2019 Boating Industry Bold Moves

By Adam Quandt

We've highlighted our 2019 Mover & Shaker of the Year and three finalists – however there are many other industry leaders who continue to propel the industry forward across all segments day in and day out.

The six leaders below aren’t afraid to make bold moves to advance boating by improving technology, growing its customer base, bringing industry stakeholders together and raising the bar of professionalism and determination for the industry as a whole.

A team effort, industry-wide

Steve Arnold
Owner, Marina Holdings, LLC
Yarmouth, Maine

A strong passion for the marine industry began early for Marina Holdings, LLC owner Steve Arnold. From his early days growing up in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. and working in marinas, Arnold has always felt drawn to the marine industry.

After a 10-year stint working on Wall Street, Arnold purchased Yarmouth Boat Yard in Yarmouth, Maine in 2004 and hasn’t looked back since. 

Following initial success with Yarmouth Boat Yard, Arnold refused to slow down, acquiring Moose Landing Marina in Naples, Maine in 2013 — a 15-acre full-service marina and boat sales location — and launching a Freedom Boat Club location in 2017.

“I’m very fortunate to work in an industry I really enjoy, with a great group of people,” Arnold said. “I wake up every morning and go to a job that I love.”

Similar to many others in the industry, Arnold and Marina Holdings faces problems in getting skilled technicians through the doors. Instead of taking the same tactics others have with little to no success, Arnold sought out an industry partner to tackle the issue in a completely new way.

About a year and a half ago, Arnold teamed up with Yamaha to lay out a vision and program to train technicians in the state of Maine, with a partnership with Southern Maine Community College, at no cost to the student.

After a petition for state funding to cover the program was approved, the team of partners worked to fully vet students for the class to assure that students met the required background to achieve success in the course.

Arnold said that the program received over 40 applicants for its first run, which only had space for 15 students per semester. 

“Access to a seat in the program was almost a ‘golden ticket’ type of instance, as the opportunity became highly coveted to the interested students,” Arnold said.

Arnold hopes that this program and partnership will serve as a blueprint that other states, manufacturers and dealerships can implement across the country to help combat the nation-wide technician shortage.

From service to sales and everything in between, Arnold said customer service is the number one thing our industry needs to be focused on and a lot of that begins with teaching and training a strong workforce.

“There is always room for improvement in all aspects,” Arnold said. “Simply saying ‘that’s the way we’ve always done things, so that’s how we’re going to do it’ only means that there is room for improvement.”

See a need, fill a need

John Bratten
Corporate Planning & Strategy, BoatU.S.
Springfield, Va.

With such early beginnings on the water from surfing to boating, it’s no surprise that BoatU.S. head of corporate planning & strategy, John Bratten found a career in the marine industry. 

“I’ve always found myself on the water in some capacity since growing up in Virginia Beach,” Bratten said. “I got my first boat that was my very own when I was 12 years old.”

Bratten has held various positions with BoatU.S. since coming to the organization in 2008 working on the media side of things. 

“Today, I’m more a bit of a project manager,” Bratten said. “Right now we’ve got a variety of strategic projects in the hopper.” He also added that folks should keep their eyes peeled for the projects to begin coming to light in 2020.

At the forefront of Bratten’s mission with BoatU.S. is getting more people on the water, especially from the younger generations. 

“Getting younger people into the lifestyle is a challenge that everyone is currently trying to figure out,” Bratten said. “I’m not sure we as an industry are filling the pipeline of boaters like we should be, and I’m hoping to help change that.”

One of Bratten’s larger projects with BoatU.S. was the design and implementation of the organization’s on-the-water training program, which the team partnered with Freedom Boat Club and the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) on.

“No one in the industry was running a nation-wide program to train and get new boaters on the water, so we aimed to fix that,” Bratten said.

Bratten also worked with BoatU.S. to create a network of reliable and reputable repair facilities around the country to make insurance claims easier. Bratten said that the whole idea is to save boaters time and get them back out on the water faster with less hassle.

At the end of the day, Bratten is all about pushing the industry forward while having fun. “It’s a fun industry and that’s the best part about it,” he added. “I love working with other people and sharing a love for the water.”

Forward focused

Nick Doetsch
Operations Manager, Pasadena Boat Works
Pasadena, Md.

Creating a vision to bring in both a new generation of boaters and provide a pathway for older dreamers to achieve boat ownership comes first for Pasadena Boat Works’ operations manager Nick Doetsch.

Doetsch is a young and proven leader in the industry who isn’t afraid to push limits and go above and beyond to make customers happy and keep them on the water. Customer service comes first and foremost for Doetsch and the team at Pasadena Boat Works.

“We want to show our customers that boating isn’t some big never-attainable dream, that we can make that dream a reality relatively easily,” Doetsch said. “It’s all about being upfront and honest about everything right off the bat and working with the customer one-on-one.

“We want to show them that boating isn’t only fun out on the water, but also easy if you keep up with a few small things along the way,” Doetsch added. “If we spend the time showing them what they thought was the way isn’t true, it creates a life-long and happy boater.”

Doetsch said the key to success in the industry is the ability to get key people in key positions that know what they’re doing. “Too many people in this industry try to make one person do a multitude of jobs,” he added.

He believes the industry will be propelled forward faster by creating a cohesive environment across the board between dealers, manufacturers, ect. With that belief, Doetsch has created a very open environment in Pasadena’s market and beyond. “We’re going to share the knowledge,” he said. “We aim to create something all-inviting for everyone.”

That mentality can be seen throughout the business at Pasadena Boat Works. Doetsch said that the company as a whole mindset has always been at the forefront for the organization. “At the end of the day, it’s not just one person, it’s Pasadena Boat Works,” he said.

