THE MEDIA VOICE OF THE GLOBAL MARINA INDUSTRY

Promoting a customer-focused culture

With a mantra to elevate the recreational boating experience, the Port 32 management team works hard to ensure its collection of well located Florida marinas delivers the very best to its customers. Newly appointed CEO, Austin Schell, shares insight with Marina World.

Lighthouse Point Marina on the Intracoastal Waterway is Port 32’s most recent acquisition. Previously under family ownership for over 50 years, the high-profile property welcomes visitors and has a loyal customer base. Photo: Smith Aerial

Lighthouse Point Marina on the Intracoastal Waterway is Port 32’s most recent acquisition. Previously under family ownership for over 50 years, the high-profile property welcomes visitors and has a loyal customer base. Photo: Smith Aerial

Q: How are you bringing your professional expertise to your role as the new CEO? Do you have a marine background? What is your major focus in further developing the company?
A: Our leadership team comes from a variety of backgrounds, both inside and outside the marine industry. The diversity of perspectives and experiences gives us a deep foundation of marina expertise, while simultaneously challenging the standards of conventional industry thinking. Since joining, my focus has been on building a winning team, building relationships with our employees, growing through acquisition, optimising the core business and cultivating a customer-focused culture.
Q: Are you intending to remain Florida-focused? Are you looking at additional properties in Florida? Do you plan expansion in any other US states?
A: As a life-long avid boater and sport fisherman, I tend to think of our marinas as a launch point for unforgettable experiences with family and friends. We want to be wherever people are passionate about boating. We love Florida because it is a year-round boating market for our members; however, we are evaluating opportunities across the entire Atlantic Coast and Gulf of Mexico. Specifically, we target best-in-class properties and/or redevelopment opportunities in premier coastal locations. We want to provide access to incredible experiences on the water, so we’re looking at opportunities from a macro point of view.
Q: How different is your management approach for wet slip and drystack marinas?
A: For many of our members, time is the most valuable resource. Whether those members prefer a wet slip or a dry slip, we aspire to offer an elevated level of service, aided by modern/innovative technology, so that Port 32 members can focus on stepping on and off the boat and maximising their time on the water.
Port 32 Tampa has multiple offerings, with wet slips, a drystack, repair and maintenance yard and boat club. Photo: Brian Adams Photography

Port 32 Tampa has multiple offerings, with wet slips, a drystack, repair and maintenance yard and boat club. Photo: Brian Adams Photography

Q: Do you have any kind of club/network membership scheme?
A: This is something we spend a lot of time thinking about. In a previous venture at a company called XOJET, we had success launching a club offering to our membership base. Our customers loved it. At Port 32, we think a club can be a channel to provide unique, curated experiences to members who are seeking an elevated suite of offerings. Our vision for the club is to extend Port 32’s relevance beyond our marina footprint to waterfront experiences and partnerships that club members and our surrounding communities will value.
Q: Drystack is a more popular concept in Florida than anywhere else in the USA. Why do you think this is? Do you think there will be further growth for drystack in Florida?
Austin Schell

Austin Schell

A: We think so. There is a scarcity of affordable, waterfront property suitable for marina development, so the most economical way to serve the most boaters is to build vertically.
Q: If you had a choice to build a wet slip marina or a drystack from the ground up, which would you choose and why?
A: I think we would want a combination of both. Our guiding principle is to provide an elevated marina experience that passionate boaters find appealing – some members prefer a wet slip or a lift slip, and others prefer dry storage. Why not aim to give them the best of both worlds?
Q: Please give an overview on the trends you see emerging in boat ownership. Are you welcoming younger customers? How do you feel the industry will develop in coming years? Where will the emphasis be? What are customers looking for above all?
Able to accommodate vessels up to 140ft (43m), Jacksonville at Ortega Landing has extensive slips for mid- and long-term slip holders as well as visitors. Photo: Brian Adams Photography

