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Meet Lars and Olivia Bergersen of Shepherd Boat Company in Lake Geneva

Today we’d like to introduce you to Lars and Olivia Bergersen.

Lars and Olivia, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
We started out as a small antique boat restoration shop, Bergersen Boat Company, based in Lake Geneva, WI. Wood boats are extremely popular on Lake Geneva. We restore all makes and models, such as Chris Crafts, Garwoods, Hackers and Lymans just to name a few. After an extensive restoration of a 27′ Shepherd, we really fell in love with these boats. The quality of the Shepherd exceeded that of any other boats we had worked on. Since then we have personally owned and restored countless Shepherds for our clients. We have created quite a following and were finding that these boats are hard to come by in the United States. Shepherd Boats originated in Ontario, Canada in the late 1930’s. Now it often requires a trip to Canada to acquire one. The replacement parts are virtually non-existent. With their popularity and the demand from our customers’ growing, we decided it was time to step up to the plate and bring the Shepherd back to life. Their striking lines and the effortless way they glide across the water make these boats too beautiful to be relics of the past. We endeavor to make sure that Shepherd boats are around to be enjoyed for generations to come.

Has it been a smooth road?
Olivia: It was a little unnerving at first. We initially started our business with two customers. It was a week before our wedding, I was out shopping and making preparations, and I got a call from Lars saying that he had quit his job. My first thought was that I needed to go return everything I’d just bought! We knew that we eventually wanted to open up our own restoration shop, but this threw us into making it happen a lot sooner than we thought. We rented a small shed, equipped with a hand full of wood working tools and a borrowed 1939 tractor which allowed us to take care of our first two customers.

Lars: I remember the first week at my new shop and feeling anxiety over what I was going to do to keep myself busy. In spite of that, I was also excited that I could now set my own hours, because I felt over worked and underpaid at my old job. As a small business owner, I soon found out that wouldn’t be the case. I work longer hours and twice as hard now as I ever did working for someone else.

Olivia: With regular customers and ‘word of mouth’ we have been very fortunate to always have as much business as we can handle. It’s been almost ten years and we now have roughly 200 boats in our care, with nine full-time employees.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
Olivia: At Bergersen Boat, we restore and customize antique wood boats. We often take them down to their bones and rebuild them, sometimes putting a whole new bottom, keel, frames and stringers on them. It’s always been our dream to build boats from scratch. We restore so many Shepherd boats for customers that we had become known as the ‘Shepherd aficionados’. People from all over the country bring us their Shepherds to refurbish. So when we realized there was an opportunity to actually bring the Shepherd boat line back to life it just seemed like the natural progression.

With the new Shepherd line, the hulls are built to original specifications (the tried and test design from the 50’s era) but are stronger because the building materials are far superior to the original. The interiors are more comfortable, contemporary and have more amenities. Our customers enjoy choosing the interior configuration and picking out their own upholstery, flooring and colors. The interior is built to suit.

Lars: I am most proud of the sustained growth of Bergersen Boat, which enabled us to be able to start Shepherd Boat Company. Our customers appreciate the personal attention they get working with us. When they call they aren’t getting someone who’s unfamiliar with their project, they get Olivia or myself. Many customers enjoy coming by the shop to look at the progress of their boat or if they are unable to Olivia will send them pictures. Many customers have said they enjoyed the process of restoration (seeing it come to life) as much as they enjoy using it. And in the end, it makes them appreciate the boat even more.

Is our city a good place to do what you do?
Lake Geneva is a wood boat lake, so we are in the perfect place. Most of our customers live in Chicago and have summer homes in Geneva.

Contact Info:

Getting in touch: VoyageChicago is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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