Business

Russell’s business model proves watertight

  • Labour of love: Ascento Russell working on a model boat (Photograph supplied)
  • Model boat builder Ascento Russell in his workshop (Photograph supplied)
  • One of Ascento Russell’s model boats (Photograph supplied)
  • One of Ascento Russell’s model boats (Photograph supplied)
  • One of Ascento Russell’s model boats inspired by Team Australia (Photograph supplied)

Ascento Russell’s first attempt to build a remote-controlled model boat did not go well.

“Let’s just say the first one I built wasn’t fit for sail,” laughed the former Southampton Rangers and Bermuda national team footballer, a resident of Orlando, Florida. “But it was a prototype. I had no intention of selling it. Once I made a few more, they got better and better.”

Now constructing them is like breathing to him.

“There really isn’t any challenge to it, any more,” he said.

In 2013, he set up his own business, AR-Model Boat Design.

“I’ve sold them to people in the British Virgin Islands, Kuwait, South Africa and all over the United States,” he said.

But he hasn’t had many orders from back home in Bermuda.

“I have sold only two boats to Bermudians, and some engine covers,” he said.

He learnt the process of boat building while working for Correct Craft in Orlando in the early 2000s.

“I was always intrigued by the process,” he said. “I worked for them and learnt the ins and outs of fibreglass and strengthening hulls and building plugs.”

But after two years he knew it was time to branch out on his own. He didn’t have the funds to build full-size boats, so he started small with model RC boats.

Today customised RC boats ranging from 44in to 80in are his speciality.

His customers are generally middle-aged men.

“I haven’t had any females,” he said.

He loves seeing other people running his boats.

“I like to see people looking at them in amazement and really inspecting the quality of the work,” he said.

As he got further and further into the business he noticed that rain frequently got into the engine and caused damage. So he crated and patented his own motor cover design.

Mr Russell, who is the grandson of the late boxing trainer Allan “Forty” Rego, said he has always loved boats.

“My father, Anthony Stoneham, used to race boats in Bermuda,” he said. “He did the Round the Island race several times in his life. So I have always been around boats.”

He said RC boat racing is huge right now.

“It has been going on since the 1970s,” he said. “It is a multimillion-dollar industry, probably a billion-dollar industry. There are big races all over the United States.”

He promotes his business largely through YouTube where he has posted more than 50 videos of his boats. Some of his videos have had 100,000 views.

It takes him two days to make the boat’s hull and deck, but the entire process, including the custom paint job, can take up to three weeks.

“It depends on the delivery of the parts I need,” he said. “Most of the parts I use for the boat are not in Florida, but come from other parts of the United States.”

One of his laments is that he often doesn’t know what happens to his boats after they are sent out after delivery. He doesn’t know if customers are just using them for amusement, or racing his crafts.

He often asks that people send back photos or videos of the boats in use, but sometimes don’t often remember to do it.

Prices for his products range from $1,600 to $7,000 for a larger model.

Customers can also pick from a gas or electric motor.

“The electric motor is a lot faster but more costly,” he said. “It costs a lot more money to build an electric engine.”

But he said you could get more enjoyment out of a boat powered with an electric motor.

“Most of the time, high-powered motors draw so much electricity they only last seven or eight minutes, if you are just playing around with the boat,” he said. “If you are going full throttle it might last five minutes. If you buy that kind of motor, you might want to buy multiple batteries so you can use it for an extended period of time.”