“We sell fun.” I heard Joan Maxwell, president of Regulator Marine, say that the other day at a conference. That pretty much sums up why I chose the recreational marine industry as my career.
No matter the situation or the difficulty I encounter in this profession, one thing is always clear: We are involved in a unique and satisfying segment of American industry, and what we do produces enjoyment, tradition and the use of our great outdoors.
The path to the business of boating is not the same for everyone. The stories vary from family legacy to dumb luck, but all are interesting. As a kid growing up around a 34-foot family sailboat and small powerboats, I always loved boating.
I remember the day I decided I wanted to be a part of the business side. I was in an economics class in college, listening to an executive tell tales about his climb to success. He pointed to a pivotal moment in his career. He was sweating out a presentation because a projector light bulb might not last through the event.
That was when I realized the path of my fellow classmates was not for me. I never wanted to sweat it out over the longevity of a light bulb during a quarterly financial presentation for an investment firm. I wanted something more, something meaningful and enjoyable. Sure, I knew I would have to give presentations and deal with numbers and employers, but the underlying fact was that it would be in an industry that “sells fun.”
My path began that very afternoon, when I canvased local marine businesses to give me a job, any job that was around boats. I ended up working for a small yacht broker for nothing. That evolved into odd jobs for boat owners who were getting ready to sell — wax jobs, teak work, even the occasional marine sanitation experience.
During the horrible economy of the early ’90s, I found my way to a full-service marina, where I experienced the typical small-business environment. From sales to service to slip rentals and fuel, I had my fill of it all, so much so that two years later I opened my own fishing tackle and accessories business.
Seven years of tight margins, long hours and hard work ended with the close of the business, which faced insurmountable pressure from newly opened local big-box stores. The experience taught me more than I could have imagined.
I landed on my feet at the American Boat & Yacht Council, with a job that required I talk boating and boating safety all day long. I had found my calling. Thirteen years and several promotions later, I now have the dream job that many don’t even know exists. I have a part in helping manufacturers and other marine professionals to keep boating safe through construction standards and qualified technicians.
It is not always easy. More than 60 years of tradition and hard-working members keep me on my toes every day, but at the end of each day I always remember that “we sell fun.”
John Adey is president of the American Boat & Yacht Council, which strives to be the essential source of technical information for the international marine industry. The Annapolis, Md.-based nonprofit organization develops product safety standards, credentialing, education, training and other tools for its members.