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March April 2019 Marina World

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The magazine for the marina industry


BOAT SHARE CONCEPTS John Giglio: “Offering exceptional service is our number one focus and we achieve this through efficiency.” Freedom to choose Two colleagues with a knowledge of property time share decide to share a boat. They then launch a boat share concept. The business progresses, changes ownership, and 22 years later - in 2011 - John Giglio and a business partner move in. Freedom Boat Club starts to fly. In 2011 Freedom Boat Club (FBC) locations numbered around 40. By 2012, when president and CEO Giglio bought his partner out and became sole owner, it had 50. Today, there are 175 locations in nigh on 50 US states and Giglio is looking to go international; two clubs are due to open in France this quarter. FBC has some 30,000 US-based members, a fleet of around 2,000 boats and is in the process of buying 500 to 600 further vessels. It’s a successful franchise – but far from just a franchise. FBC has four corporately owned marinas and is actively looking to acquire more. As a buyer, Giglio’s interest lies in smaller marinas in which he will use 20 to 50 slips for club purposes and lease the remainder on traditional marina rental terms. But “as the marine business in the US has strengthened, slips have become harder to find,” he says. Clubs at all locations – owned or franchised – are big on service. “Offering exceptional service is our number one focus and we achieve this through efficiency,” Giglio tells Marina World. “It’s been a learning curve in terms of experience and technology. We started out in the age of ‘pens, paper and fax machines’ and now all of our systems are completely automated for seamless operations.” Franchises receive the ‘business in a box’ information package, which gives guidance on how to launch and manage a club, recruit members and benefit from club networking and collaboration. “They have everything they need to run with and are in total charge,” Giglio says. “Clubs start with four boats/slips and, as we work to a 10:1 member to boat ratio, boats and slips are added as required. But each club [destination] can only grow in line with available space. The largest concentration to date is 70 boats.” Members pay an entry fee and a monthly fee and have their own ‘home port’ with unlimited access to boats in their region. Via the FBC reciprocal programme they are also entitled to use all other FBC locations up to four times Above & right: Freedom Boat Club has over 2,000 boats in its fleet, offering a vessel type to suit everyone. 22 - March/April 2019

BOAT SHARE CONCEPTS per year. Membership costs are linked to the operating costs in each specific region, meaning entry fees range from US,900 to 7,900 and monthly fees from 9 to 699. Every franchise sets its own rate and there are few rules: no sleepovers, no night time navigation. Members can take a boat back to their private dock if they have one but are restricted to travelling a 25 mile boating radius from their home port marina. Giglio reports an impressive 90% customer retention rate “and about 20% of the 10% who drop out buy a boat.” All members are given free of charge boat training and the member demographic is broad: “We’ve seen a lot more Millennials joining the Club and, over the last couple of years, a significant number of first time boaters. At the back end we have an older demographic who want to boat but have decided to Above & below: The FBC reciprocal plan gives boaters the chance to not only sample different boats but to travel to different destinations for a full service, hassle-free boating experience. The concept is popular with all age groups but an increasing number of Millennials are signing up. sell their own boats and take out club membership for easier access to the water. There appears to be a neverending supply of people coming in and lots of young families are joining.” All ages and genders are also encouraged to socialise. FBC hosts over 100 social events on the west coast of Florida at its corporate locations and runs a lot of seminars, often with the help and support of boating supply and fishing goods retail company West Marine. “We want to keep our members engaged even if they’re not boating. We want to add value to their membership.” Freedom Boat Club, now in its 30 th year, is the oldest and biggest boat club in the world and over the decades has become established as brand leader in the sector. But with the sharing economy upon us and other boat club concepts being launched, competition is warming up. While acknowledging this, Giglio says his main competitor is time. “We’ve set out to offer such an efficient service that it’s the only thing that makes sense [to time-poor wannabe boaters].” He is also conscious that, despite owning the sector’s best known brand name, branding should be treated with caution. “We don’t badge our boats – there’s nothing to indicate to the outside world that it’s a club boat. Members feel that it’s their boat and they have pride of ownership.” This is particularly relevant as members tend to focus on one type of boat and often on a ‘specific’ boat. With 90% of members staying on side, the FBC concept looks set to weather any storm and Giglio stresses that “with boats going out every day, it’s a very good revenue generator for marinas.” Interestingly, he sees supply rather than demand as a potential pitfall in the future. “There may be commercial challenges ahead as ten people want one slip,” he smiles. “But we can’t ignore the sharing economy – and with growth comes regulation.” - March/April 2019 23

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