by Mike Vogel
Updated 11 months ago
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."
Below the Surface
Mount Dora Boating Center
Owner, Mount Dora
A disquieting trend unsettled people in the boat business a few years ago. At a time when Boomer demographics and circumstance should have favored strong industry growth, sales were at best flat. "Everything was playing to our favor, and we weren't going anywhere," says Mount Dora boat dealer and marina owner Joe Lewis.
Lewis, originally a businessman from Harrisburg, Pa., came to Florida in 1989 after reading a marina for-sale advertisement in the Wall Street Journal. His Mount Dora Boating Center now ranks 91st in Boating Industry's national top 100 dealers. The dealership includes a full-service marina, wet and dry storage and repair operation. Lewis believes in his product. He says he knows no better way for a family to bond because children of all ages love it. "There's absolutely nothing like it," he says.
To address the disquieting industry trend, manufacturers and retailers launched what became the Grow Boating initiative. Lewis, president of the Marine Industries Association of Florida, is one of only four dealers to sit on the group's board. As the Grow Boating group researched why people gave up boating, they found problems in the owners' sales, service and product experiences. Among other things, Grow Boating aims to address the problems by moving the industry toward certification and higher standards for manufacturing and sales. Says Lewis, 50, whose dealership was one of the first certified. "If we're going to turn this industry around, put it on a growth trend, we have to address the underlying issues."
Water Management Technologies
President, Fort Lauderdale
Like Jimmy Buffett's "mother ocean," the Miami River has seen it all -- Henry Flagler and the homeless, worn freighters serving Caribbean islands and pollution, decay and condo towers. Since 2000, it has seen something different, an oddball boat that destroys fecal bacteria and scoops rotted meat, chicken carcasses and other repugnant items from the river while pumping in life-giving oxygen.
The Scavenger is the creation of a father and daughter originally from Montreal, Jacques DesAulniers, an inventor who died in March, and daughter Sophie Mastriano. A patented, floating water treatment system, the Scavenger was launched as a pilot program funded by four entities, including the Miami River Commission.
Mastriano, 33, enjoyed mechanics as a child and as an adult worked as a sea freight agent and then as a boat builder before joining her father in 1995 when he founded Water Management Technologies, the entity that makes the boat and has the river contract. Last year, she formed Water Management Technologies II, with herself as managing director, to be the sole distributor of the boat and market it more heavily.
She recently sold two boats to Nigeria, but her plan is to retain ownership of boats and sell their services. Annual revenue is $1.5 million. Mastriano says that after a period of quiet building, she's ready for a bigger operation. "It takes time to build a strong background," she says.
John Sprague, 59, Stuart, has been making a mark in the marine industry in Tallahassee and Pahokee.
In Pahokee, he is managing member of an unusual public-private partnership with the state and city to build a 144-slip marina and recreational support facilities at the Everglades Adventures RV and Sailing Resort within the dike on Lake Okeechobee.
In Tallahassee, as chairman of the legislative and government relations committee of the Marine Industries Association of Florida, Sprague is the industry's go-to guy on manatees, water access and public-use marina preservation.
"I spend more time on manatees right now than I do on anything else."
Matt Bridgewater, 35, president, GEM Products, Orange Park, whose $15-million-revenue company has had eight consecutive years of double-digit sales growth. The 38-employee company manufactures marine industry hardware. Managing partner
Fred Pace, 53, and partner and developer
Peter Bos, 59, are looking at expanding dry and in-water storage in an undisclosed Panhandle market. Their 5-year-old Legendary Marine, Destin, is a 162-employee, $70 million in annual sales boat sales and service operation in Gulf Shores, Ala., and Fort Walton, Destin and Panama City. Its Destin dry storage is billed as the largest in the nation at 780 boats.