It doesn’t get more homegrown than SeaSucker. Started in 2005 by long-time Florida resident Chuck Casagrande, the outfitter company manufactures every product for its marine, biking and off-roading lines in house at its facility in Bradenton. While many companies say they’re ‘like a family’, several of the 44 employees actually are family, including Chuck’s brother Gregg, wife Joyce, and daughter Genevieve Valk who took the lead over day-to-day operations in 2019.

“I’m the luckiest guy there is. I mean, I created a company out of my hobbies. If I’m complaining, there’s something wrong. I fish, I bike, all this. And it’s just a blast,” Casagrande says. 

For all the familial ties, this is not your average mom-and-pop operation. 

SeaSucker products are sold worldwide.

Courtesy image

Casagrande has invented and designed some 200 products, from cup holders to bike racks that vacuum seal to various surfaces in lieu of drilling holes or trusting hand tightened straps. The products have a global reach serving as the official bike rack supplier of the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) World Championships and including recently shipped containers to consumers in Australia. 

This kind of growth is not without challenges. “We have a lot of competing priorities,” Valk says. “And because SeaSucker is family owned and operated and, quite importantly, family owned and funded, the competing priorities can be a challenge and deciding where we’re going to spend our time and energy sometimes can be difficult.”

Casagrande agrees, noting that the company attends 40 shows a year and the staff and organization required to make each one a success has caused them to reassess which ones to attend and which markets to direct more of their energy. “It’s been tough to figure out, but we’ve been doing it.”

Additionally, there has been some fall off in the outdoor markets since the pandemic. In 2020, boat sales reached a 13-year high, according to data provided by the National Marine Manufacturers Association, as reported by Fiona McGlynn in BoatUS Magazine. Sales remained steady in 2021 but saw a decrease of 13% in 2022.

The cycling industry took note of an excess of inventory back in 2022, which led to several major companies such as Cannondale Bikes and USA Cycling opting for restructuring and layoffs.

“A lot of the outdoor sports industry has taken a bit of a dive the last two years,” Casagrande notes, “So they’ve had a tough year, too. But for us, we’ve continued to grow because we’ve opened new markets.” 

He credits the different channels as the secret to their success, including direct-to-consumer sales, distributors, wholesalers, tradeshows and international sales. “It’s pretty hard for us to get hurt by one particular thing,” he says.

Casagrande boasts the bike rack as his proudest invention, which he credits as the launch of SeaSucker’s momentum from a small startup into their current fast paced position today. The company has more than doubled in revenue the past five years, though Casagrande declines to disclose specific revenue figures. 

Motors running

SeaSucker has a big supporter in Zack Foley, chief mechanic for the National Cycling League who started cycling professionally 11 years ago. His first team, Five Hour Energy presented by Kendra, was a test team for the first iteration of SeaSucker’s team racks. “I’ve worked with every manufacturer’s products.They are the only company that I think have the stability to perform in extreme conditions,” Foley says. 

He cites driving long distances, flights, enduring dust storms, and changing the rack onto multiple cars in multiple cities without issue as examples of the rack’s durability.

Following the success of their marine and cycling products, the company recently moved into off-road and overlanding markets within the last year and a half. (Overlanding is a form of self-reliant adventure travel.) The bike racks positioned the company to get acquainted with the automotive industry, which resulted in a soft launch of accessories geared toward vehicles like jeeps and RVs. The launch was well received, and it was off to the races with research and development to actualize recovery boards, water tank mounts and various accessory holders for everything from phones to toilet paper.

SeaSucker products have a global reach.

Photo by Mark Wemple

R&D is where Casagrande spends most of his days since passing the baton to Falk in 2019. He has about 60 products in progress. “We keep coming up with more ideas. It’s a constant struggle to keep going in the R&D. There’s so much work to do. It’s hard to keep up. But that’s the fun part, right?” he says. 

Geoff Page is a field tester for SeaSucker products on the marine side. Page, a competitive saltwater game fisherman and reporter for Florida Insider Fishing Report, met Casagrande at a boat show in Miami in 2015. The two hit it off after realizing they were based out of the same area, and soon products were stuck all over Page’s boats. His current favorite is a switch tackle station with a leader holder.

“I helped a lot in the development of it,” Page says. “It has little places you can hang hooks. It has magnets on it. You can just set things and they’ll magnetize to it and it has plier and scissor holders. It’s real small. That’s what’s cool. … It’s not a big bulky thing. It’s real small and can fit in a tiny little spot on your dash.”

Next generation

With Casagrande focusing his energy on new products, Valk, 31, has been at the helm as president and COO. After starting her career at a think tank in Washington, D.C., she came back to Florida. She spent a year working in various parts of operations. “I kind of put myself wherever I was needed,” she says, deciding she wanted to stay at the company for the long term. 

A Business Observer 40 Under 40 winner in 2019, Casagrande recognized her as “a born leader” and she transitioned into her current role.

SeaSucker has designed more than 185 products.

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Although leadership in the outdoor industry trends older and male, she hasn’t felt out of place. “I do think the outdoor industry in general is one that’s very open. And I will say that the industries we’re in mostly just value hard work. If you are competent, and you’re good at speaking to people, and it’s evident that you work hard, I think for the most part, people respect that.” 

If anything, her role as the founder’s daughter raises some eyebrows upon first impression, but, “usually a conversation that lasts ten or fifteen minutes sets everybody straight.”

Her advice to other up and coming female leaders is to remain true to themselves in the workplace. She observes that women often feel they have to be more direct or harsh, or even more sweet than they would normally act in order to be taken seriously. “Ultimately I think the success will come when you feel the most confident and I think that happens when you’re your most authentic self.”

Valk is excited for what the future holds at SeaSucker. New products, international expansion and the launching of more e-commerce sites are all exciting prospects on the horizon. Most importantly, the SeaSucker team will grow by one as she and husband Jan are expecting their first child. 

Whether they opt in as the next generation of Seasucker leadership is entirely up to them. “Giving your children space to decide what they want to do” is important to Valk, “If this little one decides that they’d like to join the company that would be amazing.”

 

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