By Adam Quandt
We've profiled our four 2018 Movers & Shakers finalists, however many other industry leaders continue to push and work to grow the boating industry across all segments.
The six leaders below are making bold moves to advance boating by growing its customer base, improving technology, bringing industry stakeholders together and raising the bar of professionalism for the entire industry.
Pushing the limit
Kurt Bergstrom has been drawn to the marine industry since the age of five, when he was building boats and marinas with Legos.
Ever since his entrance into the marine industry with Hatteras Yachts, Bergstrom has worked to push the design limits of boats further and further.
From designing boats to match an increase in length demand to developing new mechanical designs and more, Bergstrom consistently pushes the limits of boat design from top to bottom.
“It’s all about elevating the product to be at the best level on the market,” Bergstrom said. “My goal is to always exceed expectations.”
Bergstrom said that pushing boat design further is what keeps moving the industry as a whole further and keeps the industry moving forward, citing that larger boats are constantly pushing engine manufactures further and faster.
One of Bergstrom’s crowning achievements to date is the successful launch of HCB’s 53-foot Suenos. Bergstrom said the launch of the 53-foot center console paired with quad Seven Marine engines went from concept to first model launched in under a year.
“From start to finish, I had total design control,” Bergstrom said.
Bergstrom didn’t stop there, however. Following the release of the 53, Bergstrom continued to push limits with the launch of HCB Yachts’ 65-foot center console Estrella.
Bergstrom’s design of HCB’s 53- and 65-foot center consoles have taken center consoles, once considered only a sport fishing boat, and developed them into actual yachts with many different design features and attributes.
Though Bergstrom heads the design of the building process, he credits an entire team and a lot of passion within it to his successes within the industry.
“It’s not just a team of assemblers putting a boat together part by part,” Bergstrom said. “They’re all craftsmen and their voices and opinion are just as important through every step of the process.”
Bergstrom said that he and the team at HCB Yachts have no plans of slowing down in pushing the industry beyond limits anytime soon.
“We need to be in tune with what the consumers want and need, and make it work in the industry,” Bergstrom said. “We’re not afraid to take anything on.”
Turning challenges into success
Craig Brosenne has been the head of Hagadone Marine Group for the 14 years that the Hagadone family has owned the business. However, Brosenne has held a variety of titles within the Hagadone Marine Group for 21 years.
He started with a tiny mom-and-pop dealership in 2004 and transformed it in just over a decade, while facing a variety of different challenges.
Brosenne was challenged with providing a world-class operation from a single humble building with a “cat and a couch.” By surrounding himself with people who understood the business, and by enabling them to do their job, Brosenne set his sights on updating the infrastructure with capital improvements every year.
Another challenge facing Brosenne was one known to quite a few dealers in the industry: short seasons. Over time, Brosenne has succeeded by systematically turning this liability into a strength, becoming the trusted go-to source for customers to haul, winterize, store, service, detail and launch their boats.
He created Hagadone Boat Storage, which keeps boats dry, clean and secure, with 40 buildings providing indoor storage for 1,200 craft of every kind. Hagadone Marine Group provides boat hauling, boat transport and boat maintenance that compliments the storage amenities. Boat owners can make one call or email, fill out a form, and everything is taken care of.
“In a county of 100,000 people, we plan to have just over 1,650 boats in storage this year,” Brosenne said. “In the next three years, we’re planning to push that to 2,300-2,500 boats.”
In 2017 Hagadone Marine Group unveiled a brand new $7.5 million mega-marine center, designed to help streamline every part of the dealership’s operation. Alongside the infrastructure came a number of large and small dealership improvements, logistic and layout tweaks to make an ever-increasing number of customers and their boats flow through the system with ease.
“The overriding goal is providing the finest possible on-water experience for every customer,” Brosenne said.
Brosenne emphasizes a guest-driven business approach that is woven into the dealership’s very DNA and informs every customer interaction.
“One of our biggest differences is this hospitality approach to the business of boating,” Brosenne said.
Preparedness is key
After more than 30 years in the recreational vehicle industry, Bill Fenech made the jump to an industry that he had been a consumer in for a long time, and created Barletta Boats.
“I was growing tired of the RV industry and I needed a new mountain to climb,” Fenech said. “As a longtime boat owner of various boats, and the vast similarities between the pontoon industry and the RV industry, it just made sense.”
Fenech said that his goal right out of the gate was to create a pontoon that wasn’t just another “me too” product, mirroring other pontoons out on the market.
“No one in the segment is giving the consumer the whole package, unless it’s an option, making it confusing for both the dealer and buyer,” Fenech said. “We’re taking everything that improves the quality of the boat and making it standard.”
Fenech’s first task with the new company was compiling a team that he could entrust with the business and production of creating a premiere pontoon brand and boat.
“I can’t build a boat, but I can build a heck of a team, so that’s what I started to do in the beginning,” Fenech said.
After putting his team together, Fenech and the Barletta crew focused on creating the best product they could, taking ideas and inspirations from both the RV industry and automobile industry.
On every level of the business, Fenech has worked to be as prepared as possible for all situations Barletta could potentially face, including looming tariffs on aluminum.
“We locked in very early on aluminum pricing and availability for a prolonged period,” Fenech said. “However, we’re not completely immune to it. I’m hoping for a quick resolution industry-wide, but time will tell.”
In another effort of preparation for the future, Fenech said Barletta has invested in the long term, with initial spending on a full site plan for its 37 acres.
Lastly, Fenech has tackled a large problem facing the pontoon segment of not having enough pontoons to supply every dealer. “If you can’t supply who you already have, why sign new dealers?” Fenech and the Barletta team closely monitor their production output against when they’re signing new dealers. “We will be in every major market,” Fenech added.
