EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — In their retirements, a former Atlantic City lifeguard and former local firefighter went into the business of making oars, trying to fill a niche for a specific kind of New Jersey boat — a lifeguard boat.
The owners of Oar House LLC said the small business was founded in 2008 after a major producer of oars used for Van Duyne surf boats moved away from that specific segment of the market.
Beach patrols use lifeguard boats for water rescues and rowing competitions.
“There was a need about to open out there for the Van Duyne oars, the local oars,” said John Mistler, 58, of Egg Harbor Township, a retired firefighter and part owner of Oar House. “Bob (Garbutt) and his sons are the ones who noticed there was going to be a hole in the market.”
Garbutt, 70, of Ventnor, taught high school mechanical drawing and computer-aided drafting, and spent almost 40 summers on the Atlantic City Beach Patrol before retiring.
Garbutt was a competitive rower and crew coach, and his sons have lifeguard backgrounds.
Oar House sold about 250 oars last year, mostly to New Jersey beach patrols and individual or competitive rowers, Mistler said.
These types of oars need to be rugged to handle the crashing surf and buoyant in case they fall into the ocean, he said.
Oars range in price based on size and other features, but generally cost about $100 each, he said.
The company has the wooden blades milled at AC Mill Works in Deptford, and then cuts the pipes that make up the oar’s shaft, Garbutt said.
They then assemble the pipes, blades and handles into oars.
Finding the right style took trial and error out on the water, they said.
“The first year, we had a rough idea of what we wanted, but it wasn’t exact. The first year oars were a little heavier than what we would have liked. We then tweaked it the second year to make them a little bit lighter,” Mistler said.
This year, Garbutt and Mistler said, they plan to expand into producing another style of oar for a more widespread style of surf boat used elsewhere on the East Coast and on the West Coast.
Garbutt, who had coached crew and had a wealth of experience on the water, recruited Mistler for the business, even though he had not previously rowed a surf boat.
“The deal was you teach me to row the boat, I’ll help you make the oars,” Mistler said.
Both men are pipers with the Atlantic City Fire Department’s Sand Pipers bagpipes and drums band. Mistler is the pipe major.
Because both men are retired, they have been content with the early years in which the business only made enough money to break even. But they hope that with more oars being produced and sold, they can expand in both scope and profitability.
“We’re having fun with it so far. We’re not tired of it. It’s been a couple years. We go out there, we work hard, we get bit by mosquitoes,” Mistler said.
“We’re hoping to give it some time, see how it goes,” Garbutt said. “At the time (in 2008), the stock market was falling. At least I could work, and if it falls, it’s my fault. It’s not someone else’s investments.”
Meanwhile, Oar House this year had a booth at the recent Atlantic City Boat Show at the Atlantic City Convention Center, where it displayed its surf boat with the company logo on it, “So when we row up and down the Intracoastal Waterway, we’re advertising,” Mistler said.
Oar House LLC
Location: Jorene Drive, Egg Harbor Township
Owners: John Mistler, of Egg Harbor Township; Robert Garbutt, of Ventnor; Jeff Garbutt, of Northfield; Matt Garbutt, of Ocean City; and Dan Garbutt, of Virginia Beach, Va.
Contact Brian Ianieri: