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2016 Boating Industry Movers & Shakers

By Jonathan Sweet

The 6th annual Movers & Shakers Awards recognizes the top leaders in the boating industry, innovators that are willing to challenge the status quo. They are the people who make the moves that shake up and better their companies and the entire industry.

From consolidating leading brands to introducing new technology to boating to educating the industry, these 10 individuals are helping set the standard and grow the boating industry.

On the following pages, we recognize our Mover & Shaker of the Year – Bill Yeargin, president and CEO of Correct Craft – and nine other innovators shaking up the industry.

Mover & Shaker of the Year  |  Bill Yeargin

President and CEO, Correct Craft
Orlando, Fla.

dsc_0206Since the fall of 2014, Correct Craft – long known as the manufacturer of the iconic Nautique boat – has been drastically reshaped through a series of acquisitions of boat and engine brands.

Most recently, the company purchased SeaArk, adding its aluminum fishing and hunting boats to its stable of brands.

At the same time, Correct Craft President and CEO Bill Yeargin has continued to be heavily involved in improving the entire industry, from writing on a number of key industry issues for Boating Industry and other outlets to meeting with government officials to further the industry’s concerns.

It was that record that caused us to, for the first time in the program’s history, recognize a Mover & Shaker for a second time. After being a finalist in 2015, Bill Yeargin is the 2016 Mover & Shaker of the Year.

Growth strategy

Since Bill Yeargin joined Correct Craft as CEO in 2006, growth through acquisitions has been a key goal for the company. While the industry downturn slowed those plans, the recovery has presented new opportunities as manufacturers look for an exit strategy.

“Because of the acquisitions we have done, and the way we have tried to manage them after the acquisition, Correct Craft has become a very desired buyer for companies in our industry,” Yeargin said. “We are the anti private equity firm. There are many people in our industry who have owned their company for decades and would like an exit opportunity, but have also seen what can happen when a company is sold to a private equity firm. They want no part of that for their ‘baby.’”

dsc_6224-copyAfter an acquisition, Correct Craft has worked hard to recognize the strength of the brands and employees of the companies it acquires. Keeping the previous owners involved helps to make the transition easier and preserve the legacy of the new brands. That record has resulted in many owners reaching out to Yeargin and Correct Craft when they are ready to sell.

“The common thread with the companies we have acquired, as with SeaArk, is that they have great brands, loyal employees, high quality product, and devoted customers,” Yeargin said. “They also had owners who wanted to sell to someone who would respect and protect what they built and we try hard to be that kind of buyer.”

Even with its growth from one brand to 12, Correct Craft will continue to look for more opportunities to grow.

“I fully expect us to keep making acquisitions,” Yeargin said. “Because we have a track record of creating immediate positive results in the companies we have acquired we believe we have a model that can continue to impact new companies and build on our success. We will soon be pushing $400M in annual sales and I expect that through optimizing our current companies and new acquisitions we can double that over the next several years.”

Promoting the industry

Beyond Correct Craft, Yeargin has worked on a number of the industry’s key issues from international trade to promoting manufacturing in the United States. He has, for example, been a vocal supporter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, saying it will help grow the boating industry globally based on his experiences traveling to more than 100 countries.

“I have seen firsthand the growth around the world and what other countries are doing to compete with the U.S.,” he said. “Many times when I travel to another country I meet with government officials and they always ask what they can do to get Correct Craft to start building boats in their country.”

That’s why it’s important to make changes today.

“We need to make the right investments now in infrastructure to make sure we can compete in the years ahead,” he said. “We need free trade and agreements that allow U.S. companies to compete on an equal footing. We need common sense tax reform that does not increase our deficit but allows U.S. companies who make their money overseas to bring it back home.”

Yeargin has also been a big proponent of National Manufacturing Day and other efforts to promote manufacturing as a career.

“A year or more ago I was in a meeting with about 20 boating industry CEOs and we went around the room and each of us shared our biggest problem,” he said. “I would guess at least 15 of the CEOs said getting good workers was their biggest challenge. The challenge of finding good workers is only going to get worse the next 10 years and we need to start working to solve this problem today. Manufacturing Day can introduce lots of young people to our industry and I strongly encourage everyone in our industry to participate.”

