee replacements.

When their oldest son, Terry, joined them in the sign business, it freed them up to start pursuing their never forgotten dream of cruising the Great Loop. A trip to Florida to visit a daughter, Maria, who was leasing a horse ranch in West Palm Beach at the time, gave them the chance to scout around. Spotting a Grand Banks coming into a marina, they stayed and watched. Soon enough, they were on board, swapping stories. Turns out the couple took their Grand Banks from Martha’s Vineyard to Key Largo every year and always welcomed crew to share some of the trip.

 

Grand Banks

 

The first 5-day cruise they experienced was from St. Augustine, FL to Savannah, GA. They were hooked!! The next proposition from the owner was to have the Schuler’s cruise the boat for them the following fall from Ocean City, NJ to Norfolk, VA.  It was a win-win situation…the Schuler’s got the experience and the Grand Banks owners got the help. The second year they did this they ended up in Annapolis during the time of the Power Boat Show. They were able to get a mooring in the harbor and took the dinghy into the show. They were like kids in a candy store for 2 days and about an hour before leaving they stood on the corner where the 26’ Nordic Tug was on display. Since there was no line, they went inside. They found themselves totally intrigued with the separate raised pilothouse and no flybridge, the semi-displacement speeds, and the stability to be had with the deep, full keel. All the features they knew would be important on the Great Lakes and beyond.

Ed Shelton, President of Nordic Tugs at the time, told them he had a 32 in Florida for sale that was seven years old. At three in the morning, unable to sleep, they both realized that “little red tug” had created quite a stir in their minds, but little did they know how much it would impact their future!!

Three months later, after much soul searching and research on the Nordic Tug, they flew to Florida to seatrial the 32. The condition of the boat, the very acceptable noise level, and the amount of storage all met their expectations and the deal was made. As they discussed their plans with Ed to cruise the boat back to Wisconsin in spring, Ed explained that he did not have a dealer in the Midwest and asked if they would be interested. Knowing their son would be ready to take over the sign business, they forged ahead with the idea and Nordic Tugs Midwest soon became a reality.

They first introduced the Nordic Tug to the Midwest at the Chicago Boat Show that year with a 40” model of the 32 and a factory video. The interest shown in this boat style was invigorating but they realized a big job lay ahead of them in helping people to understand what makes a trawler a safe, seaworthy, and efficient boat.

But before they went any further, an adventure of a lifetime was before them as they embarked on their journey to bring “A Summerplace” from Florida all the way by water to Manitowoc, Wisconsin. Karen has written the story of that venture. You can find it on their website under Events/Cruises.

Nordic Tugs

During the next few years there was much work to do as they became involved in many boat shows, magazine advertising, creating a website, touring the factory in Washington, and establishing a presence at the Manitowoc Marina. They soon realized they had a big business on their hands as they began stocking the fleet of Nordic Tugs which gradually grew from the 26 and 32 models to include a 42 model and then a 37 model.

Many more changes in their business also took place over the ensuing years. In 2000, they were asked to become the Midwest dealer for American Tug and readily agreed knowing they, too, would build a boat that was seaworthy, fuel efficient, and comfortable. It would offer their customers another option.

American Tug & Camano

The business changed its name to Trawlers Midwest Inc. A few years after that, Brad Miller from Camano Marine was looking for a dealer in the Midwest. After several phone discussions, the Schulers flew out to Vancouver, British Columbia, to meet Brad & Jaslyn and to get an in-depth tour of the factory. They were very impressed with the quality construction of the Camano at every step in the process. Since Nordic Tug was no longer building the 26-foot model, they knew the semi-displacement Camano trawler, with a base price under $200,000 would be another good option for their customers. The dealer contract was signed and a new Camano was ordered for their inventory.

About this time the dealership for the Nordic Tugs was given to a boat dealer in Michigan because the current President of Nordic Tugs didn’t approve of Trawlers Midwest selling both the Nordic Tugs and the American Tugs. The sale of brokerage Nordic Tugs remains a significant part of Trawlers Midwest business. Having sold over 60 Nordic Tugs in the Midwest, many of their owners look to the Schulers to sell or trade-in their tug when they are ready to make a change. Others interested in buying a trawler also contact the Schulers in their search for pre-owned Nordic Tugs knowing they have been involved in the market for many years.