Doetsch has and continues to work to instill that mentality across the industry as he continues to train and build a strong team from the ground up at Pasadena Boat Works.

“If you do things 100% in this industry, you and the people you instill that effort to are never going to stop,” Doetsch said. “There’s so much room to grow in this industry.”

Never back down

Jason Gardner
Vice President of Marketing/Advertising, Hyperform Inc. (SeaDek)
Rockledge, Fla.

Starting his journey with two brothers, sweeping at a small fin factory for surf boards, boats weren’t necessarily in the plan for Hyperform Inc. — parent company of SeaDek Marine Products, SwimDek and EndeavourDek — vice president of marketing/advertising Jason Gardner.

However, Gardner said the creative and innovative environment that was created after moving into surf traction pads, made a natural progression to move into boats eventually.

Gardner became a partner in the company in 2004, yet just as the company was getting wind in its sails, recession hit.

While the recession forced many difficult decisions and leeriness across the industry and caused many to pull back, Gardner pushed to try new things when it came to marketing.

“We weren’t scared to experiment on things,” Gardner said. “The recession forced us to step up to challenges and diversify everything we were doing pre-recession.”

Gardner credits the company’s perseverance through the recession to taking risks and really diving deep into the social media side of marketing to reach new audiences. 

“At the time, it was all about what was free to get the word out about us, but also in turn brought great results,” Gardner said. “Now that we can pay to play on that side, things have grown even more and we’re always keeping our eyes on the new emerging platform.”

From early on, Gardner said both he and the company felt at a disadvantage being outsiders coming into the marine industry. However looking back, he believes that’s what gave them a unique perspective and voice during a dark time in the industry.

Hyperform began with less than a dozen employees navigating uncertain terrain in an unknown-to-them industry, but today employs over 170, with a continued focus on diversification, innovation and new materials and products.

“We’ve never backed away from a challenge from the early stages through today,” Gardner said. “The real core is our employees and the people we’ve been able to attract and retain. We’re a family-owned company and we’ve grown so much, but the feeling that our success has been built on their backs is still there.”

Lead with passion

Stuart Litjens
Dealer Principal, Boulder Boats
Henderson, Nev.

Despite not growing up as a boater, it doesn’t take long to realize Boulder Boats dealer principal Stuart Litjens is extremely passionate about boating and the surrounding lifestyle.

Litjens said he was introduced to boating in college and was instantly in love with life on the water. After being hooked on the lifestyle, Litjens started shopping and “flipping” used boats. 

Litjens really got involved on the industry side when he purchased an old sailing and service shop going out of business, eventually leading to the creation of Boulder Boats.

“I had no clue what I was doing at all when I first started, I just know that I loved boating and couldn’t get enough,” Litjens said.

The dealership started selling its first new boats in 2005, continuing to grow from the ground up. Even when the recession hit in 2008, Litjens and Boulder Boats continued to trek forward by being quick to adapt to technology and keeping a strong online presence, especially in the used boat market.

Adaptability and versatility has been key to Litjens’ success thus far.

“I’ve done every job inside the dealership and I think that’s important for everyone in the industry to do,” Litjens said. “Versatility is key. A wide multitude of skill sets and a willingness to take initiative to consistently learn more is so valuable.”

Litjens and Boulder Boats has also placed an emphasis on drawing in a new generation of entry-level boater. He also hopes that the industry will come together to work on bringing new boaters into the lifestyle.

“As an industry we get too caught up in competition with each other,” Litjens said. “We could be focusing on making our ‘pie’ bigger, rather than fighting over the small slice currently available to us.”

All in all, Litjens aims to keep himself and the Boulder Boats team passionate about boating, so that they can pass along the fun that comes along with the lifestyle.

“If it’s not fun, I’m not going to do it anymore,” Litjens said. “It’s all about maintaining a great culture.”

Embracing change

Lou Sandoval
National Director Business Development, NAUTIC-ON
Chicago, Ill.

Change has been constant and inevitable as Lou Sandoval, national director of business development for Brunswick Corporation’s NAUTIC-ON, has navigated various positions and industries in his professional life.

However it is that change that has kept his mind open to new things while working with NAUTIC-ON while the company strives to create a connected boat experience for consumers from top to bottom.

“All things being said, it is change management 101 when it comes to problems facing the marine industry,” Sandoval said. “The industry needs to be open to change.”

Sandoval said the boating market needs to take a look at similar industries like the RVs and automobiles to see how technology is changing things for the better and how that can be applied to boating.

“It’s all about making things easier on the water for boaters and things that bring a new generation of boater to the lifestyle,” Sandoval said. “It’s about changing the boating experience for consumers in a whole new way and that is what NAUTIC-ON is trying to help push along.”

Sandoval explained that the timing of change is crucial, especially with the industry currently facing a tipping point to plunge into a new era of boating and technology. 

Increased and improved technology and an openness to using it from builders, leads the way to unmatched indusry growth according to Sandoval.

“We try to keep everything simple in terms of usability, but at the forefront of the technology available to us,” Sandoval said.

He added that it takes the ability to work across a multitude of different aspects to bring the industry toward change. From dealers to builders all the way to the consumer, Sandoval said there are a lot of moving pieces that need to be on the same page to reach success.

Sandoval hopes to continue pushing NAUTIC-ON and the industry forward, while ushering in a new generation of both boaters and marine industry professionals.

“We can’t allow those stuck in their ways to stifle innovation,” Sandoval said. “We must immerse ourselves in the industry and boating lifestyle to bring real ideas and true customer insights to the table and push the industry forward.”   

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