Through his work on these issues, Yeargin has had the opportunity to talk with government officials from President Obama to the secretaries of commerce and the treasury. He is also a member of the Manufacturing Council, a group of 25 business leaders who advise Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker.

Culture counts

One of the key factors in the success of Correct Craft has been the company culture.

“’Making Life Better’ is not just a tagline for us, it is our core philosophy,” Yeargin said. “As I walk through the facilities of every one of the companies we have acquired employees come up to me and thank me for the changes Correct Craft has brought to the company.”

The best companies have to know why they exist – and for Correct Craft that is why “Making Life Better” is so important to the culture.

“We want to make life better for our employees (and their families), dealers, vendors, customers and many others including those we only meet once in a third world country.”

An important part of that culture is the “Nautique Cares” program at Nautique, which Yeargin started shortly after he arrived at the company. Yeargin wanted the company to have a higher mission than just building boats and making money.

“I wanted us to use our platform and resources to help people who need us,” he said.

Through the Nautique Cares program, the Correct Craft team has worked on service projects both locally and globally. Employees have traveled to a number of countries, including Cambodia, Ethiopia, India, Uganda, Kenya, the Caribbean and many others to build houses for homeless families, serving schools and orphanages, feeding the hungry, fighting human trafficking and supporting other organizations.

“We want to serve others and it is expensive but the impact on our culture is immeasurable,” Yeargin said. “Our employees know we care and the people who go on these trips are impacted forever. Even the employees who do not go on the trips are impacted as they hear the stories and realize they work for a company that does care. I regularly have people (both inside and outside of our company) tell me our culture is like none they have ever experienced or seen, and while there are many things that impact the culture I doubt there is anything that impacts more than our commitment to service.”

 

Finalist  |  Chuck Cashman

Chief Revenue Officer, MarineMax
Clearwater, Fla.

mmxexecutive-headshots9As the nation’s largest boat retailer, MarineMax sells a lot of boats – the company will move more than 5,000 in 2016. It also sells a lot of different boats, ranging from 13 feet to 125 feet.

Not surprisingly, those buyers are looking for very disparate things from their experience with MarineMax. It was with that difference in mind that Chuck Cashman tasked the MarineMax marketing and IT teams with creating MarineMaxYachts.com to help reach the top end of the market.

MarineMax is one of the largest sellers of yachts in the world, but would often hear from customers that they thought MarineMax only sold smaller boats. That’s a function of trying to serve every customer through one site — a near impossibility. The new site is dedicated to yachts of more than 50 feet in length.

“By focusing on MarineMax Yachts it lets us have [a place] where people who are looking at yachts can go directly and have a shopping experience that is a little bit different than the bread and butter business, but at the same time not taking away from our bread and butter,” he said.

Cashman was also the primary driver of the MarineMax decision to add yacht management services, with industry veteran Bob Saxon joining the team as vice president of yacht management, crew placement and charter. Saxon has more than 35 years of experience and began his career as vice president of Whittemore & Williams, considered by many to be the forerunner and pioneer of yacht management services. Saxon is also the founding president of the International Superyacht Society.

The division isn’t expected to be a profit center – just breaking even will help MarineMax meet its goals of growing the yacht business.

“It’s a big investment for us to build a yacht management division,” Cashman said. “Most companies don’t take a ton of money at it … the return is really to deliver the best experience to the customer.”

Growing segment

Those changes, along with others putting a greater emphasis on larger yachts, have resulted in the yacht business being up “dramatically” in 2015 and 2016, Cashman said.

There are a number of reasons for that, from improved marketing of the segment to a strong economy.

“Wealthy people have wealth,” Cashman said. “The people with money still have money. We went through a downturn where people sat on the sidelines for a long time. At some point, I think it’s just human nature to reward your achievement.”

Everyone in the boating industry has gotten so used to talking about a lousy market that it’s easy to miss how much the economy has improved.

“The economy – we’ve got to quit putting an asterisk when we talk about how business is,” Cashman said. “It’s certainly not at the levels it was at in 2003, 2004, 2005. However, it’s pretty good.”

