It’s All About the People for Hurricane MarinaPublished on January 14, 2024
A corporate-owned marina boasting more than 650 slips and sitting on a lake that covers more than 18,000 acres may seem an unlikely place to find a sense of community and a personal touch, but boaters who are lucky enough to call Hurricane Marina homeport will tell you that’s just what they have found.
That’s why Hurricane Marina, located on Center Hill Lake in Silver Point, Tennessee, was named the Marina Dock Age large Marina of the Year for 2023.
Overseen by southeast regional manager Ken Robinson and onsite general manager Harrison Carmichael and his team, the newly renovated and revamped facility is reimagining what a marina can be to its boaters.
Building Future Boaters
When Suntex purchased the marina about three years ago, the facility had seen better days. There was a section of the property filled with old timber docks that were storm-damaged and essentially piled on one another. The new team referred to the area of the marina as the historic district and went to work removing the old and installing four new docks. But that was just the start. “We wanted to create more of a community where people wanted to
stay. We needed to add amenities to create that atmosphere and entice people to stay all day or for a weekend,” Robinson said. The store and restaurant were expanded and renovated, the electrical system was upgraded, other docks had structural improvements, walkways were expanded to allow wheelchair access, and wave attenuation was added. With many of the boaters living in houseboats, “toy docks” to house jet skis, paddleboats, and inflatables, were added to act as garages for owners’ boating toys. In addition, the marina has installed patios on customer docks upon request.
Suntex also brought in its Circle of Boating concept by adding a boat rental component and a boat club. “We’re a full experience marina. We start with people renting boats to get them introduced to boating and then encourage them to join the boat club so they can boat as they travel, taking advantage of the boat clubs at other Suntex properties throughout the country. We hope the next step is that they want to buy a boat and keep it at our marina. The goal is to introduce people to the boating lifestyle and have them go all in,” said Robinson.
The promise to share the benefits of boating goes beyond the marina’s customers. “Our purpose is to make the benefits of being on or near the water accessible to anyone. We fulfill this purpose by offering a world-class hospitality experience built around a community of boat owners, boat enthusiasts, and those inspired by the water. The net result is a promise to customers to help create a lifetime of treasured memories on the water,” Robinson said. The facility welcomes outside community members to the many events it holds throughout the year like cornhole tournaments, shrimp boils, fireworks, a Halloween party, and, being close to Nashville, a variety of music-based events. Robinson said the marina is family-friendly by design as management believes the kids that enjoy their time near the water today will be tomorrow’s boaters.
People Come First
Suntex is a corporation but with a goal to ensure each of its marina properties retains its own personality and sense of community. To get to that point, it starts with a vision and a well-developed management philosophy. For Suntex, it’s the belief that if they put their employees first, they, in turn, will prioritize their customers. “Every property manager is treated as an owner, which builds that sense of pride in ownership. We practice what we call the three Ps. Focus on the people, present a good process, and provide the best product and the rest takes care of itself. Our core values are that we make it together, we make it right, we make it happen, and we make it fun,” Robinson said. He added that having a sense of ownership means never saying “that’s not my job.”
To foster those tenants, the marina begins with solid training for not just full-time employees but also for seasonal staff through what they call Dockhand University. The newly hired learn operational aspects of the job like fuel dock procedures, handling emergencies, and safety practices, but they also hear about the company’s culture and core values. A key part is training how to professionally respond to customer complaints. “We empower our folks to resolve problems on the spot instead of running it up the flagpole,” Robinson said. For the staff, listening to customers and following up is critical and everyone is encouraged to walk the docks and engage with the customers. “We seek to understand what will help build community between the marina customers and staff.”
The leadership at the marina meets weekly to review how they are meeting their core values and how they can improve. They conduct regular customer surveys, both of long-term tenants and visitors, to determine how they are viewed and what more can be done to better the customer experience. Once a month the whole team reviews financials and discusses how to promote the marina. Robinson said they recognize that everything they do affects the bottom line and that a direct line can be drawn between how well people are treated and how good that bottom line looks.
In recognition that being good stewards of the environment also adds to the bottom line, both the marina’s general manager and maintenance manager are certified Clean and Resilient Marina Professionals through a program run by the Association of Marina Industries (AMI). The two have also gone through the process to have Hurricane Marina inspected and certified by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as a Clean Marina and they have begun the process to be additionally certified through AMI’s national Clean & Resilient Marina accreditation program.
Clean recognition is not all Hurricane Marina has received. The facility was named the 2023 Marina of the Year by Suntex’s annual competition among all the corporation’s marinas. Robinson said the accolades of this past year have been overwhelming and he and his staff are thrilled. “Our staff are the heart and soul of the property, so for them to win this was exciting. For me personally it was such an honor. I started with Suntex at Laurel Marina and then transferred over to Hurricane where I worked very hard to bring it to where it is today. I started the process then handed the property to Harrison who carried the torch from there,” Robinson said.
Hurricane Marina will continue to grow as Robinson and his team look for ways to expand the property within its existing footprint and also to provide additional and enhanced amenities. It’s full speed ahead to assure boaters look at the marina as their happy place and enjoy every moment by and on the water.