When Bronson Lamb Jr. founded Lamb’s Yacht Center in 1936 in downtown Jacksonville, Fla., the marine industry was uncomplicated. Wooden boats still populated the waters, and boat owners played a relatively active role in repairs.
Lamb’s Yacht Center moved to its current location on the Ortega River in 1960, and Bronson’s son eventually sold the business. For 12 years, another Jacksonville family ran the marina, but they were boaters, not businesspeople. In March 2015, Peggy Sue Lamb Williams, who is Bronson’s daughter, purchased the facility from them. Second- and third-generation Lambs have since revitalized it.
Peggy Sue grew up at the yard and learned about the industry alongside the marine technicians. “In the ’60s, the marina was run on a much simpler level,” she says. “People would come in with wooden Chris-Crafts and some fiberglass boats and just fix them.”
Today, Peggy Sue and her daughter, Nadia Williams, have modernized the facility to keep pace with technological advancements. “We’ve updated our software so that we have a system that is up in the cloud,” Nadia says. “Before, everything was pen and paper.”
The Williamses also have upgraded the yard’s landscape and structures. The largest project is the rebuild of a wooden dock, and the family has updated the parts department, added three hotel rooms that customers can get at a discounted rate, and installed three bathrooms with showers and a laundry room. The yard also now has a courtesy car, bicycles and upgraded Wi-Fi. Updating also involved replacing a roof.
“Modernization has been challenging because the facility’s old and there is financial strain,” Nadia says. “This place was in quite a bit of debt when we bought it, and we didn’t have a ton of capital to play with when we started.”
Nadia grew up at the marina but left home and was climbing the ladder in the corporate world when her parents purchased the yard. She decided to return home to help run the yard her grandfather started. Her corporate background has positively impacted the upgrades that they have made to the facility.
While upgrades to technology and infrastructure have helped propel the marina into the 21st century, it is Lamb’s size that makes it stand out from its neighbors. The 7½-acre facility has 242 wet slips, covered storage and four lifts, including one with 100-ton capability. “We’re the biggest facility from Fort Lauderdale to northern Virginia,” Nadia says.
The family says neighboring businesses along Jacksonville’s “Marina Mile” work together. “There are about seven of us lined up here, so if we can’t help our customers, we connect with our marine neighbors,” Peggy Sue says, “and they do the same for us.”
Lamb’s is also trying to lead environmentally. It has a closed-loop power wash system that the family designed. “After we pressure-wash a boat, it takes our wash water and collects it in troughs,” Peggy Sue says. The water then flows into stainless steel baskets that filter out barnacles and other debris. The water then runs through PVC piping into a filtered tank that reuses it, with the entire process keeping debris out of the river.
In addition to further enhancing the closed-loop system, the Williamses’ five-year plan is primarily focused on continuing to upgrade the yard’s technology, with one goal of having technicians use iPads rather than paper.
The marina has felt the impact of the industry’s shortage of skilled technicians but has had a sustainable retention rate. There are 32 staff members. “When the employees see the owners not scared to get their hands dirty and do things themselves, it goes a long way,” Nadia says. “They can tell that the family is back.”
The Williamses are passionate about continuing Lamb’s Yacht Center as a family business. “We’ve got a lot of heart, we’re seeing it through, and we’re continuing with a long list of improvements,” Peggy Sue says.
Taking on the business and its debt was no easy feat, but the family has pulled the yard out of its rut and adapted to the industry’s digitalization to survive. “We’ve been able to carry on my grandfather’s legacy in the community and pick this place up to where it was. It’s exciting,” Nadia says.
This article originally appeared in the September 2019 issue.