MIAMI BEACH — The National Marine Manufacturers Association gave West Marine founder Randy Repass and former West Marine CEO Geoff Eisenberg the Charles F. Chapman Award today at the Miami International Boat Show.
Michele Goldsmith, marketing and sales manager for Marinco, Mastervolt and Actuant Corp. in addition to sitting on the NMMA's board, presented the award to the two men, who helped grow West Marine into one of the largest boating supply retailers. The company has nearly 300 stores in the United States and Canada.
"It's an impressive business story that reflects the impressive skills these two have wrought," Goldsmith said at the annual Industry Breakfast. "In 1968, Randy began selling nylon ropes ... out of his garage, I believe."
The first retail store was opened in 1975 and the first catalog was introduced in 1987, Goldsmith said.
"[Soundings Trade Only editor-in-chief] Bill Sisson said it best: ‘Eisenberg is the sort of leader that prefers to talk about his employees, their accomplishments and the stores rather than about himself. And you get the sense that he doesn’t lose his focus. He has the ability to make the employees and vendors all feel that they are a part of a bigger vision and part of a family with the same goal,' " Goldsmith said.
"As Randy said in his own words, 'I decided from the beginning that I wanted to take care of people,' " she added.
"The team Geoff has created and the people on it are what's important to him," Goldsmith continued. "He has the ability to make employees and vendors feel they are part of a family."
Repass said he was accepting the award on behalf of West Marine's 4,500 employees.
"Our vendors are really important," Repass said. "I wanted to go over the things that have made us successful in the past, and that's customers and customer service. It's really easy to say, but it's really hard to do."
The service is reflected in "having a place where people really enjoy working," Repass added.
"What I'd really like to ask you to do is help make the world a better place," Eisenberg said in his brief speech.
First established in 1977, the Chapman Award recognizes individuals or groups that have provided consistent promotion and protection of the sport of boating and its benefits to both the recreational boating industry and the public. The award, presented each year during the Miami show, includes a $1,000 donation to a marine-oriented organization of the recipient’s choice. Repass and Eisenberg will donate their award to West Marine’s Blue Future, a companywide effort to make the world a better place focusing on sustainability in all its forms.
An industry veteran of 45 years, Repass founded Semiconductor Engineering Associates in 1973, specializing in the programming of computer-controlled testers for complex integrated circuits. Earnings from this business provided the initial financing for West Marine.
Eventually Repass became fed up with the impersonal nature of the technology industry, and after selling rope from his garage by mail order under the name West Coast Ropes, later to be renamed West Marine, he left his job in technology and opened his first West Marine retail location in 1975. Repass saw an opportunity to improve the way people shopped for boating supplies and designed West Marine to offer superior customer service, quality products and an enjoyable shopping experience.
Repass has made a decades-long career building a company focused on boaters helping boaters. From salespeople to top management, everyone is intimately familiar with the boating needs of their customers.
He received a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Duke University in 1966 and began his career in engineering and marketing with Fairchild Semiconductor. He spends his free time “product testing” with his family aboard their Wylie 66 performance passage maker, Convergence.
Eisenberg served as president and CEO of West Marine through the summer of 2012. He is the strategist to Repass’ visionary. He joined West Marine in 1976, becoming the second employee. Under his leadership in senior executive roles, including CEO, West Marine grew into the company it is today. He has had a hand in shaping West Marine’s service-driven culture and formulating its strategy.
Eisenberg left West Marine in 1994 to run a successful management and strategic consulting business specializing in CEO training and professional management development. He returned to West Marine as president and CEO in 2007.
Eisenberg said in the Soundings Trade Only article that “we’re trying to combine the good things about being a large company with the good things of being a small company. We don’t do cookie-cutter stores because the customers are different, the water is different, the fishing is different, the boating is different. And all that makes a difference.”
Eisenberg is a past CEO of Salz Leathers Inc., a manufacturer of high-quality leather, and is a past CEO of Greenhorn Creek Associates, a real estate and golf development company. He is also a member of the advisory board of the Retail Management Institute at Santa Clara University and an experienced sailor with extensive experience in both local and long-distance ocean racing and cruising.
— Reagan Haynes