Marine supply stores vary in size from a compact alcove in a marina office to a 10,000-square-foot megastore with thousands of products for different market segments. Stores can be utilitarian with functional signage and limited in-store graphics, or they can appeal to avid boaters with innovative product displays and colorful signage. A store’s customer may be generally knowledgeable about a boating product, such as a deck cleaner. A competent marine supply salesperson can often educate the boater on the proper use of the product, while suggesting additional supplies that make the cleaning job easier.
Document your marine supply store structure. Select a business structure with a Certified Public Accountant familiar with marine and retail businesses. Examples include a sole proprietorship, limited liability company and Subchapter S corporation. Consult with a commercial insurance agent about liability insurance. Visit your city or county clerk’s office for a business license, and inquire about needed permits. Call your state Department of Revenue to obtain a sales tax license.
Lease a convenient and visible location. Find a building easily reached from main roads, accessible by large delivery trucks and with sufficient customer parking. Ensure that your building can accommodate both a retail store and a well-stocked product warehouse. Obtain written zoning approval before you finalize a lease. Work with a sign maker to create professional exterior signage that includes colorful boating-related graphics.
List your regional marine supply competitors. Big box stores with sporting goods departments often carry basic boating gear such as life preservers, flares and boat cleaners. Marina-based stores frequently stock a limited inventory of boating supplies and personal gear. Specialty marine supply stores carry the broadest boating gear selection, along with targeted merchandise. In a sailing-focused area, for example, the store likely features varied sailing hardware. A fishing-oriented store stocks lures, rods and other tackle.
Purchase your wholesale marine supplies. Examine your local competitors’ product lines, and identify promising but inadequately served markets. If your area hosts an active sailboat racing community, for example, many racers need quality foul-weather gear for all-weather racing. Lack of quality gear at reasonable prices presents an unfilled niche you can service. Formulate a product line that services area boaters while providing good values. Place wholesale product orders that maximize profits.
Hire boating-savvy and personable staff. Locate enthusiastic employees with varied boating expertise. A well-rounded staff includes a fishing expert, a sailboat racer and someone who lives aboard a sailboat or powerboat. Good hobbyist boat mechanics, ex-cruisers with considerable firsthand experience and navigation experts are also desirable. Place fliers at area marinas, at boaters’ delis and on local sailboat racing websites. Place newspaper “Help Wanted” ads, but recognize that boaters’ word-of-mouth may prove more valuable.
Promote your store to current boaters. Open your marine supply store with a Boaters’ Open House geared to your local market. Entice customers with new product demonstrations and related merchandise discounts. Consider a frequent customer card to encourage long-term customer patronage. Engage boating experts to speak on targeted topics, such as fishing hot spots or weather trends that can affect sailboat races. Offer attractive door prizes, and utilize entry forms to create a mailing list. Post event fliers at local marinas, and schedule banner ads on local fishing and sailboat racing websites. Place display ads in local newspapers’ sports sections.
Market to brand-new boating prospects. The marine industry recognizes that a constant influx of new boaters is essential to boating businesses’ long-term fiscal health. The industry sponsors the “Discover Boating” campaign to attract new boaters using family togetherness and stress-relief themes. Program marketing tools include an inviting interactive website, branding graphics for print and online ads and colorful in-store marketing aids.
Based in North Carolina, Felicia Greene has written professionally since 1986. Greene edited sailing-related newsletters and designed marketing programs for the New Bern, N.C. "Sun Journal" and New Bern Habitat ReStore. She earned a Bachelor of Science in business administration from the University of Baltimore.