The Blue Economy
After sailing for 13 years and 45,000 nautical miles, Roger Moore came ashore in Fort Lauderdale and built his company to more than $100 million in revenue.
Roger Moore last year gave a thought to his legacy as the sale of the boat retailing business he co-founded moved toward completion.
A salty sailor and showman — call him Rog — who sports a close-cropped goatee and is ever ready with a quip or blunt comment, Moore can fill podcasts and profiles with his life story.
He has lived on one or another boat since 1986. His present home is an 84-foot Northern Marine Expedition he’s had on the North Fork of the New River for 12 years. This March found him there, turning 77, recovering from aortic valve surgery.
The Florida chapter of his story dates to 2003, when he and boat broker Jeff Garcia formed what is today Nautical Ventures. For seven years, it has ranked among Boating Industry’s Top 100 dealers nationally. Nautical Ventures has 11 retail centers, warehouses, assembly areas, rental and marina sites in Southeast Florida and 163 employees who wear the company’s orange shirts. With $112 million in annual revenue, Nautical Ventures is an attractive candidate in the consolidation trend shaping the marine industry. Moore in 2020 began talks with Clearwater-based MarineMax, the nation’s largest boat dealer, about selling.
Founding and selling businesses is in Moore’s DNA. After the sale of one — a water purification company in California — he and his wife, Samantha, left San Francisco in 1986 on their 63-foot motorsailer for a trip down the west coast to Mexico. Sailors call their type of meandering near-shore voyage from cove to creek outlet gunkholing — for the gunk from muddy bottoms. When the Moores reached Mexico, friends prevailed on them to join their boats in a Pacific crossing. For 13 years, the Moores circled the globe, with two dogs and a cat, and after a stop in Djibouti on the Horn of Africa, a pet monkey, calling at 435 ports. They reached Florida in 2000, and awhile later Moore engaged Garcia in Fort Lauderdale to sell his boat. The two hit it off and partnered in QPS Marine, a yacht broker, manager and refit servicer they founded in 2003. In 2010, they bought Hobie sailboat and kayak dealer Nautical Ventures. That name suited better than QPS for their endeavors as they grew into retail boat sales, sales of yacht-related accessories and resales and charters of cruise ships. “I jokingly tell people we sell everything from paddleboards to cruise ships,” Moore says.
“Everybody said I was crazy,” he says. “ ‘You can’t sell water sports and center console boats and brokerage. You can’t do it all.’ ” He created separate divisions to handle separate lines, and Nautical Ventures found new ways to sell. At boat shows, the company created the AquaZone, a 40,000-gallon above-ground pool for demonstrations of water toys like fishing kayaks or submersible drones.
Missing from the portfolio, however, was Moore’s passion, sailboats. Sailboats nationally make up just 2% of sales. “It’s always been festering within me, how do we give birth to selling sailboats?” he says. “Sailboat sales in Southeast Florida are not hot. My view is they’re not hot for a reason — no one’s marketing them. We all know it’s the Venice of America.”
As he focused on the challenge, he realized a few things, one of which he delivers with a candid one-liner. “Not one of our sales team out of about 35 people knows the difference between a bedsheet and a jib sheet,” he says. “There’s no way they can sell sailboats. It’s another terminology. It’s another passion. How can you get excited about going seven knots? If you’re a sailor, you know the lee rail’s in the water, and you feel like you’re going 100 mph. Unless you felt it, it’s hard to relate, and you’re talking to people that do understand.”
He would have to build a separate sales team of sailing aficionados and a diversified line of boats to sell; it’s hard for a salesperson to earn a living selling small boats. Then came a fortunate series of events culminating in Nautical Ventures representing France-based Beneteau Groupe’s First Racing, Oceanis, Oceanis Yachts and Excess Catamarans lines along with Finland luxury brand Nautor Swan. They kept selling small Hobies and Lasers right down to the $5,600 inflatable Tiwal sailboat that can pack into a vehicle trunk. “A lot of work helps you get ahead, but some luck is another major factor.” Moore launched the new sailboat division at the Discover Boating Miami International Boat Show in February. “Call me crazy. I don’t mind,” Moore said in announcing the division.
Adept at showmanship, he talks of doing what he can “to get a little drama going” at shows. He revels in the “silly little story” of how a few years ago he caused a stir by setting up a floating pole and dancers — more wholesome than it sounds, he says — in the AquaZone at a boat show. “I was the talk of the show. ‘Roger brought a stripper pole to the family boat show.’ We try to have a lot of fun doing what we do. We sell fun on the water. That’s our motto.”
His search for the big splash was on display at the Miami boat show. Nautical Ventures had 77 boats at the show, but Moore put the emphasis on the company’s sponsorship of the “Charged! Electric Pavilion” of electric boats.
“Six years ago, we started ‘orange is the new green.’ We fell flat on our face. It was too early,” he says. But of the February show, “this is the event that will set the trend. I think we will be overcome with press, I hope. Now is the time that we can really plant our flag as Nautical Ventures being in the forefront of the category.”
Electric boat makers and suppliers appreciated Moore’s push. “Roger created something never thought possible in America,” Alex Mongeon, co-founder and CEO of Montreal-based electric propulsion company Vision Marine Technologies, told reporters at the show.
“Thanks to Roger and Nautical Ventures, it’s great to see some of our compadres,” says Ingenity President Sean Marrero. “We’re trying to build a category. It’s not something you can do on your own.”
In the future, Moore wants to expand Nautical Ventures beyond Southeast Florida. He mentions Texas and Annapolis, the venue of a major boat show, as possible sites.
The high demand boat sellers saw in the pandemic has fallen back to pre-pandemic levels, Moore says. People have more alternatives for their leisure time and higher interest rates affect boat purchasing. Moore says he’s trying to “indoctrinate our salespeople — the low-hanging fruit is gone. Get out your ladder. You’re going to have to start climbing up the tree and doing your job and selling instead of taking orders. We have to be creative in the sales and marketing and work harder.” He predicts used boat inventory will increase as pandemic buyers re-evaluate their boating desires amid rising insurance premiums, high fuel costs and as their formerly new boats reach the point of pricey maintenance. At Nautical Ventures, he expects sales of entry-level boats to be down, but because overall the company added more brands, “we are forecasting growth but not dynamic growth,” Moore says.
Last year, Moore came close to selling to MarineMax but he backed out during the Fort Lauderdale Boat Show. “It was a very difficult decision. We really loved the people at MarineMax. They were phenomenal.” (A spokesperson for MarineMax declined comment.)
Moore explains his reasoning. Samantha, his wife and sailing companion of 48 years, “sailed around the world together, worked together,” has passed away and now “my family is the company,” he says. “I sell at 77. What the hell would I do then? I’m not money motivated. My joy is in building the company, and all of a sudden that would be gone. The team we’ve surrounded ourselves with is really passionate. It’s not a job to them.” He saw other marine companies go public and thought that if Nautical Ventures did too with him still in control, he could get capital to expand and also reward employees with stock. He’s considering taking the company public in the coming years as revenue grows, with a goal of doubling it to $200 million annually, he says. “My legacy could be to make all these guys around me wealthy. They’re doing well now. But for them to get the big golden ring at the end — taking it public — that really gave me renewed passion and all of them renewed passion.”