You may have wondered why it’s called Awlgrip. David Halcomb knows. He was there when Bob Grow and Joe Dilschneider of the Grow Group sat around a table trying to come up with a name for a new paint that they were about to try to sell to the marine industry.
Halcomb had met Grow and Dilschneider when they were trying a new paint on Halcomb’s father’s 36 foot Hatteras. In those days, the early 1970s, a boat was painted before it left Florida for the northern fishing season and then repainted when it returned. Twice a year painting with a brush was expensive and laborious and the finish wasn’t that great. The breakthrough came when the painters at Merritt Boat and Engine Works talked to the two pilots Grow and Dilschneider about the type of paint they put on Eastern Airlines jets. When they learned that the paint was called Alumigrip, the painters at Merritt decided to try it on a couple of boats. Halcomb’s father’s boat was one that they tried it on.
That year a very young David Halcomb took the boat north to fill time while he made up his mind what he was going to do with his life. Halcomb, who learned to handle lobster boats and race Mercury and CapeCod sailboats during summers in Blue Hill, Maine, knew the sea and thought he like to spend some time afloat. Two years previously he’d graduated from the University of North Carolina and joined the Coast Guard, then a department of the Navy, rather than go to Vietnam. He was fortunate in that after a few months in Coast Guard, the organization was moved to the Department of Transportation, or in the vernacular, from the D.O.D. to the D.O.T. At the time of the move, he was offered the opportunity to become a reservist or stay on the rolls. Naturally Holcomb chose to become a reservist, which gave him more time to mess around in boats. Hence he was taking his father’s boat north.
When he returned to Florida, he was asked what he thought about the paint. “It’s unbelievable,” Halcomb recalls telling them. “It only has two problems. It is so slippery when it’s wet that you can slide right off the deck, and the name. How can you tell someone that their boat is painted with Alumigrip [when the boats are not made of aluminum], you need to change the name.”
The brainstorming session started almost immediately, and finally the name Awlgrip was chosen. “It was intended to be Allgrip,” Halcomb said, “but the handwriting on the bar-room napkin was so bad that when the secretary typed it out the next day, the L got converted to a W. We made the GRIP part of the name blue because the sea is blue.”
The following summer saw Halcomb in Newport, RI at the America’s Cup. Somehow he got Courageous painted completely with Awlgrip. That was followed by painting the tender with Awlgrip, and the name became the buzzword for Newport during that summer. “New York Yacht Club members asked where they could get their boats Awlgripped.” Halcomb said. “It was then that I knew we had a winner.” The winning ways have continued to this day. Katie Ross, Vice President of marketing at Burger Yachts said, “David Halcomb and Awlgrip have been very helpful to us. If we ever wanted a special color or help with paintwork, David was there. We wouldn’t deal with any other paint company.
In the mid 1980's as the brand prospered the Grow Group sold the paint to N.O.F. (Nippon Oils and Fats) and it became part of U.S. Paint. The manufacturing was moved to St. Louis and Halcomb was asked to leave Florida and work out of St. Louis. It only took him twenty years to actually move his family there in 1994. Following the acquisition by AkzoNobel, Halcomb moved to the new headquarters in Wisconsin.
In St. Louis the company expanded as the market grew, but as Halcomb said, there was never much money for R & D, and other paint companies were catching up. “We were looking at what was coming in 2000 and 2001 and knew that we didn’t have the resources to develop new stuff.”
That’s when the company was sold to AkzoNobel where it is part of a dedicated global yacht division with the resources to develop new products. Now working closely with R&D and Marketing and responsible for guiding the future development of the business, Halcomb won’t discuss the new products that are coming, but he will say, “I am as excited about the new paint products that are coming as I was about Awlgrip in 1973. That’s how interesting they are.” I guess we’ll all have to wait and see what they are.