Bluff Creek Marina a Hidden Treasure on Possum Kingdom Lake

The servant leadership philosophy at Bluff Creek Marina has proven to be the key to its success as the only full-service marina on Possum Kingdom Lake in Strawn, Texas. The marina has experienced tremendous growth by focusing on the needs of its employees and customers. This mentality has led to a series of renovations aimed at increasing business, the addition of several innovative profit centers, and is one of the many reasons why Bluff Creek Marina was awarded the Marina Dock Age 2021 small Marina of the Year.

Well-Planned Renovations
Tucked below the spectacular cliffs surrounding Possum Kingdom Lake, or P.K. Lake as it is known in the community, Bluff Creek Marina has grown exponentially since its inception in 1980. The marina started out with 40-50 wet slips and a small ship’s store. “There wasn’t a bathhouse or any of the extra amenities we offer today,” said Brandon Pendergraft, assistant general manager at Bluff Creek Marina. “I started out working in the ship’s store at Bluff Creek when I was 16 years old. I didn’t think about how rough things were until VIP Marinas acquired the marina in 2012 and started major renovations.”
Bluff Creek was the second of 13 marinas now owned by VIP Marinas. Bluff Creek Marina has now become the standard of excellence that all the new VIP Marinas acquisitions follow. The facility has also become the corporate headquarters for the entire VIP Marinas family.

In 2019-2020 the marina built a new dock that included 47 additional wet slips

Today, the full-service marina has 195 covered wet slips available in 14 sizes capable of holding anything from personal watercraft up to yachts and full-size houseboats. Boaters also have access to Wi-Fi, freshwater supply, laundry facilities, showers, and restrooms. Within the last few years, Bluff Creek has built a new fuel dock, installed a pumpout station, and updated its sales center.

In 2019 and 2020, the facility built a new dock with 47 additional wet slips.
In addition to wet slips, Bluff Creek Marina offers indoor dry storage with 70 standard size and oversized units. The facility is securely located within a fenced and gated area so boaters can rest assured their vessels are safe during the off-season. With its wet slips full, and expansion not being an option, the marina has plans to increase its dry storage area. “This will allow us to accommodate more boaters and increase revenue,” said Dan Ongley, general manager of Bluff Creek Marina. “And with our concierge service we will pull boats out of dry storage and launch them at our courtesy dock, which is a great amenity for our customers.”

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Felecia Ongley, COO of VIP Marinas said 2015 was a major turning point for Bluff Creek. “P.K. Lake had been dealing with a major drought for quite some time, but when the reservoir started filling back up that spring, which was around the same time that we opened our new ship’s store, we were able to take the marina to the next level.”

The new, 1,600-square-foot ship’s store suddenly became the iconic spot on the lake, where everyone wanted to gather. Bluff Creek Marina operations manager Katie Pendergraft said the store has become an important profit center for the facility. “We sell snacks and beverages, clothing, life jackets, and we operate the rental boat business out of the store,” she added. “It is the place to be during the summer, the atmosphere is amazing.”

Concierge Mentality
Bluff Creek Marina considers its concierge services to be a vital component of its overall operations. The facility’s secluded location on P.K. Lake means it needs to offer a wide variety of amenities and services. “We have a small window of opportunity, about five months, to capture outside business,” Felecia said. “We have to make sure that every customer, whether they are in a fishing boat or a 60-foot yacht, receive the VIP treatment.”

The new 1,600-square-foot ship’s store was built in 2015 and sells a variety of products. The marina’s boat rental business also operates out of the store.

Bluff Creek’s service and sales departments are among its many amenities. The in-house service center is staffed by mechanics with more than 20 years’ experience with the ability to accommodate almost all boats. “Our customers own second homes in the nearby Sportsman’s World neighborhood and others come from Odessa, Midland, Dallas, and Fort Worth. We even have boaters coming from Austin, despite Lake Travis being right there,” Brandon said. “Our service techs provide top-notch work, and our customers appreciate that.”

Since many of the marina’s customers own second homes in the area, the facility does offer boat pick-up. “We will come to your house, pick up your boat, service it, and bring it back,” Dan said. “When our customers visit on the weekend, they just want to have fun. They don’t want to worry about whether their boat needs service.”

The pandemic brought another group of customers to Bluff Creek Marina’s door, thanks to its sales department. As an authorized Can-Am and Sea-Doo dealership, Bluff Creek saw record-breaking sales in 2020. While they continue to experience service and distribution disruptions due to supply chain issues, Felecia and Dan believe that sales will continue to grow through the next boating season.

VIP Boats and Yachts also operates a sales center out of Bluff Creek. Selling everything from Berkshire pontoons to Prestige yachts, the boat sales center has brought an entirely new group of customers to Bluff Creek. Felecia said these new boat owners would have never known about Bluff Creek had they not visited and purchased a vessel from VIP Boats and Yacht. “Even though we liked our secret world, the pandemic helped us by bringing an influx of full-time people to the lake,” she added.

The boat rental business at the marina is another sector that has seen a dramatic increase in customers. Bluff Creek has seven rental boats and three Sea-Doo rentals that have led to a lucrative profit center for the facility. Brandon said the rentals are a big hit with the people who don’t have the time to own their own boat, but they enjoy coming to the marina. “We have some people who rent the same boat two or three times a year. It is more cost effective for them to rent a boat a few times a year when they visit the lake rather than purchase their own boat,” he said.

Several boat rental customers end up buying a boat and eventually renting a slip at the marina. “We wanted the boat rental service to be an asset and an amenity to the lake, but we also wanted to use it to help people discover P.K. Lake. We want it to be an experience and hopefully those people will fall in love with boating, eventually buy their own boat, and become a boater for life,” added Felecia.

A Multi-Functional Team
All the growth and success at Bluff Creek Marina circles back to the team running the day-to-day operations. VIP Marinas’ servant leadership philosophy allows every staff member to feel as if they play an integral role in the future of the marina. “There is nothing that Katie does that I won’t do and vice versa. We don’t have the mentality that something is not our job,” Felecia said. “Dan, Brandon, and Katie wear multi-functional hats. They can do everything from moving docks to fixing boats, renting slips, and even making pizzas. And our staff appreciates that we all work together because we care about the marina and our customers.”

As the marina prepares for another boating season, all eyes will be on welcoming existing boaters back to the lake and making new boaters feel like Bluff Creek Marina is their home away from home. “We want the marina to prosper and be successful. P.K. Lake is our home,” Felecia said. “We have a sense of family here, between our team and our customers, and that makes us unique.”