While growing up in Augusta, Shandon Nichols was always around boats.
“Of course it was a hobby at one time,” said the 42-year-old Nichols. Now “it’s a way of life.”
The hobby has paid off for Nichols. In 2014, he launched his own company Mighty White Marine of Augusta. It is a full-line service shop that provides metal fabrication, painting, boat repairs for duck hunters and any other water enthusiasts’ needs.
It also sells boats.
Since the business opened, sales have have jumped 30-40 percent annually, Nichols said. The business quickly outgrew its 3,500-SF location. Last July, it moved to a space more than 10 times that size.
The business remains in Augusta, where Nichols has lived most of his life. He also is looking to add four employees, which would nearly double the size of the current staff of five.
Nichols has customers from around the country and Canada. He is the No. 1 Havoc Boats dealer and the No. 2 Tohatsu dealer in the nation. (He’s also Arkansas’ No. 1 dealer of Tohatsu, Japan’s oldest outboard motors manufacturer.)
“There’s a reason that there’s guys driving from South Carolina all the way to Augusta, Arkansas, to pick up a boat that they could get 50 miles … from their house,” said Chris Eldridge, Nichols’ friend and a Mighty White Marine customer. “Shandon is accountable, and he works well with others and will fix problems that may arise in dealing with the public.”
Being an avid hunter, Nichols “relates well to everybody,” Eldridge said.
Duck hunters contribute a large part of Mighty White’s sales.
“Without the duck hunters, it wouldn’t be much of a business,” Nichols said.
Nichols also attributes the company’s success to customer service and his background in boat repair and being a certified technician for the watercraft that he sells. He said he focuses on the customer and sells them what they want, “not what they don’t need. I undersell myself a lot.”
Augusta High School
Nichols spent nearly his whole life in Augusta, the seat of Woodruff County. The county’s population has been falling since the 1980s and now is around 2,000 people.
Nichols’ mother Linda worked at Sloan Valve, manufacturer of commercial plumbing systems, in Augusta and his father, Danny Nichols, was a commercial fisherman who also refurbished tractors, a job he still does.
“We just grew up on the river, that’s about all that was around here to do,” Nichols said.
Nichols took shop classes at Augusta High School that taught him welding and how to repair gas engines, a foreshadowing of his future career.
When he graduated he started working as a press operator at Sloan Valve, the same factory where his mother worked.
He left that job and worked as a police officer for seven years.
“I love it, and I loved interacting with the public,” Nichols said.
He wasn’t making enough money, so Nichols left and opened his own business, Son’s Customs, where he worked on boats and cars.
Nichols then went to work for a Heber Springs boat dealership for about three years.
“When I left Heber, my intention was to do it on my own,” he said.
Mighty White Marine
In 2014, Nichols opened Mighty White Marine.
“I started in a 1950s gas station,” he said. “It had four bays. It had outside restrooms.”
His years of being a technician helped him on the sales side of the business.
“I can relate,” Nichols said. “I know the product, and, of course, I use the product.”
He can explain the painting or welding jobs to a customer.
“I can do it all,” Nichols said. “And I’ve got the gift of gab, so I can talk to you too.”
A full-line dealer of several brands of boats, Nichols can also sell motors separately. If the customer wants a motor on “grandpa’s old boat, I can put it on there for them.” This sets Nichols apart from package dealers who sell the boat and motor together.
Nichols handles a number of custom boat jobs as well, which is another reason why he’s successful, said his friend, Boyd Wright.
Nichols can take a customer’s vision for his dream boat and “makes it happen,” Wright said.
“What he does is way beyond just good customer service. He’s one of the hardest working guys in the industry.”
Nichols said that if a customer needs a boat during duck hunting season, “I’ll take away from my time to get it done. And I’ve done that at other places.”
In July 2016, Mighty White Marine moved into a 135,000-SF building at 305B East Highway 64 in Augusta, which he shares with another company. He uses about 45,000 SF of the space.
Nichols said there’s room for the business to grow. Might White started a fabrication shop last year and it has taken off as well.
“We’re just going to continue to do what we do, service our customers,” Nichols said. “That’s the main thing.”