Q&A With Mike Ritz of Alaska Marine Coatings
It’s often said that people make the place and we couldn’t agree more. Our new spotlight series introduces you to Seward Chamber of Commerce members who make our community an incredible place to live, work and play.
Alaska Marine Coatings was created in 2013 by husband and wife team Mike and Tiffany Ritz to bring quality, cost-effective coatings to Seward’s marine community. Their expertise covers anything a vessel needs to preserve: decks, hulls, tank coatings, insulation or flooring. They work with USCG/ABS inspected transportation vessels from companies like Crowley, Foss, and Lynden Transport. AK Marine Coatings prepares and coats giant work boats, tugs, barges, and commercial fishing vessels, but has also been known to take on smaller projects for local businesses such as repainting metal deck railings at Harbor 360 Hotel.
We recently sat down with Mike to learn more about the journey he and Tiffany have taken as small business owners in Seward.
What makes your business special or unique? In other words, what are you known for?
To say that a company like ours encounters many challenges in Alaska’s harsh environment is an understatement. With projects in places like the Arctic, western Alaska, and the Aleutians, we have to be resourceful and strong in order to finish a job. I’m proud that we have managed to complete over 200 projects in less than perfect weather while being good stewards of the environment and operating in a clean, responsible manner.
Tell us about a product or service that you’re particularly proud of.
We started our business without ever having to take a loan or assistance. AK Marine Coatings has been self-sufficient since inception and runs off of the income that we earn from each project.
What is the best compliment your business has ever received?
This past year we’ve been recognized for our work on TV, radio, and in magazines, which is an honor. Being awarded Seward Chamber of Commerce’s 2017 Business of the Year was a major highlight. We pride ourselves on bringing jobs to Seward’s economy and it was amazing to be recognized for our contribution.
Describe a risk that you’ve taken in your business that paid off.
Our decision to travel to remote locations to perform the work we do is always a huge risk. Giving firm, fixed estimates for work that is weather dependent and has so many other variables meant that, at times, we barely broke even. It’s a huge expense flying people, materials, and equipment into some of the more remote Arctic locations to work. Sometimes we came out ahead, sometimes we didn’t. It is a process that we are learning to master.
What advice would you give to a new business owner who is working to build a business like yours?
Blaine Bardarson told Tiffany and I when we first started that we would never experience emotions like we would running our own business. Emotions run high when it’s your own money and your family’s future on the line. My best advice is don’t give up and prepare for the many valleys in your business’s path, but also remember that they make the peaks so much more enjoyable!
How long have you lived in Seward? What first brought you here?
An executive with a coatings manufacturer brought me up in 2011 to coordinate the coatings on the 9 million dollar AMHS Tustumena. That was originally a two year contract, but we never left.
What would people be surprised to learn about your business or your journey as a business owner?
Up until I quit my job in 2014, I never intended to be in business for myself.
What do you like most about living and working in Seward?
I appreciate the inclusive, supportive attitude of the businesses in our community. The scenery and the wildlife are amazing too. But mostly the people of Seward make it a great place to live and work.
Tell us about a community member in Seward who you admire.
Seward is a very unique place with so many successful business people that it’s hard to pick just one. In no particular order, Joe and Tom Tougas, Blaine and Jean Bardarson, and Jim and Rhonda Hubbard have supported us immensely. We started only with the knowledge of our industry and a strong desire to make this work; these people and others helped us learn how to effectively run a business.
How do you spend your free time?
My wife and I love to fish, view wildlife, and spend time in the beautiful surroundings of Seward. We love any time we get to really embrace and enjoy the beautiful place in which we live. On the rare occasions we have free time, you’ll usually find us somewhere near Resurrection Bay or on our boat on the water.
If your life was a book, what would the title be?
When In Combat and the Bullets Start Flying, by Mike and Tiffany Ritz
Is there anything exciting on the horizon that you’d like to share?
We are well into our fourth year and are focusing on industry/safety training. Purchasing new equipment for our crew will make things more efficient and safe for our team and also improve the quality of our work for our customers. We are driven to positively influence Seward’s economy and only hire workers who live in the community. This pushes us to go after larger contracts so we can provide better wages for our employees, so they, in turn, can support Seward businesses.
Feature Image: The travelifts at the Seward Marine Industrial Center help Alaska Marine Coatings give Crowley’s fleet a face lift. Photo Courtesy of AK Marine Coatings
For more information about Alaska Marine Coatings, call 907.422.7640.