There are also a lot of new and innovative boats out there, Cashman added, with manufacturers investing in new designs, propulsion updates and a number of new options, such as stabilization improvements.

Finally, through its MarineMax Getaways and other events, the company continues to market the boating lifestyle.

“I think we’re doing a better job at telling the story that yachting is a great lifestyle,” Cashman said. “We still do a ton of trips. It’s one of the pillars of our company. We do about 1,000 trips a year between our 65 stores.”

Those trips matter beyond the yacht segment, of course, as MarineMax works to keep people boating.

“It’s the most critical thing we do. When I look at dollars to spend on marketing, our events and our trips are No. 1,” Cashman said.

That’s why even during the downturn as MarineMax cut other marketing, closed stores and reduced staff among other cuts, that budget was one of the few things that wasn’t cut.

“I think one of our biggest competitors is time,” he said. “It’s hard to make time to go on a boat. What we’ve found is that if you can get on someone’s calendar two months in advance … you can keep them boating.”

 

Finalist  |  Marshall Funk

CEO, Safe Harbor Marinas
Dallas

marshall-funk-photoIn January, Safe Harbor Marinas made its official debut at the International Marina and Boatyard Conference in Fort Lauderdale, introducing the company as the nation’s largest owner and operator of marinas.

Since then, the company hasn’t slowed down, continuing to add to its portfolio, which (as of August) consists of 36 marinas all across the United States.

CEO Marshall Funk has been in the marina business for 35 years, ever since he acquired a small, 50-slip marina near Dallas, working with various partners. Now, with the backing of American Infrastructure MLP Funds, Funk and his management team have big plans to reshape the marina market.

Why now?

That partnership with American Infrastructure was the key to being able to undertake the Safe Harbor acquisition plan.

“The problem has always been the ability to attract capital because marinas are such a little business,” Funk said. “It’s been very difficult to raise the cash to do it on a large scale.”

Safe Harbor is very conservative in its leverage, Funk added, only borrowing 50 percent, which has made it possible to attract “very good financing.”

“We’re of large enough scale now that people want to listen to us and see where we’re going,” he said.

For current marina owners, Safe Harbor looks to make the process attractive as well, allowing owners to plan their exit strategy.

“On the seller side, it’s a good time to sell right now,” Funk said. “We have an attractive portion of our partnership that allows someone to leave part of their equity in and watch their asset appreciate along with our assets going up.”

Safe Harbor plans to continue investing and acquiring more properties, offering growth potential for its partners as values go up.

“Our ultimate play on this, whether it’s two years, or whenever the market’s right, is to make this a public exit,” he said. “It’s a very good time for people to feel like they can roll their property into this group and have a decent chance of protecting their investment.”

Funk believes that the aggregation of marinas across the country will give Safe Harbor the ability to take advantage of the economies of scale, offering services across the company. From insurance to marketing to administration and software there will be many benefits to the individual locations.

“We can get a large enough scale … that we can do things that we haven’t been able to do in the industry before,” he said.

Safe Harbor will also be able to offer consumers the advantages of being in a larger group, with discounts across the country if they are members at a Safe Harbor marina. For example savings on gas, boat rentals and other services would be just one benefit.

“To the consumer there will be advantages of being in a larger group … of being able to use your boat around the country,” Funk said. “Some do, most don’t, but nevertheless it’s nice to have that opportunity.”

More to come

Safe Harbor will continue to grow, but not without careful planning.

“An incredible amount of energy” goes into the management process to be sure Safe Harbor doesn’t grow too quickly, Funk said.

The company is adding new software, and focusing on making sure it has good people and good controls in place, including several industry veterans in regional manager roles.

As for acquisition targets, Safe Harbor is looking for operations with substantial income potential.

“We like places that have a lot of slips or a lot of dry storage” to drive more passive revenue,” Funk said. Properties with larger slips are also attractive because there is constant demand for slips for larger boats in the marketplace.

While the company has thus far purchased more coastal marinas than inland, Safe Harbor is open to expansion to other areas as long as it makes sense from an organizational standpoint.

“If it’s not going to be an area in which we have some geographic presence, there needs to be a reason we think we can not only buy the marina, but we can buy three or four more over the course of two or three years,” Funk said. “We have to have some form of concentration” in order to effectively manage the operations and host social events across the various properties.