Able to accommodate vessels up to 140ft (43m), Jacksonville at Ortega Landing has extensive slips for mid- and long-term slip holders as well as visitors. Photo: Brian Adams Photography

A: We think Port 32 sits at the intersection of three broad trends. First, the pandemic introduced a younger generation to boating and enabled many of us to reconnect with nature. We absolutely welcome this younger consumer and are investing in digital innovation to provide our members more flexibility and efficiency in how we experience the water.
Second, we are seeing remarkable innovation in outboard engine technology, which is propelling bigger and bigger centre consoles. We are finding that older marinas often cannot equip these larger vessels, due to shortcomings in their steel infrastructure, concrete depth, lift equipment or slip sizes. At Port 32 we are building marinas for the next 30 years, not the past 30 years. This means we are making significant investments in the infrastructure and equipment required to accommodate larger, modern vessels. Our newest, state-of-the-art facility in Fort Lauderdale opening next month (May) is a great example of this.
Cape Coral offers secure drystack, on-site service, repair and maintenance, and boat rentals. Photo: Brian Adams Photography

Cape Coral offers secure drystack, on-site service, repair and maintenance, and boat rentals. Photo: Brian Adams Photography

Last but certainly not least, I’m a big believer in experiences as an investment theme and as a way of life. Personally, I find myself choosing to invest in experiences over “things.” Marinas and boating are platforms for extraordinary experiences… for exploration and adventure, for leisure fishing or competition, for time away from the fray with friends and family, and for natural beauty on the water. I haven’t yet studied the neuroscience, but there is something about the ocean that soothes the soul.
Q: What is your five/ten year goal for Port 32?
A: It sounds a bit ambitious when you put it in writing. First and foremost, every day we are trying to build a company that our members, investors and employees can be proud of. As far as goals, I believe we are well ahead of schedule in our quest to assemble the best leadership team in the industry.
Port 32 Naples is drystack-focused with a club atmosphere that extends to a restaurant and event space. Photo: Brian Adams Photography

Port 32 Naples is drystack-focused with a club atmosphere that extends to a restaurant and event space. Photo: Brian Adams Photography

We also have a strong foundation of irreplaceable, high quality marina assets. Building on this foundation, it is our goal to aggregate the premier portfolio of coastal marina assets on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. We don’t need to be the biggest, and frankly we want to avoid diluting our brand, customer experience or employee experience in pursuit of scale, which is what you’ve seen with other large marina consolidators.
Big picture, we want to deliver a distinctive experience to our members, who are the lifeblood of our company. We want to deliver industry-leading risk-adjusted returns to our investors. We want to be a great place for our employees to work and to feel a sense of purpose and connection. And we want to be a straightforward, transparent and trustworthy partner to, or acquiror of, individual marinas and owners/operators who are looking to participate in the world and lifestyle we are building at Port 32.

Port 32 Portfolio –
Cape Coral: drystack for boats up to 35ft (11m); rentals; service, repair and maintenance.
Fort Lauderdale: drystack coming in 2023 for boats up to 55ft (17m); repair and maintenance with wet slips up to 150ft (46m).
Jacksonville at Ortega Landing: wet slips to 140ft (43m) available daily (transient), monthly and annually.
Lighthouse Point: newly renovated; 100+ wet slips to 80ft (24m) for transients and annually; liveaboards allowed.
Marco Island: drystack for boats up to 37ft (11m); rentals.
Naples: drystack for boats up to 42ft (13m); rentals; members-only club.
Palm Beach Gardens: drystack for boats up to 47ft (14m); Gulfstream Boat Club.
Tampa: drystack for boats up to 42ft (13m); wet slips to 110ft (33.5m) including transient slips; repair and maintenance; Gulfstream Boat Club.
Terra Verde: drystack for boats up to 42ft (13m); wet slips (to 42ft/13m) and boat lifts (to 38ft/11.6m); Gulfstream Boat Club.

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