Member Profile: Steve Baum, D.S. Hull April 30, 2018
In March 1981, a few months after graduating high school in Cleveland, Ohio, 18-year-old Steve Baum jumped in his Pontiac Grand Am with everything he owned and headed to Fort Lauderdale. Despite keeping two snow tires on the car as part of his fall back plan, Steve envisioned a life of surf, sand, and sun – and six weeks of Spring Break every year.
He arrived on a Friday, at which point his father gave him a list of everyone he knew in the marine industry. With no boating experience and no understanding of bow from stern, Steve landed an interview at Cable Marine for that Monday morning. He was hired on the spot, handed a uniform, and put to work cleaning and organizing the yard. After a few weeks, he moved up to scraping barnacles, bottom painting, and polishing propellers. From that point, anything the Cable Marine team would teach him he wanted to learn. He hauled the boats out, cleaned, scraped, painted, and put them back in the water. He wanted to know everything he could about boats and how to fix them, and he spent the next seven years absorbing it all and helping in every facet of the yard, including driving the forklift and operating the Travelift.
That hands-on education was invaluable. He fell in love with boats, met interesting people, and enjoyed working outside all day. But, he knew he wanted something more, so he enrolled in Broward College and went to school at night. Once partners Elmer Strauss, George Cable, and Joe LaFauci found out Steve was attending school, they paid for the remainder of his tuition until he earned his AA degree in Business. After graduating, he was promoted to Parts Department Manager at Cable Marine West.
Steve acquired more and more knowledge on the management and parts side of the businesses, which included Cable Marine and D.S. Hull Company – the marine parts wholesale distributor and parent company to Boat Owners Warehouse (BOW). In 1989, an opportunity for General Manager of D.S. Hull became available and Steve got the job.
Although he was ambitious, Steve was not all work and no play. He married his wife Mercedes in 1992 and both his daughter Lindsay and son Daniel were born within four years. He and Mercedes, an elementary school teacher, bought a great house in kid-friendly Pembroke Pines and went about living the dream in South Florida.
When Steve took the job as General Manager at D.S. Hull, there were only two BOW stores; one in Fort Lauderdale and one in Riviera Beach. Soon, however, they added two more stores in Pompano Beach and Hallandale. By 1995, Elmer’s and Joe’s children, Terri and Jamie Strauss and Paul LaFauci, were involved in the business and the partners offered Steve and them a 10-year, leveraged buy-out, which they accepted. Eventually, Jamie exited to pursue different dreams and Steve, Terri, and Paul continued growing and building the company. Then came the Great Recession of 2008 and they made the difficult but necessary decision to close the Hallandale store.
BOW rode out the recession and in 2015 renovated and expanded the Fort Lauderdale store, which was originally built in 1984. Despite a challenging construction schedule, the store was only closed for one day – operating at high volume during the complete reconfiguration of the property. After a three-year search for the right location, the company also opened a new store in Stuart last year.
Steve and Mercedes are now living in a community of boaters in Fort Lauderdale after spending 13 years commuting to and from Boca Raton. At least once a year, they visit family in Cleveland. Their daughter works full-time for D.S. Hull while earning her MBA at Nova Southeastern University. She’s held multiple positions within the company, from entry-level to assistant controller. Their son is a rising senior at Georgia Tech and will graduate in December with a B.S. degree in Aerospace Engineering.
Steve embraces two philosophies when it comes to running BOW. He’s not interested in being the biggest, he strives only to be the best; and every employee has a role to play so no job is more important than another. Moving forward, he’s looking at potential new stores in targeted markets, dabbling in real estate, and consulting. He is a member and previous chairman of the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas, and an active Anchor Member of MIASF. He is passionate about getting the word out that the marine industry has good jobs, pays well, and it’s fun!
37 years after taking a big gamble, he can probably sell the snow tires.