The future of Barletta holds a variety of new models, new features, and much more, Fenech said.
“People haven’t seen anything yet from Barletta,” Fenech added.
Dare to be different
In 2009, on the heels of the recession, Nautical Ventures was a fledging dealership with eight employees and facing eminent domain from the county due to the expansion of the Fort Lauderdale Airport. Roger Moore bought the dealership in 2010 and completely re-engineered the business by expanding brand categories and attracting new boat lines.
With the cooperation of the city and county, he bought waterfront property in an emerging part of town and built a new state-of-the-art showroom with service facility. He hired new personnel, established department heads in boat sales, brokerage (including cruise ships sales), yacht tenders and toys, kayaks and standup paddleboards, fuel, service, repower, and outside sales. This completely turned the business around to be a profitable boat dealership, and Moore continues push the definition of what a boat dealership can be.
“We saw the crossover between all of the different segments, center consoles, yachts, kayaks, other water toys, you name it, so we’ve ran with it,” Moore said. “We never know who’s walking through our front door, a kayaker looking for just a kayak, or a billionaire looking for a new boat and water toys to go with it.”
Moore has always been intrigued with the new and exciting. In the beginning, Moore saw something he thought was cool and pursued the vendors to get it in the Nautical Ventures showroom. Now, it’s the other way around. Vendors are lining up left and right to get their product on the show floor, following Moore’s initial success.
“Many things that I just think are eye candy, turn out to be staple products in the store,” Moore said.
Much of Moore’s success can be attributed to the fact that Moore himself is Nautical Ventures’ customer. Moore has lived on a boat since 1987, including sailing around the world before he landed in Fort Lauderdale.
“I see him as our customer, he understands everything from the customers point of view,” said Frank Ferraro, Nautical Ventures director of marketing.
Moore said the Nautical Ventures way is to not just sell a boat to a customer, but to fulfill a customers needs and dreams. “We take on more of a consulting role, not just a sales role,” Moore added. “It’s all about the experience and getting as many involved in the industry as we can.”
At the end of the day, Moore plans to continue to push what a boat dealership can be and what a boat dealership can offer to its customers with Nautical Ventures.
“If you don’t try, you can’t succeed,” Moore said.
Kyle Stenzel, a 15-year employee, acquired Spring Brook Marina, a 57-year old family-owned operation, from the Thorpe family with the single goal of taking a great company and growing it into a amazing brand. At 37 years old, he is leading the younger generation into boating by modernizing the processes, procedures, and overall appearance of Spring Brook Marina.
After being asked to help out Spring Brook at a local boat show, where he sold his first couple of boats, he was instantly hooked. From there, Stenzel began to climb the ladder at Spring Brook.
Today, Spring Brook holds 225 slips and seven buildings on the property, offering boat sales, service, and storage, with no signs of standing still.
“Growth for myself and growth for Spring Brook go hand in hand,” Stenzel said.
As a millennial himself, Stenzel is leading the charge for getting the millennial generation involved in the boating industry, both on a consumer level and employment.
“They [millennials] are the future of this industry,” Stenzel said. “We need to work to get them hooked on the experience and benefits of boating.”
Stenzel has put a large focus on both marketing to millennial buyers through marketing online using social media, as well as hosting millennial-specific events geared toward showing the generation the fun within the lifestyle and industry.
Another aspect Stenzel has focused on is hiring milennials whenever possible and applicable in order to get them involved on the ground level of the industry.
“Millenials are going to buy from other millenials,” Stenzel said. “We understand eachother.”
Stenzel has also continued Spring Brook’s proud family-owned way of operating to its full potential.
“It is not just me making this place successful. Our team here is a family. We live and breathe the lifestyle and industry as our service,” Stenzel said. “We’re seeing a lot of ‘heavy-hitter,’ large companies in today’s industry and Spring Brook has maintained being family oriented. It’s more personal for us.”
No ‘I’ in team
Following various investment ventures across different industries and markets, Baxter Underwood felt himself drawn to the marine industry after a phone call from an investment firm looking for some insight in putting together a vehicle that would eventually become Safe Harbor Marinas.
“I just liked it, plain and simple, from top to bottom,” Underwood said. “I thought it was a great solution for marinas and owners alike.
Underwood was given an opportunity to invest, be involved in management of the company, and work alongside people that he looked up to and worked with previously, an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.
The company currently operates 70 marinas, owning 64 of them, with a growth trajectory to double that by 2020, partly due to a recent addition of Koch Industries as an equity partner.
“We’re a highly sophisticated team, operating at a level that is pretty exciting,” Underwood said. “I look forward to continue growing our team with the same high level of sophistication in the coming years.”
Teamwork is at the forefront of all things Safe Harbor. Despite and industry facing workforce issues, Safe Harbor Marinas prides itself on offering prospective employees with career opportunities, not just another job.
“We have an unbelievable team and it just keeps growing with more incredible people through more acquisitions,” Underwood said.
One area of teamwork Underwood hopes to grow even more is Safe Harbor’s involvement within the industry as a whole. Underwood said that despite being competitors, Safe Harbor maintains relationships with other large marina companies like Suntex and Westrec.
“We’re obviously competitors, but we are also organizations that can work together to make each other stronger,” Underwood said. “We need to do a better job of supporting and leading at an industry level.”
All in all, Underwood hasn’t looked back since jumping into the marine industry with full force.
“I’ve never had as much fun and respect for an industry as I have in the marine industry,” Underwood said. “We have and opportunity and obligation to service and people, and good times in this industry. I’m very grateful to be a part of it.”