MarineMax's edge in retailing can be traced to the 1973 OPEC oil embargo. Just months before the Arabs shut off the oil flow, former aerospace engineer Bill Mc- Gill plowed his life savings into a Tampa boat dealership.
Stung by the possibility of disaster, McGill stepped back and considered what he most liked about boating. His answer: It's a getaway, and it's about family. "This is a right-side-of-the-brain, emotional decision," he says.
First boat: Glastron, 14-foot, with a 100-horsepower Mercury motor. He was 22.
Effect of fuel prices on prospective owners: "They don't even talk about it."
Retirement: "If you really are passionate about what you're doing and having fun doing it, you should keep on doing it."
On the water: "Not as much as I like." About once a month.
Worst day on a boat: Getting caught in a thunderstorm off Marco Island. He and family and friends dropped anchor on a spoil island.
Quote: "We in Florida need to keep a focus on what brings a lot of people to this market."
The innovations that sprang from that realization live on at MarineMax, the publicly held company McGill founded in 1998 that now has 85 stores in 21 states and is the nation's largest dealer. Its hallmark is no-haggle sales and post-sale service, including delivery captains specially selected to educate new owners on their boats, organized group getaways for boat owners and women-on-the-water sessions.
A Tennessee native, McGill loved water-skiing and boats when he wasn't milking cows on his father's farm. After college, he came to Florida to work on the SR-71 Blackbird at Pratt & Whitney in Palm Beach County and eventually moved to manufacturing and finally boat sales.
McGill's focus on the premium market -- $110,000 average boat price compared to the industry average $38,000 -- has paid off with an 11.5% compounded five-year annual revenue growth rate. So has McGill's emphasis on the right brain. Employees who deal with customers get personality screening tests. This year, the company will launch a Six Sigma quality control program.
"Maybe that's the engineer in me, but I like to do new things," he says.
McGill, 62, hopes to take MarineMax from $948 million in annual revenue to $3 billion in five years. "Then maybe if the board wants me to step aside, I guess I will." He adds: "I probably won't want to."