 

Finalist  |  Dana Russikoff

Co-Founder, SureShade
Philadelphia

dana-russikoff-headshot-proofs-18-2_dr-jpgSureShade founders Dana and Ron Russikoff have spent a lot of time on the water and kept noticing that the existing sun protection on most boats was inadequate, cumbersome and not user friendly.

“As time went on, we saw it as detracting from the overall aesthetic of boat design,” said Dana Russikoff. SureShade “came from just being boaters ourselves and wanting to make sure we had adequate shade that was easy and user friendly.”

With that in mind, the Russikoffs launched SureShade in 2007, which, just in case you have a short memory, was not exactly the best time to be bringing a new product to the marine market.

Still, the company hit the 2007 IBEX to meet with boat builders and show them the system. There was immediate interest, Russikoff said, and SureShade worked closely with Boston Whaler to further the development of the product. After months of work, it was launched aboard the Whaler 370 Outrage at the 2009 Miami International Boat Show.

Since then, SureShade has expanded and is now available on more than 65 models across more than 50 brands. The company will be exhibiting at METS in Amsterdam for the first time this year as it looks to reach new customers.

The new SureShade RTX Pull-out Shade, though, has the potential to drastically grow the market for SureShade, Russikoff said. The original SureShade was targeted to boats 27 feet or greater — about 20 percent of the market. The RTX is aimed at the rest of the market.

The RTX – named a 2016 Top Product by Boating Industry – made its debut at the 2016 Miami International Boat Show on a Scout Boats 275 Dorado.

The patented RTX operates with a simple push-in/pull-out mechanism to extend or retract shade for a cockpit or bow within seconds, providing access to sunshade on smaller boats. A manually operated and fully self-supported shade, RTX requires no electrical wiring or obstructive support poles and can be factory installed or aftermarket.

“We think there’s a huge untapped market of sport boats and wake boats,” she said. “This will change and overhaul the way shades on boats are currently supplied.”

More than a product

Russikoff strongly believes that SureShade is about more than just building a product. It’s also about growing boating and improving the experience for everyone.

That’s why SureShade is the presenting sponsor for the Sun Safe Boating Campaign, which encourages boaters to wear sunscreen and use other protection on the water.

“We want people to boat more but at the same time we also want them to be safe while doing it,” Russikoff said.

The campaign was inspired by calls the company received from skin cancer survivors who said the product was allowing them to get back on the water and enjoy boating again.

“Seeing the impact that the product had, we thought there was an opportunity here to really send a message and bring the issue of sun safety and exposure more to the forefront,” she said. “We looked around the industry and didn’t really see anyone with a focus on it. We saw an opportunity to align ourselves with a very, very important message of maintaining sun safety protection while out on the water.

Hall of Fame third baseman and local Philadelphia Phillies legend Mike Schmidt, himself a skin cancer survivor and boater, reached out to SureShade and is now working with the company on the campaign.

“He was out there promoting the issue and we were getting ready to take our steps to promote the issue so we joined forces as a way to kick off the Sun Safe Boating Campaign,” Russikoff said.

Made in the USA

The Russikoffs also continues to give back to their local community by keeping manufacturing in their hometown of Philadelphia. Eighty percent of the components of the SureShade are manufactured in the United States.

“It’s important to us not only to build a product but to create sustainable jobs, jobs where people can earn a living wage,” she said. “We want to create that wealth and have other people share in that with us.”

With SureShade launching just as the Great Recession hit, the company has benefitted from various incentives and programs that encourage U.S. manufacturing.

“With the timing of the business getting started and the country having this wake-up call, we’ve been at the right place at the right time,” Russikoff said. The city of Philadelphia has a very aggressive growth initiative and we’ve been able to align ourselves with that and take advantage of the opportunities of these incentives.”

The company also used a Small Business Administration loan under the Small Business Jobs Act of 2010 to help grow the business in its early years.

That experience has highlighted the importance of being involved in industry advocacy, and SureShade was one of the hosts of this summer’s Day on the Water at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. Russikoff has also been an advocate for the local boating industry.

“We should always be looking to work for a cause that’s bigger than ourselves,” she said.

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