The owner of Florida's New River Marina has conceived a new brokerage niche
Alex Nichols has a nose for niches, and he seems to have found a promising one with The Trawler Center - his one-stop, open-air showroom for trawler buyers.
"Everybody's trying to sell boats," says Nichols, whose Marina 84 LLC owns New River Marina, a boatyard and marina on the south fork of the New River on Fort Lauderdale's Marina Mile. "I wanted to zero in on a specific model, the trawler."
The demographics are right for traffic in trawlers, says John Connor, New River's manager. "I think they are the healthiest part of our industry right now, maybe even healthier than sportfish," he says. "Baby boomers are good candidates for trawlers."
Economical, livable trawlers are a logical retirement boat for cruising. Some boomers will be looking to buy one; others may want to sell theirs as they age or look at their 401(k) balances in today's challenging economic environment.
Connor, himself a boomer, owns a 48-foot Atlantic he lives aboard at the yard during the week. "I bought it several years ago and still haven't been able to get out and use it," he says. He's still harnessed to the 7-to-5 workday. Despite recent stock market gains, many boomers are in the same boat. Will they sell the boat? Keep it? Look for something smaller, more affordable? Or bigger to accommodate the grandkids? As boomers ease into and out of cruising, trawler inventory will keep turning over.
"We'll turn half of the front parking area into a showroom," says Connor. "We'll have a boat show out there [year-round]." Heavily trafficked State Road 84 runs past the marina, giving the 30 trawlers he plans to display there high visibility. He'll also have trawlers at the dock. The Trawler Center offers up to six months of free dockage or upland storage for boats that are presentable and priced to sell.
The Trawler Center will show all brands. It will accept boats on consignment, as well as excess new-boat inventory, but the center's focus will be on brokerage boats. "This is a brokerage, not a dealership," Connor says.
"When we get up to 25 boats in one spot, the buyer will be able to come here and find a tremendous variety [of trawlers] to choose from without traveling all over the place," he says. "We'll have our own boat show."
"It's like a supermarket of used boats," says David W. Miller, broker for The Trawler Center and New River's other used-boat offerings. "That's the idea." He says the roadside showroom concept has worked well, drawing numerous inquiries from drive-by rubber-neckers.
Nichols bought a 40-ton hydraulic trailer to move the boats around in the parking lot and pack them in tightly, like at shows. "It's a no-brainer," he says.
The Trawler Center is the centerpiece for revival of the 4.65-acre marina and boatyard, which Nichols acquired in August 2008 while it was in Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The former owners owed Nichols more than $13 million, which had helped keep the business afloat. After they filed for bankruptcy, Nichols says the judge gave him the deed to the property in lieu of foreclosure. He had hoped to sell the yard - and, in fact, it still is for sale - but plummeting real estate prices have stalled that plan, so he is building the business back up.
He hired Connor, a 40-year marine industry veteran, as broker for The Trawler Center and manager and "rainmaker" for the yard. "We're still a full-service yard," Connor says. "As we build the business back up, we intend to have all the trades operating here again." One week he had a 62-foot Symbol, a 63-foot Sea Ray, a 76-foot Lazarra, a 74-foot Hatteras and 44-foot Cruisers in the yard for work.
Nichols knows the marine industry. He helped start Taiwanese boatbuilder Symbol Yachts in the 1980s; owned Crows Nest Marina in Oceanside, N.Y., for 15 years; built trawlers in Taiwan under the Marine Trawler brand; and now owns the tooling and molds for the Rybovich 42 Walkaround that Jimmy Buffet helped design, and is building that boat now in Miami as the Marlin Yachts 42 Walkaround.
Nichols achieved his early success transporting horses in aircraft. The Alex Nichols Agency, of Oceanside, N.Y., is the "oldest horse transportation company in the United States," he says. The company has moved Barnum & Bailey circus animals, Siegfried and Roy tigers, cattle for the former Shah of Iran, as well as racehorses, its staple. Nichols designed some of the first enclosed cargo containers for aircraft and now owns companies that lease and repair containers and manufacture, sell and lease air cargo nets, tie-down straps and pallets. His success is built on niche businesses.
Connor is a former powerboat racer - eight-time U.S. and world champion, and throttleman for Tom Gentry for 11 years and Betty Cook for 13 years. He was project manager and chief engineer for Gentry's 112-foot, 11,500-hp Gentry Eagle, which broke the trans-Atlantic New York-to-England speed record 20 years ago, crossing in 62 hours, 7 minutes, 42 seconds.
Connor developed the Kaama Surface Drive, oversaw its sales and manufacturing operations in California and Florida, and holds three patents related to surface-drive propulsion. He has his own consulting firm, Connor Marine Engineering Inc.
Connor owns a 125-tree orchard in Homestead, Fla., where he grows lychee, a fruit popular in Oriental cuisine. Before joining The Trawler Center, he was manager of nearby Marina Bay Marina. He says he's taken on the trawler project as a challenge.
"It's a unique concept," he says. "One-stop shopping for trawler buyers."
This article originally appeared in the May 2010 issue.