As true entrepreneurs, the Schulers gradually became aware of the emergence of power catamarans in the cruising world. They learned more about the catamarans by reading articles, talking to manufacturers, and checking them out at boat shows. They knew the trawler catamarans would be another great option for family cruising, long-range cruising, and the live-aboard life style many of their customers enjoy. They felt it would be important to offer at least two choices in size and price-range.  Looking for fuel efficiency, seaworthiness, quality of construction, practical floor plans, readily accessible storage, deck space with safety in mind, and all in an affordable package, their choices were made. Trawlers Midwest became the Midwest dealer for the 34 PDQ Power Catamaran and the Lagoon 43 Power Cat. These are both semi-displacement trawler catamarans that can cruise in the 16-20 knot range and still be as fuel efficient as the monohulls. 

Power Catamarans

Then in 2006, a new “trailerable trawler” was introduced to the market by Fluid Motion located in Kent, Washington. The 25 Ranger Tug has a beam of 8’ 6” making it legal to trailer anywhere in the U.S. without the need for wide-load permits. The 21 Ranger Tug that had been in production for many years was also redesigned with a larger cabin meeting the needs of those wanting to use it for overnights.

Ranger Tugs

By the time 2007 rolled around, a very real economic recession hit the Midwest as Michigan had lost more than 30,000 jobs in the auto industry the year before and new boat buying came to a screeching halt. Both Camano & PDQ closed their doors and sold their molds to other entities. Neither the 31 Camano nor the 34 or 41 PDQ are back in production at this time. Trawlers Midwest remained an American Tug dealer until 2011 but can no longer economically justify being a stocking dealer due to the customization of each model built and the lack of new boat sales. This also occurred in 2012 with the Ranger Tugs. All of these models continue to be sold as Brokerage Trawlers since many of Trawlers Midwest customers and past owners know that the Schuler’s knowledge of these trawlers is a plus in the used boat market.

As the Trawlers Midwest name gained greater recognition through their extensive advertising and by their growing family of customers, more trawler owners are seeking them out as the broker of choice for their trawlers. In 2010, Trawlers Midwest expanded all of their advertising to full page ads to accommodate their many brokerage listings. A picture of each listing is included in the ad.

In late 2010, the Schulers learned of a boat being built in the little village of Valders, just a quarter mile from the farm they had owned for so many years. They soon met Don O’Keeffe, the naval architect and designer of the 33’ welded aluminum boat berthed at the Manitowoc Marina. Don has had a long history of designing megayachts and he put this expertise and knowledge into a personal boat. With an 8-foot beam, her length to width ratio is ideal for efficiency of operation and slicing through rough seas. She has an inboard 50 hp diesel and can easily cruise at 13 mph. The interior was never finished out and two more prototypes were sold with simple interiors.  

33 Custom Aluminum 2008

Having operated and maintained many trawlers of various shapes and sizes, the simplicity and sleek design was very impressive to the Schulers. They were convinced that this boat could be a very comfortable live-aboard for a couple. Working closely with the designer and the builder, the first Eco-Trawler was completed in 2013 and a second one in 2014. The objective was a trailerable boat that handles well, runs very efficiently, and is easy to maintain. There are no thru-hulls in the boat. The Eco-Trawler can be powered with a single or twin outboards, as shown below, to take advantage of the quiet outboard technology. 

Eco-Trawler 33 Eco Trawler Trailer

33 Eco-Trawler with single outboard

Aluminum & Trailerable

33 Eco-Trawler with twin outboards

Aluminum & Trailerable

See Home for details and videos of the Eco-Trawler.

Trawlers Midwest operates out of the Manitowoc Marina located on the western shore of Lake Michigan in Manitowoc, Wisconsin. The marina is well-equipped to handle transient and permanent dockage, year-around storage needs, engine service and repairs, fiberglass work, painting, and electronics installation and repair.

As we all know, only one thing is certain and that is change. At the end of 2014, the numbers of available used trawlers in the Midwest has declined as buyers who would have purchased new boats in the past 6-7 years of this recession found the used boat market more appealing and feasible. Trawlers Midwest has sold over 180 new & used trawlers not only in the Midwest but all over the US and Canada. They will continue to market the Eco-Trawler and a select number of brokerage trawlers.

If you haven’t been to Manitowoc to meet the Schulers and see their unique inventory of trawlers, then give them a call and make an appointment. It will be a worthwhile experience.

Please contact Trawlers Midwest for more information or to make an appointment.

920-894-2632      trawlers@trawlersmidwest.com

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