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Under Way

Serving the needs of boats and boaters

Serving the needs of boats and boaters

It was late Sunday when we brought the 24-foot diesel-powered bass boat back to the dock. Darkness was rising fast. Steve Anderson, the boat’s proud papa, was waiting on the dock with a bucket and a mop. He was anxious to hear our reaction to hull No. 1 of his new day cruiser. We shared our feedback with Anderson as he dutifully cleaned her from stem to stern. Mind you, this is the boss.

“It’s my pride,” explains Anderson, a partner in J&J Marine, a relatively new, sprawling marine complex on the TauntonRiver in Somerset, Mass.

Later, walking through the yard to the office, he picked up a Styrofoam coffee cup laying on the ground without missing a beat in our conversation. A couple of small things, to be sure, but they highlight a certain pride of ownership and attention to detail that you like to see. They say it all starts at the top, and it’s not too hard to tell who sets the bar at J&J Marine.

Anderson and partner Jeff Botelho are part of a new generation of full-service boatyard owners — if you can even call them yards anymore. Housing a wide range of marine businesses and services, the boatyard of the early 21st century is becoming much more of a complex than, well, the small family boatyards many of us grew up with.

Like it or not, time marches on. Change is inevitable. And the transformation taking place in the service yards along the coast reflects, in large part, the changing nature of boating.

As boats get larger and more sophisticated, and owners become more hands-off, the skills, sophistication and breadth of services offered by the top yards and their workers also are expanding. You keep pace today, or you fall behind — or worse, the property gets turned into condos, and another yard is lost. The trend is described in a series of stories starting on Page 46.

With these changes have come promising signs that customer service finally is becoming a higher priority. I speak for many when I say, “It’s about time.” Service has long been the Achilles heel of the marine world. Survey after survey shows that customers generally give dealerships and repair facilities the kind of grades that would get your kids and mine grounded for a month if they brought them home on their report cards. It’s what drives boaters to pick up a damn putter.

Flat-out excellent service — the kind epitomized by such brands and companies as Lexus, FedEx and L.L. Bean — has been really difficult to find in boating. Those of us who have been around boats long enough have learned to work around it, but that’s hardly a solution. You know where to go to in order to get stuff done right the first time — and on time. More importantly, you know whom to stay away from. At some places, a promise of two weeks might easily turn into four. Or more. And with seasons as short as those in many parts of the country, that’s simply not acceptable.

Anderson and others we spoke to for our stories say they are committed to changing that. “This was an opportunity to take the bad name that typically goes with servicing boats and turn it into something good,” says Anderson, 52, a lifelong boater who left a successful career in residential and commercial development to follow his avocation. “We want to bring honesty, trust and integrity back to the service industry. One way or another, we’re going to make a difference in this business.”

(And yes, Anderson knows the old saw about the best way to make a million bucks in the marine industry. The punch line used to be, “Start with $2 million.” That figure has recently been revised upward to $5 million.)

Bootstrapping J&J Marine into existence on a 6.5-acre site that once housed a shellac factory has been no easy feat. Anderson and Botelho have more than $13 million and a ton of sweat equity invested in the business. And as complex as the industry has become, Anderson boils his service philosophy down to six words: “On time. On budget. Good workmanship.”

Is that really asking too much?