No Slowin’ Down

It’s hard to remember the rumblings of an economic slowdown when touring Boat Town’s Austin, Texas, location. As he walks throughout the property, owner Clayton Raven outlines the impressive remodeling plans he has put in place.

It’s not that the structures are altogether worn out; he’s planning for growth. Admittedly, he says, the main building could use a facelift, but he also has plans to build an entirely new service facility behind his current structure, allowing him to then expand his showroom to almost double its current size.

A short walk outside and behind the fenced-in area of his current expanse, he points out at the surrounding 5.4 acres of property he recently purchased. His plans there call for covered storage facilities that will add yet another profit center to his prospering business.
In fact, the only thing slowing Raven and his company down are governmental restrictions. The dealership is located within the boundaries of an environmentally sensitive area known as the recharge zone of the Edwards Aquifer. This area is bound by stricter development rules than properties outside of the area, and it has the Boat Town owners spending an increasing amount of time waiting on permits.
Permitting process allowing, Raven hopes to build the new structure and complete the remodeling project this fall and build a new facility in San Antonio next winter.
The San Antonio project comes on the heels of the company’s first dealership acquisition. Boat Town bought Cobalt Boats of San Antonio (formerly Ray’s Marine) last winter after lengthy negotiations, and at the same time bought an additional five acres on which Raven will build this new facility.
And wouldn’t you know it, the only thing slowing the new Boat Town San Antonio down is more government restrictions. The city of San Antonio has executed its Extraterritorial Jurisdiction and is requiring that a deceleration lane be placed on the front of the current property, encroaching on the current space.

The move to San Antonio has allowed the company to expand the reach of its Cobalt Boats and Four Winns brands, in addition to allowing them to expand its overall boat and engine-line offerings. The company picked up fishing boat line NauticStar — at the recommendation of two fellow Texas dealers — and is working with both Yamaha and Suzuki for outboard power.

Located only an hour south of Austin, the San Antonio market has quicker access to the Gulf of Mexico, albeit still two hours away, and therefore requires such new lines. And it also requires Boat Town owners learn the intricacies of an entirely new consumer.

Meanwhile, back at headquarters, even in addition to the pending expansion, Boat Town has grand plans for improving on its success.
“We’re doing OK,” Raven says. “But, man, we’re working our butt off for every single deal. Floor traffic is declining, but those who are coming in, they’ve done 80 to 90 percent of their homework online already.”

At the time of our visit, the company was on the verge of launching a new direct mail piece and a new television commercial, and it had begun finding great success through the use of a Web
optimization company. If all those walk-ins are shopping online first, Boat Town hopes to capture them there, and this new technology helps them stay in front of potential boat buyers. It’s also helping them manage the leads it is picking up.

All that hard work is paying off in the midst of tougher economic times, as Boat Town’s Austin location remains even, year-over-year, with last year’s revenues. At the same time, just three
months into the ownership of the new San Antonio location, Raven has already returned it to profitability.

It’s clear that at Boat Town, there’s no time to allow for any deceleration, and there’s certainly no need to worry about any economic slowdown.

Dealership name: Boat Town, Inc.
Location: Austin, Texas
Number of locations: 3
Number of full-time employees: 31
Boat and engine brands: Cobalt Boats, Cruisers Yachts, Four Winns, MasterCraft, NauticStar, Volvo Penta, Mercruiser, Indmar, Crusader, Yamaha and Suzuki
CSI score: 96.98
Of particular interest: Despite the tough economy, Boat Tour made its first dealership acquisition and expanded into a new market.

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