Boat clubs generally don’t have high-end wakesurf boats as the backbone of their fleets, provide detailing services for members’ cars or charter flights to distant lakes so families can enjoy different cruising grounds. Inland Boat Club, with several locations outside of Salt Lake City, is taking an unusual approach to the membership model.
Erik Blomquist, a software executive, launched Utah’s first boat club in 2017 with the idea of exploring a more upscale business model than larger competitors like Freedom or Carefree. The Utah club has 200 members, and Blomquist thinks he can expand that number to 500 in the next year.
Blomquist, who “fell in love” with wake-surfing about a decade ago, realized he was losing about $20,000 every time he sold his latest towboat. “I would upgrade to a new boat every year so would lose that amount on the previous boat,” he says. “I started to spread out the costs by getting partners in the boat, but even that was expensive.”
On an extended business project in Hawaii, he joined a small boat club and quickly saw its advantages—no ownership costs, or worries about maintenance. “All you had to do was pay for the fuel,” he said. “And when I left, I sold my membership for almost as much as I paid for it.”
Despite a wide collection of lakes, Blomquist said Utah had no boat club, so he decided to set up the first one. Instead of small runabouts or sailboats, he decided to stock the fleet with new Air Nautiques, including the Super Air Nautique G 25, figuring there would be wake-sports junkies like himself who would see the financial advantages of membership over ownership. He added a few pontoon boats, but chose Bennington to maintain the club’s upscale branding. He also used his software background to develop an app for scheduling the boats and training the members.
Blomquist decided to take the model even farther, by acquiring a dealership, Marine United—and he is in negotiations with other dealerships to acquire their organizations as well. He also established new pick-up and drop-off locations across Utah, so members could get to the boats easier. In what is probably a boating-industry first, Inland will also offer private chartered flights for families and groups to get from Salt Lake City to Lake Powell in southern Utah, which would normally be a four-hour drive. “What we’re trying to do for the boating industry is what Uber did for the ride-hailing industry,” Blomquist says. “If a member wants to go boating here or down to Lake Powell, we want to make sure they can get there quickly.”
The boat dealerships, says Blomquist, are being acquired to learn how to integrate the boat club into a retail model. “We plan to take this model across the country and show how it can double a dealer’s net profit,” he says.
Another ancillary business is the new division called Inland Detail. “We acquired two detailing companies when we set up the boat club,” says Blomquist. “Our single largest expense is cleaning the boats to a level of showroom quality.” With the labor on hand, Blomquist decided to offer subscription packages that extends cleaning services to members’ cars, motorcycles, trucks, recreational vehicles and even aircraft. Inland Detail will have a fixed location but will also offer a mobile detailing service.
Annual memberships start at $12,999, according to the website, but the company also plans to offer lifetime memberships. Blomquist said it will acquire more boats to keep member and boat numbers proportional.
The business model will have strong growth potential across the country, mostly because of its high-end appeal, says Blomquist. “I started in the software business, but I grew up around my father’s business,” he says. “He owned a group of service stations, but he wanted to everything to be a wonderful customer experience—including the owners never having to open their own car doors. That was a good reinforcing experience.”
Blomquist says that the largest challenge of the upscale experience is making sure that the level of service is continuous. “It’s taken a lot of effort and training,” he says. “But we’re definitely getting there.”