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August 20, 2018
On the record

Freedom Boat Club franchise owner eyes Portland expansion in 2019

Photo / Jim Neuger
Photo / Jim Neuger
Steve Arnold owns Yarmouth Boat Yard, Moose Landing Marina and the Freedom Boat Club of Maine franchise. Yarmouth Boat Yard and Moose Landing Marina have combined annual revenue of $21 million.

Steve Arnold owns Yarmouth Boat Yard, Moose Landing Marina and the Freedom Boat Club of Maine franchise. Yarmouth Boat Yard and Moose Landing Marina have combined annual revenue of around $21 million.

The Florida native moved to Maine in 2003 after a career in finance that took him to places including New York, San Francisco and London. He bought Yarmouth Boat Yard in 2004, Moose Landing Marina in Naples in 2013 and the Freedom Boat Club franchise last September. On a foggy July day that rendered a seaborne interview impossible, he chatted with Mainebiz inside Yarmouth Boat Yard headquarters on the Royal River. Below is an edited transcript.

Mainebiz: How's business?

Steve Arnold: Business is very good this year. 2017 was a good year, and we're noticing a continuation of that trend. The supply is our biggest issue at this point — getting enough boats from our boat builder partners. It's been a weird year in terms of we really had no spring, which changes the buying cycle. There's really four cycles, and two of those cycles got compressed.

MB: Do people actually buy boats in the winter?

SA: Absolutely! Our first show is Boston in February, which starts the season for us. You'll be walking to the Boston show with one to two feet of snow on the ground, and it feels good getting out of winter at that point. We do four or five boat shows every year.

MB: What supply issues do you face?

SA: The demand for boats, and especially engines, this year has exceeded what the supply is, so we started seeing constraints back in the fall of 2017. The boat builders were probably around 90% supplied so we waited a couple of weeks here and there for boats because of engines, and then the re-power market [to replace old engines] is pretty much dried up. It's going to get better, but it's going to still take three to six months to get a new engine.

MB: Are most of your boat buyers in southern Maine?

SA: Some are from out of state with a second home here, but a lot of them are local. Demographically, we're all over the map, from age 35 to around 70. We also see a lot of women making the buying decision [for their households], and a handful of women every year who come in and buy a boat.

MB: Why did you buy the Freedom Boat Club franchise?

SA: I'm usually not a franchise guy, but when I saw their model, it was refreshing to me that I didn't have to reinvent the wheel and train everybody in a specific way, because the Freedom Boat Club offered that. It's very robust in terms of training for new franchisors. I hired a sales membership executive to sell the memberships and a head of operations who hires all the dockhands that help people out of their cars and onto the boat and vice versa.

MB: How does Freedom Boat Club set itself apart from competitors?

SA: It's kind of easy, if you look at the training, solid insurance coverage, all brand new boats every year and 160 locations nationwide. If you join in Maine, you can go anywhere else, make the reservation, show up and use the boat at no extra charge. There's also unlimited training for members.

MB: How many members in Maine so far?

SA: We had no members when I started and now we're at 40.

MB: What's next on the business front?

SA: Growing and getting better every day is what I'm about. I'd love to have another marina at some point, but it has to be the right fit. Freedom also has some other businesses they are looking at that I would be interested in. I think there's growth in the Freedom Boat Club, and we're planning to be in Portland next year.

MB: After all these years in the industry, what do you enjoy most?

SA: I just love the team, and when I hire people I tell them work-life balance is really important to me and it should be to you, too. My job is probably the third on my list of most important things in my life, and I want to translate that to my employees. I tell them, 'You need to go to softball games, track meets, stuff like that, because life is short, and don't miss out.'

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