Not Another Big Box

Sportman’s Island’s investors believe the facility has important advantages over the other big box stores pursuing experiential retailing in the marine industry.

Mention experiential retailing and fish tanks in the same breath, and many people start thinking about the big box outdoor retailers that have taken an increased interest in the boating industry, such as Bass Pro Shops and Gander Mountain.

The participants in Sportsman’s Island believe that they have advantages over what some might consider their larger competitors, however. Those include the in-depth knowledge and focus of each business’ staff and a commitment to servicing the product they sell.

“What Sportsman’s Island represents is the best of both worlds,” says Scout Boats Founder and President Steve Potts, who is also a personal investor in Sportsman’s Island. “The dealership that is going to be selling our product knows it well and has a dedicated service department. The boat salesmen can then walk the customer across the hall and introduce him to the electronics or tackle expert [at Boater’s World]. The people that sell the boats are not distracted from what they do. It’s the same with the people at Boater’s World. That doesn’t happen in the big box stores. These businesses are under one roof, but they operate independently from each other.
“There’s no question the big box stores put a whole lot more emphasis on selling product than servicing product. They are mass merchandisers. They retail a lot of stuff. But if you want to have a lot of really good service, you don’t go to a Sam’s or a Costco. Our business is more about personal relationships. Knowing the guy who does the service is more important than the sale itself.”

Certainly, Boater’s World counts those big box retailers among its competitors. And Hanckel Marine created its original store’s parts and accessories strategy with the knowledge that there were three big box stores within a three-mile radius.

“We’ve gone a different route,” explains Hanckel Marine founder Milo Hanckel. “Electronics-wise, watersports, a lot of the clothing, accessories, they have better discounts, and instead of trying to compete with them, we’ve brought in extremely qualified employees in our parts department. We decided we’re going to concentrate more on the parts of the boats than the pieces surrounding the boats.”

In fact, some dealerships might consider Boater’s World a threat, but not Hanckel Marine. While the Charleston dealer has a small P&A display in its original showroom, including oils and cleaners, it’s the dealer’s $1.5 million parts business that drives this department. For that reason, having Boater’s World next door is an advantage.

“Let me do my job really well, and they can do their job really well,” Hanckel says. “The little parts business we’re going to lose is a fair trade for a handful more customers each month or even each year.”

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