From the Captain's Chair: The Business of Boating
With the 62nd annual Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show kicking off in less than one month, we’re in the final stretch to bring another world-class event to Fort Lauderdale. The restaurants, hotels, and other services are excited to welcome the tens of thousands of attendees that visit our show over these five days. And for its 4th year, NBC Sports will be producing their 1-hour FLIBS Special set to air on Sunday, October 31st, the final day of the show. Introduced in 2020, Informa Markets’ AllSecure™ program will continue to ensure the health and safety for all exhibitors and attendees.
Preparing for FLIBS has me thinking about the business of boating. While many of the world’s industries contracted during the ongoing pandemic, the marine industry thrived. Many people ask me how this is possible. In my mind, it is due to three key factors.
The success of our industry is anchored in the customer experience throughout the entire lifecycle of the boater. And boat sales skyrocketed since COVID-19 hit. In fact, our industry enjoyed a 35-plus percent growth over the previous year. Families suddenly found themselves living, schooling, and working in the same residential space. They also discovered that they had much more free time since commutes and extracurricular activities were put on hold.
It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that these families embraced boating. Spending a day soaking up the sunshine on our beautiful lakes, rivers, and the ocean were the perfect anecdote to being cooped up inside the family home together.
The key through it all was, and continues to be, the customer experience. Whether it was the initial experience at the point of sale, requesting advice on maintenance from a dealer or manufacturer, or the service provided on the continual service, we’re there every step of the way, ensuring the customer continues to enjoy boating and follows the trend investing more in our industry.
This increase in boat sales flowed down to buoy the multitude of businesses that support the marine industry. From boat yards, including engine repairs, bottom painters, fenders, etc., to the small businesses that supply the furnishings and parts that keep boats afloat, marine businesses of all sizes enjoyed a bottom-line boost. And their continued financial success helped catch the eye of investors.
Which brings me to the second reason why boating is at the helm of many people’s interest. The boating industry is a Class A investment. Since the pandemic hit, more than $2 billion in acquisitions have been completed within our region, including OneWater Marine’s purchase of Roscioli Yachting Center, Safe Harbor Marina’s acquisitions of Rybovich and Lauderdale Marine Center, and Suntex’s expanded entry to the South Florida yachting scene with their takeover of operations at both Las Olas Marina and the Bahia Mar Yachting Center.
And it isn’t just high-profile mergers and acquisitions like these. Numerous individual investors also embraced the South Florida marine industry. Strong business-minded individuals like Brooks Smith acquired multiple entities including Boat Owner’s Warehouse (BOW), Lewis Marine Supply, and American Custom Yachts (now Willis Custom Yachts) in Stuart. The Kelly’s of Bradford continued to bolt on other business with the addition of Pipe Welders, Billfish Marina, High Seas Technology, and P&R Canvas to their portfolio. It is this confidence displayed by investors at all levels that cements our position as the leader of our industry. Because, keep in mind, the state of Florida leads the nation in registered boats, documented boats, and foreign-flagged boats whether visiting for pleasure or refit, or repair work.
Finally, the third reason our industry is so successful comes down to our people. From industry leaders at the helm of private and public companies, to the skilled tradespeople and everyone in between, our marine workforce is the foundation of our success. And it is a foundation we don’t take for granted. MIASF has always been fully invested in ensuring the next generation of skilled workers is ready to keep the industry moving in a positive direction.
Our Yacht Service Technician Apprenticeship program with Atlantic Technical College, the first of its kind registered in the state, welcomed the second class to the two-year program in January 2021, with the third class set to launch in January 2022. A highlight of this program will be congratulating the first class of graduates, set to earn their certificate in December 2021. These graduates will leave the program with a wealth of well-rounded knowledge in multiple shipyard competencies.
And then programs like our Telly award-winning Salty Jobs video series which is now in its 4th season, the annual Plywood Regatta entering its 25th year, or the relationships we’ve forged with local programs and schools such as SBHS Marine Magnet Program, NRMS Marine Magnet Program, Boys & Girls Club, and more, are other ways we do outreach to attract future marine industry tradespeople. We believe it is essential to introduce our industry and pique curiosity early on, so that we continue to have a robust workforce tomorrow and in the coming decades.
Thanks for being part of it all. We look forward to seeing you at the boat show.