You could callthis a ‘break & make’ niche market

Published on Thu, Feb 3, 2005 by ack Kintner

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You could call this
a ‘break & make’ niche market

By Jack Kintner

Bob and Susan Brooks have discovered a niche market in boating that not only promises years of steady work for their business, Blaine Marine Services, but will also provide up to five new jobs in Blaine. They’re buying hurricane-damaged pleasure boats in Florida and trucking them to Blaine, where they’ll be repaired and sold in western Washington.

Bob Brooks got the idea after visiting friends in Florida last year and viewing the damage left behind by the four major hurricanes that hammered the area. “The damage was unbelievable,” he said, “especially in the Pensacola area. And the repair yards are so backed up that boat owners are faced with delays of two years or more to get their boats fixed. So they’re selling them, either outright or to insurance companies.”

With so many damaged boats the market’s glutted, depressing the prices and making it possible for Brooks to cover his expenses of transportation and repair and still offer them for sale at what are, for this area, bargain prices.

After nosing around auctions and boat shows in Florida looking for boats he thinks he can sell in the northwest, he bought the first four hulls, all power cruisers. He’s now got two Sea Rays, one 21 feet and the other 33 feet, a 33 foot Pro Line and a 26 foot Grady White undergoing repair at his yards at Semiahmoo and on Marine Drive. Two more boats are on the way and expected this week.

Annie Magner of the Marine Drive location pointed out that the outboard engine on the 21-foot Sea Ray “is practically brand new, and since it’s got a digital ignition all the valves were closed when it submerged, so the engine is relatively undamaged.” The hull also features a “Dolphin Tower,” common on the east and gulf coasts consisting of a platform for two fishermen that sits directly above the cockpit on a graceful bundle of aluminum pipes.

“Everybody wins,” said Jane St. Myer, who joined Blaine Marine Services this month as director of sales and marketing. “We’ve got a good, experienced crew in the shop that can repair these boats, and while they’re not going to be like new they will be as safe, reliable and seaworthy as a comparable undamaged boat of similar age.”
Colorado native St. Myer said that she’s new to boats but, “I did the same thing with trucks at a large dealership in Colorado. We’d take damaged trucks and repair them, and could sell them so cheaply they went like hotcakes.”

Earlier this week, Brooks and St. Myer sold “between 25 and 30 boats. It was a good strong show for us, and indicates a strong economy in marine recreation,” Brooks said. It has him looking around the Seattle or Everett area to put in another store, which would become the company’s third location after the two he currently has in Blaine, at Semiahmoo and on Marine Drive.

As far as the new positions are concerned, Brooks said that he’s hiring “at least two to three more people right away, and more in the coming months, repair technicians and management people. We need a store manager, and I’m also looking for a marine upholsterer, someone who can work with boat canvas.”

The Brooks have also been preparing the staff they already have, anticipating the extra business the “hurricane boats” will bring. They recently sent their marine electrician to classes in Seattle to upgrade his certification. “He’s certified now to the latest industry standard set by the American Boat and Yacht Council, or ABYC. That’s the basic credential for someone doing marine repair.” The ABYC’s website, states that the non-profit agency has been setting boating industry standards for more than 50 years, and all these repaired hulls and engines will meet them, Brooks said.

Shorty Grimshaw, foreman of the engine repair shop at Brook’s Marine Drive location, is probably the best-known name in marine engine repair in the county, having worked with fishermen for many years out of his shop at Gooseberry Point. Brooks said that most of the engines don’t need total rebuilds, “but they’ll be completely repaired, and the work we do will be warranted for the buyer.”