Honolulu Star Bulletin (04/01/00)
By Ray Pendleton
Today is April 1, so you really can't blame me. A couple of days ago I noticed the feature story in Boat & Motor Dealer - a boating industry magazine - was titled "The pleasure of doing business in the Hawaiian Islands," and I quickly assumed it was an April Fool's Day joke.
How much pleasure, I thought, could a boat dealer find doing business in a state with an economy as stagnant as the Ala Wai Canal, along with some of the worst recreational boating facilities and the smallest boat ownership in the entire U.S.?
The only trouble was, it was the magazine's March issue and the story was earnestly written by Carla Tracy, the wife of Valley Isle Marine Center owner Mark Tracy.
In reading the article, I soon discovered the author was well aware of the negative aspects of selling boats in Hawai`i, and on Maui in particular. Limited access to the ocean, the encroachment of chain stores, staggering shipping costs and our state's economy were all quickly noted.
But Tracy went on to enumerate several reasons why "small troubles in paradise don't bother this boat dealer."
The Valley Isle Marine Center is a full-service boat dealership in Wailuku, Maui. And, according to Tracy, it is the oldest and largest boat dealership of the handful doing business in Maui County.
It is also the only dealership on Maui that stocks new boats, engines, trailers and boating accessories, along with providing a complete service center.
"We service a range of accounts in the ocean recreation industry," Mark Tracy says, "including kayak tour operators, beach concessionaires, and sailing, diving and fishing charters.
"We sell to the Coast Guard, the fire department and the Department of Land and Natural Resources."
This reference to commercial accounts spoke volumes about the company's ability to weather the stormy waters inherent in a slack recreational boating market.
Most of Maui's residents might not be able to rationalize buying a boat, but island visitors were still lining up for commercial ocean recreation experiences.
And, said Tracy, "A person attracted to this kind of work loves the ocean. So much so that they want to go boating on their own craft on their days off. These people are showing up at our showroom and buying boats."
Also in Tracy's favor is the fact he sells the most popular boat in Hawai`i: trailered boats.
When a double-wide launching ramp (now expanded to triple) was constructed on Maui's south shore in 1983, Tracy's sales increased 105 percent the following year.
Such a statistic begs the question, would the development of additional marinas on Maui have the same effect?
I checked with Michael Collins, president of Maui Boat Brokers, Inc., and he, like Tracy, believes it would.
"There is currently a 15-year-long waiting list for mooring space in Lahaina and Maalaea harbors," Collins said. "That shows the demand potential."
If a recreational boating marina was built on Maui similar to O`ahu's new Ko Olina, there would seem to be little doubt of its success.
And then, when new facilities lead to new boat sales, boat dealers like Tracy wouldn't sound like an April Fool's Day setup when they talk about "The pleasure of doing business in Hawai`i."
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