20 businesses in the Florida city ante up to promote riverfront strip with full service to boaters.
A group of Jacksonville, Fla., boating-related businesses have banded together and pooled their resources to bring commerce to their area.
Calling itself the Jacksonville Marina Mile, this group consists of 20 businesses ranging from national companies with huge name recognition, such as MarineMax and West Marine, to smaller mom-and-pop type outfits that survive mostly on word of mouth and repeat customers.
“We can buy (a boat), we can sell it, we can repair it, we can canvass it, we can paint it, we can lift it, we can put it down, we can do anything you want right here,” said organizer Joe Springer, chief administrative officer of Lamb’s Yacht Center. “We all work with each other to get things done.”
The Jacksonville Marina Mile is located on the Ortega River, and given the state is boarded by the Gulf of Mexico on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other, sometimes people need to be reminded of what’s available inland.
Mike Webster, of MarineMax, has been selling boats in the area since 1985. He’d been kicking around the idea of forming a cooperative group for a few years, but gave Springer credit for getting it up and running.
“People streaming into Florida on I-95 would tend to just turn left, head east to the ocean and marinas along the Intracoastal to look at vessels; meanwhile, the majority of the industry is located inland, so Jacksonville Marine Mile is focusing attention on water-dependent facilities that dominate the Jacksonville waterway,” Webster said.
The majority of the 22 businesses in the mile-long stretch along the river were immediately responsive to the idea, Springer said. Of the two who are not part of the group, Springer said they were the type of businesses that do not need to bring in new customers and most likely won’t join in the future.
While he acknowledged it is somewhat unique for competitors to work so closely together, in the end it is a win-win for all businesses.
“We would rather have the business come to the Marina Mile than go anywhere else,” Springer said. “What it’s doing is reintroducing the population back to something that everyone’s parents and grandparents knew about, but new boaters may not know about.”
The group incorporated in December 2007 and officially launched on Jan. 1. So far, Springer said, the group has accomplished its short-term goals of incorporating, creating a Web site and getting the word out about its existence.
Membership is divided into three categories: charter, patron and associate, with charter members putting up the largest amount of start-up money for the endeavor, Springer said. The companies chipped in less than $15,000 for start-up costs, including getting the Web site up and running.
“What we want to do is get the biggest bang for our buck in everything we do,” Springer said. The Web site lists the participating companies, so people only need to go to one site to find a dealer, marina or repair shop.
Also, he said, while many of the companies do individual advertising, all have agreed to put “Proud Member of the Jacksonville Marina Mile” on their ads. The group has even worked with the city to adopt a mile of road in front of their businesses that will be cleaned and beautified by the marina mile businesses.
Barton Holmes, of Holmes & Owen Yacht Sales, is a patron member of the group.
Jacksonville, he said, has grown a lot in the last 10 years, and most people tend to gravitate to the beaches.
“We definitely see a big benefit to the strength of pooling our resources,” Holmes said.
While it may take a few years to see the full impact, “the members have been pleased with the progress and they like the branding of it,” Holmes said. “They know it will make us stronger in the long run.”
Pat Robey, owner of Pat’s Canvas and Sail Repair, is an associate member. While her business is mostly repeat customers, she thought it was important to be a part of this new group.
“I thought it was a good thing for the area to have a combined, one place where people could find information on businesses that cater to boats,” she said. “If I’m going to work in this area, I should be a part of it.”
At a recent boat show in Jacksonville, the group’s members could be found under one tent. It was a positive way to identify and elevate the Marina Mile, Webster said.
The group, he noted, is not trying to take the place of a local or regional marine association, though he could see the group becoming a political voice for the community in the future.
“The primary call now is to raise the flag and carry the torch and direct attention that we are here,” Webster said.
Despite the floundering economy and high fuel prices that have many in the industry worried, Webster and Springer emphasized that those who want to boat will continue to do so.
“Regardless of what the overall marine industry is doing, there are core, committed boaters and there is business to go around,” Webster said. “The boaters that are remaining in the game are demanding and deserving excellent service, and (this) does help with that.” Springer agreed.
“It’s our water, it’s our boaters, we’ve got to take care of them,” he said. “If collectively we don’t take care of the end user, there won’t be anyone out there for us to work with.”
This article originally appeared in the June 2008 issue.